What We Learned about EE in Kentucky through our Landscape Analysis



In taking a close look at the landscape of EE in Kentucky, we found numerous strengths and plenty of challenges to address. Here, we'll share some of our findings, along with tips for how you can use our new landscape analysis tools to search for and export data that's meaningful to your own work.


As part of our regional landscape analysis project, in 2021 we surveyed 88 environmental education providers in Kentucky. The findings from that survey are summarized below.


Mapping

The number of EE programs in each state ranges from 25 (4%; Tennessee) to 133 (23%; North Carolina), with an average of 80 programs per state. Based on this data, Kentucky exceeded the regional average with 88 providers. In reviewing our findings, we found geographic gaps for Kentucky in rural areas, areas with the highest social vulnerability index, obesity rates and lowest income. This was particularly noted in the eastern counties of Kentucky (2nd Nature TREC, 2022). Because our data only shows us the headquarters of the providers, we cannot be certain that these areas are underserved, but given that most of the environmental education takes place as field trips or direct teaching, we can make an assumption that many of these areas go unsupported due to the distance it would take to serve them.


Field Trends Dashboard

The dashboard has a wealth of information available for educators and stakeholders. The following serves to highlight some of the state findings, with the understanding that the data can be sorted by any number of and combination of factors such as sector, themes, audience served, and so on. For more details on how to use this tool to dig deeper into the data, please see the dashboard tutorial.


The predominant program themes in Kentucky are, respectively: Outdoor Learning, Conservation, STEM, Biodiversity, and Water. The primary term being used in Kentucky was overwhelmingly “environmental education,” followed by “outdoor education,” “conservation education,” and “nature-based learning.”


The primary offerings being provided across the state were direct teaching and field trips, followed by instructional materials. The primary audience served across the region tends to be K-5 students, followed by 6-8th and 9-12 grade students.



This demonstrates the need to increase opportunities for engagement at the early childhood in order for students to receive the same level of engagement in environmental education throughout K-12th grade. There is also a need to increase opportunities for teachers, administrators, and informal educators.


From our initial review, we have gleaned that environmental education providers are doing limited evaluation of their programs. There is a need for more support and training around the importance of program evaluation , as well as tools that can help providers do this in a meaningful way that will help them strengthen their programs.


If we adjust for non-responses, our data shows us that 7% of environmental education staff identify as Black, Indigenous, or Persons of Color (BIPOC), which is significantly lower than the state average of 11% per 2020 US Census Data. We found senior staff to be just 6.5% (2nd Nature TREC, 2022). This has identified a need for more BIPOC staff and leadership in environmental education organizations. Data showed that 14% of environmental education organizations had boards that reflected the same or higher BIPOC representation than the state average.

There is a need for additional support and training around the importance of collecting demographic information and how it can be used to strengthen programs and opportunities for broader engagement.

In a comparison of starting salaries for similar fields, environmental education was found to be lower than all three comparison fields. The average starting salary for environmental education reported in our survey was $29,515 for a full-time position compared to $34,900 for education, $39,100 for forestry, and $37,800 for hospitality and tourism.



Recommendations Based on our findings, we provide the following recommendations for Kentucky:

  • Increase diversity of environmental education staff and leadership to better reflect demographics of the state.

  • Address inequities in pay and benefits for environmental education.

  • Increase the entry level salary for environmental educators to be more comparable to other fields.

  • Increase opportunities for engagement at the early childhood level in order for students to receive the same level of engagement in environmental education from kindergarten through 12th grade.

  • Provide guidance and training around the importance of evaluating programs and better tools to help providers do this in a meaningful way that allows them to strengthen their programs.

  • Address gaps in services found across the state in rural areas, areas with the highest social vulnerability index, highest obesity rates, and lowest income, particularly in eastern Kentucky counties.

  • Provide guidance and training around the importance of collecting demographic information and how it can be used to strengthen programs and opportunities for broader engagement.

Learn more about the landscape analysis and how it can help YOU here.