Online Degrees in Environmental Engineering

"Engineers have a collective responsibility to improve the lives of people around the world," writes Bernard Amadei, engineering professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in an article titled "Engineering for the Developing World."

Amadei believes that an environmental engineering education must prepare students to enter the real world, where economic, social, cultural, environmental and ethical issues may be more pressing than the technical aspects of a project. Environmental engineering includes diverse projects such as finding innovative solutions to global warming, waste disposal, water pollution and ozone depletion; protecting wildlife; and improving methods of recycling and waste management.

Like other engineers, environmental engineers must be team players with excellent communication skills as well as a love for math and science. Attention to detail, creativity, and an inquisitive and analytical nature are some of the traits necessary.

Many online engineering degree concentrations are available depending on individual school programs and student interests, but most fall into four environmental categories:

  1. Improving the civil superstructure
  2. Protecting resources
  3. Mitigating hazards
  4. Creating civil systems that are efficient and sustainable

A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum standard for entry-level engineers. According to the Department of Labor, 46.7 percent of environmental engineers have a bachelor's degree and 33.4 percent have a master's degree.

Students with associate degrees can enter the workforce as environmental engineering technicians, working under the direction of an engineer, or continue on to earn a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's degree programs provide a strong fundamental background in engineering science, design and practice; the focus may be slightly different, depending on the school. Some programs are oriented toward a career, others toward graduate study. An internship can also be an important component of an environmental engineering program.

Master's degree programs focus on the student's area of specialization. According to the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, or AAEE, many employers today prefer to hire engineers who have master's degrees.

Doctoral degrees can lead to advanced research, postsecondary teaching positions, or high-level engineering careers in industry and government. The AAEE strongly recommends that environmental engineers earn their Ph.D. to further their careers.

Environmental engineers work to solve problems that can have a global impact. Enrolling in online engineering programs can put students in touch with fellow engineering students around the world to gain a global perspective that is critical in this profession. Working engineers can also apply the theories they learn in online programs to their real-world jobs.

Digital experience is useful for engineering students; the Department of Labor lists interacting with computers among the main work activities in this field. Environmental engineers use software with specialized functions such as scientific analysis, compliance, computer aided design, graphics imaging and map creation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean annual salary for environmental engineers in 2010 was $83,160. Top salaries were paid in the following industry sectors:

  • Oil and gas extraction: $123,320
  • Pipeline transportation of natural gas: $101,330
  • Motor vehicle manufacturing: $97,720

Employment growth for environmental engineers between 2008 and 2018 is projected to be 31 percent, according to the BLS.

  • Projected job growth: At 31 percent, job growth projected for environmental engineering is second only to biomedical engineering.
  • Top state salary: In 2010, Utah paid its environmental engineers the highest mean wages: $53.20 per hour. (BLS)
  • Top industry employers: BLS data shows that most environmental engineers work for architectural, engineering and related services.
Average Salary
Expected Job Growth
(2014 - 2024)
Environmental Engineering Technicians16,550$52,50012.9%
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including Health32,950$47,93011.9%
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health84,250$75,36011.1%
Environmental Science Teachers, Postsecondary5,520$88,8809.6%
Environmental Engineers52,280$88,5308.3%
Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2014-24 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
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