Online Master's Programs in Environmental Management

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Updated on: 01/07/2018

If you want to fight against environmental degradation and work to make society more sustainable, consider earning a master's in environmental management. Most environmental management employees do work crucial to current and future generations and find their work personally satisfying. Individuals with a master's degree in the environmental sciences make a median salary of $71,000, much higher than the national average. Top earners with this degree earn upwards of $100,000 per year. As more businesses and governmental organizations must consider the environmental consequences of their actions, demand for environmental management professionals will increase, so now is a good time to enter the field.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master's in Environmental Management Program?

All online master's in environmental management programs include courses like introduction to environmental studies, environmental policy, and conservation. Most programs require students to complete these core courses in their first year. Environmental management programs differ in areas of emphasis, with some focusing on the scientific side of environmentalism, while others take a business or policy approach. In many cases, you can add a concentration to your master's degree, in areas like business, water resources, energy, and community health. Many programs also require students to complete a capstone project or thesis. Students gain skills in leadership, communication, research, policy analysis, problem solving, and adaptability.

A typical environmental management master's program takes about two years to complete and requires around 30 credits. You can find both online and on-campus programs in environmental management. If your online program requires an internship, you typically must set up an in-person arrangement in your local community.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Environmental Management Program?

Courses offered in a master's in environmental management program differ by school. All programs provide a foundational understanding of basic environmental science. But program focuses and areas of concentration can vary widely. See below for a sample curriculum.

Environmental Politics and Policy

Students receive an introduction to all stages of environmental policy making, including assessment and implementation. The course explores local, state, and national policy-making issues. Students also look at the history of and contemporary political issues affecting environmentalism and the environment. They get develop and analyze environmental policy.

Economics of Environmental Management

This course explores the way that economic systems can improve public policy related to the environment. Topics addressed include valuation, incentives, asymmetric information, renewable and nonrenewable resources, and environmental macroeconomics. Students look at case studies of situations where economics positively and negatively influence environmental management.

Water Resources Management and Policy

An exploration of water policy issues as they relate to environmental management, this course incorporates technology, science, and politics. Students look at the way that many different interests can affect water policy. They pay special attention to the impact of climate change and human activity on the water cycle.

Environmental Persuasion

Learners receive an introduction to the theory and practice of environmental communications. The courses focuses on message framing, environmental psychology, decision making, and persuasion. Students learn how to create strategic communications programs and initiatives related to the environment for the public. They also examine the way that popular and alternative media communicate various environmental messages.

Writing Skills for Environmental Professionals

This class helps environmental professionals learn to write effectively about environmental science issues. Issues explored include audience, thesis, document design, tone, and citations. Students also examine a variety of writing styles and types of writing, including evaluations, policy analyses, project proposals, and writing for the public.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Most master's in environmental management programs require students to complete a final research project or capstone. Final projects in environmental management give students much-needed experience in identifying a problem, attempting to find solutions, and creating a professional product. Most projects require students to create a written report and give an oral presentation on their research process and findings. Some schools offer students the option to complete a group final project, which typically involves working with an actual client to solve a real environmental problem. Group projects also give learners the opportunity to experience the collaborative working process common in many positions related to environmental management.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Environmental Management Program?

Many online master's in environmental management programs offer areas of specialization, which let students focus more narrowly on a topic of particular interest to them. The number and type of specializations available may differ depending on the school chosen. See below for some sample specializations.

Conservation Planning

Students with this specialization learn how to conserve and protect ecosystems and wild species from human activities. They explore issues like cost-effectiveness of conservation, wildlife restoration, population and community ecology, conservation biology, ecological inventory, mapping with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and data analysis. Typical classes include conservation planning practicum, applied population ecology, and GIS.

Water Resources Management

Water resources management helps students learn how to effectively manage water resources. This requires balancing the human need for clean, reliable water with maintaining ecological functioning of water systems. Students learn to identify and solve environmental problems related to water. Topics explored include rivers, hydrologic processes, economics of natural resources, water policy, and surface and groundwater.

Economics and Politics of the Environment

Students pursuing the economics and politics of the environment specialization learn to create and enact environmental policy. They also learn to understand how businesses react to and engage with environmental policies. The course explores the way the private and public sectors interact. It also looks at cost-benefit analysis, natural resource economics, and environmental law.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Environmental Management Degree?

Earning a master's in environmental management can open the possibility of entering a variety of different careers. Some typical positions that environmental management graduates enter include environmental scientists and specialists, environmental science and protection technicians, conservation scientists and foresters, and zoologists and wildlife biologists. Earning a degree in environmental management does not guarantee eligibility for all of the following careers, but it does increase your chances of finding work in these types of positions. Some of these careers may require you to earn additional certifications or licenses in addition to a master's in environmental management.

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists protect the environment from degradation. They identify environmental problems and come up with solutions. They use specialized scientific knowledge to help clean up pollution, reduce waste, and advice policy makers. They work in laboratories, in offices, and in the field. You need at least a bachelor's to qualify for most entry-level jobs in this field, but holding a master's will distinguish you from other job applicants.

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians protect human health and the environment by identifying pollutants and contaminants. The collect samples of water, air, and soil for analysis and conduct inspections to look for environmental hazards and to verify that businesses, governments, and individuals comply with environmental regulations. They work in laboratories, offices, and in the field. They need at least an associate degree, but some positions require a bachelor's. Individuals with a master's in environmental management will stand out from most other applicants applying for these types of jobs.

