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Integrating professional sustainability literacy into the master of public administration curriculum

Kirsten Kinzer (Department of Public and International Affairs, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 26 March 2021

Issue publication date: 16 August 2021




Public administration, or the implementation of public policies by civil servants, will be central to implementing the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. And yet, few American master of public administration (MPA) programs explicitly focus on sustainable development or sustainability literacy. This study asks whether it is possible to build professional sustainability literacy within a general MPA course, specifically in a course on quantitative methods.


Through a natural experiment conducted in three sections of the graduate course Quantitative Methods in Public Administration at UNC Wilmington, the study explores the relationship between student growth in professional sustainability literacy and a student’s level of foundational sustainability literacy, pro-environmental behavior, background knowledge in statistics and their interest in sustainable development within public administration.


The study finds that there is a statistically significant relationship between growth in a student’s professional sustainability literacy and two variables: above average foundational sustainability literacy and a high level of interest in sustainability policies and programs.


This study is the first to consider an embedded approach to sustainability education in the field of public administration.



This paper forms part of a special section “Sustainability Literacy: Faculty, Staff, and Students as Agents of Change”, guest edited by Ira Feldman and Todd LeVasseur.

The author thanks Todd LeVasseu, Ira Feldman, and the participants in the 2020 Symposium on Sustainability Literacy at the University of Charleston for their comments on a draft of this paper. She also thanks to the UNC Wilmington Center for Teaching Excellence for funding that supported her participation in the symposium. In addition, she thanks the anonymous reviewers for their comments and the UNCW quantitative methods students who participated in the study for their time.


Kinzer, K. (2021), "Integrating professional sustainability literacy into the master of public administration curriculum", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 22 No. 5, pp. 982-1001.



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