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Conservation scientists and foresters manage and protect natural resources like forests, rangelands, and parks. They enforce government environmental regulations, negotiate land-use contracts, and create plans for resource and forest management. They often work for local, state, and federal governments, as well as for nonprofit groups and on private lands. Foresters must hold a license in some states. They need at least a bachelor's, but holding a master's can increase your pay and job opportunities.

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Wildlife biologists and zoologists study the way that animals interact with their environments and ecosystems. They also study human effects on ecosystems and think of ways to minimize our impact. They need communication, critical-thinking, problem-solving, outdoor, and observation skills. The collect biological data for analysis, create programs, write reports, and give presentations. They also make policy recommendations and create conservation plans. This work typically requires a master's degree for positions beyond entry level.

Environmental Management Associations and Organizations

Students and recent graduates who join a professional environmental management group can benefit in many ways. Professional groups usually provide networking opportunities, discounted conference registrations, career services, subscriptions to industry publications, and professional development courses and workshops. They also usually offer discounted membership rates to students.

National Association for Environmental Management

NAEM brings together professionals working to provide leadership in environmental, health, and safety management. The group organizes conferences, promotes research in the field, and facilitates networking opportunities for members.

National Association of Environmental Professionals

NAEP develops ethics and proficiency standards for the environmental professions. Member benefits include journal subscriptions, discounted fees for events and webinars, networking opportunities, and access to a career center.

Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment

IEMA dedicates itself to transforming the world by advocating for more sustainable practices. Sustainability and environment professionals from around the world make up the group's membership.

Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences

AESS works to advance the fields of environmental studies and sciences. The organization serves students, faculty, and staff of environmental studies programs across the world.

Ecological Society of America

Founded in 1915, the ESA promotes ecological science. Its 9,000 members benefit from online access to ESA publications, a member directory, annual meeting, and discounted certification fees.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Environmental Management?

Earning a master's in environmental management opens up a wide variety of careers in the environmental sciences, including positions like environmental scientists and specialists, environmental science and protection technicians, conservation scientists and foresters, and zoologists and wildlife biologists. In some cases, individuals with master's degrees qualify to teach environmental management at the community college level. Although a degree in this field does not guarantee eligibility for all of the positions described below, this degree can potentially lead to these career paths.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Environmental Scientists and Specialists Less than $41,580 $69,400 More than $122,510 +11%
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians Less than $28,230 $45,490 More than $77,960 +12%
Conservation Scientists and Foresters Less than $33,740 $60,970 More than $97,490 +6%
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Less than $39,620 $62,290 More than $99,700 +8%

Source: BLS 2018

The BLS expects faster than average growth in most sectors of the environmental management field. Environmental scientists and specialists can expect 11% growth between 2016-26, 4% higher than the average for all jobs. Environmental science and protection technicians can expect even faster growth, at 12%. Conservation scientists and foresters and zoologists and wildlife biologists can expect about average job growth.

The level of degree that you earn substantially impacts your salary. Individuals who earn a master's degree typically improve their potential salary growth compared to those who hold a bachelor's degree alone. Environmental scientists with a master's earn a median annual salary of $71,000. That's $14,000 more each year than the median salary an environmental scientist with a bachelor's earns, $57,000. Holding a master's also improves your chances of making the most money over time, with the top earners with master's degrees in the environmental sciences earning substantially more than the highest earners with bachelor's degrees.

Online Master's in Environmental Management Program Accreditation

Make sure to find an environmental management master's program at a regionally accredited college or university. Schools with accreditation demonstrate they meet quality standards that ensure students can receive a good education here. Colleges and universities without regional accreditation have not gone through an independent process of proving their academic programs will teach students the skills necessary to succeed in their fields. Other important reasons for attending a regionally accredited school include the ability to qualify for federal financial aid and the opportunity to transfer credit to another institution. Most of the time, you can't do either of these things when you go to a school without regional accreditation. This proves especially important if you plan to use federal student loans, grants, or work-study to help fund your education. You can find out if your school holds accreditation by looking it up in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. Environmental management master's programs do not hold separate field-specific accreditation.

How to Pay for a Master's in Environmental Management Degree

Figuring out how to pay for your master's degree can be one of the most stressful parts of graduate school. Almost everyone needs financial aid to help fund their education. Luckily, students can take advantage of numerous funding resources, including federal financial aid, scholarships from professional organizations, program scholarships, and assistantships/research positions.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    All master's in environmental management students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to find out if they qualify for federal financial aid. The federal government's Department of Education helps students pay for college by distributing grants, work-study, and student loans with borrower-friendly terms. If you take out student loans and then work in a public service field, as many environmental management graduates do, you may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

  • Scholarships from Professional Organizations

    One benefit of joining professional groups in your field is that many organizations give out scholarships to master's students. Groups typically award scholarships based on criteria like financial need, membership to a minority group, and merit. Oftentimes, applicants must submit an essay. The American Water Works Association offers numerous scholarships for students pursuing degrees related to water resource management.

  • Program Scholarships

    Many master's in environmental management programs maintain their own scholarship funds to help their students pay for school. Look at program websites and contact admissions officers to inquire about scholarship funds for students. More funding tends to go to incoming students, but many schools offer assistance to all students based on criteria like merit, financial need, and membership in an underrepresented group. For example, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers numerous graduate scholarships.

  • Assistantships/Research Positions/Fellowships

    Another good route for finding funding for your master's in environmental management includes seeing if your program offers graduate research or teaching assistantships or fellowships. Most graduate programs provide a limited number of these opportunities, which let graduate students work as research or teaching assistants to faculty members in exchange for partial or full tuition waivers. The Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara offers a variety of fellowship and teaching assistant opportunities each year.