FAQs for Urban and Environmental Planning & Policy Students

I'm an Environmental Policy Major or pre-major. Should I be staying in the Environmental Studies Department or going to the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department?

Current Environmental Policy majors or pre-majors can continue with their current major until graduation and stay in the Environmental Studies Department. They may also want to look at the Environmental Studies Department's new degree emphasis focused on policy in the 2021-2022 university catalog. This degree is called Environmental Studies-Policy Emphasis. It is substantially the same as the older Environmental Policy degree but aligns Foundations courses and Core Knowledge area courses with the new curriculum. While the Urban and Environmental Planning & Policy Department does have policy in the title, the department has not yet developed a policy-focused degree. For more information, see the FAQ for ENVS Declared Students.

What is the academic or curricular focus of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy (UEPP)?

A clear goal of the Department is to offer our students professional programs reflecting our commitment to developing curriculum that is focused on how to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion through planning and public policy practice toward meaningful and sustainable changes in our communities. The UEPP Department offers applied, professional, and accredited programs that include the BA in Urban Planning and Sustainable Development; the BA in Urban Sustainability; the Minor in Sustainable Design; and the MA in Environmental Studies in Urban Planning. The UEPP Department emphasizes community engagement serving communities throughout our region and globally. Our department prepares students to advance tangible, effective, creative, and sometimes revolutionary plans and policies to attain sustainable social, cultural, economic, and biophysical environments.

The fields of urban planning and environmental policy represent the primary means to address environmental problems in our representative democracy. The Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA, 1971), the Shorelines Management Act (SMA, 1972), and the Growth Management Act (GMA, 1990) represent the policy framework trilogy guiding the management of Washington State’s land and natural resources. Recently, and long overdue, the Washington legislature has proposed major reforms to the State’s land-use policies that include the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act, establishing environmental justice as a state policy, the incorporation of climate action as a planning element under the GMA, and the inclusion of Tribal Nations in statewide planning.

What is the Vision and Mission of the UEPP Department?

The mission of the UEPP Department is to contribute to a more just and sustainable society by cultivating students to become future planning and policy leaders who are ethical, knowledgeable, and technically capable to assist communities to plan their communities for present and future generations. The Department's mission affirms and works within the broader mission of the College of the Environment to integrate outstanding urban planning and policy educational programs through faculty-student collaboration, applied research, and community partnerships to foster positive outcomes in communities.

The UEPP Department programs envision advancing a society where individuals and groups can fully participate in the planning and development of their communities such that basic needs of safety, shelter, livelihoods, and opportunity for self-realization and participation are met for all. Community aspirations, as understood by diverse segments of the community, are discussed freely and form the foundation for working toward a more sustainable future, with special consideration for those who are most marginalized and for the ecological systems that sustain and inspire us.

The UEPP Department offers professional programs within the College that directly address urban, environmental, and community problem solving through planning and public policy practice. The Department's strategic mission is fulfilled through curriculum attainment of three values: Collaboration, Application, and Problem Orientation:

  • Collaboration: We collaborate within the College, with other units of the University, and with the larger community because environmental and community challenges require comprehensive and inclusive engagement.
  • Application: We apply our teaching and learning to the real world and seek to make meaningful contributions to a community's sustainable development.
  • Problem Orientation: We engage students, faculty, and the professional community meaningfully in the analysis of solutions to pressing environmental and community problems.

Many of our graduates go on to professional careers as urban planners and public policy experts and graduate studies in planning, law, natural resource management, architecture, and public policy. Our curriculum is designed to help students make the intellectual connections and gain the practical skills necessary for building socially and environmentally sustainable communities. Through the integration of urban and environmental planning and policy and the natural sciences, social sciences, and allied fields, the Department's programs endeavor to educate problem solvers who are able to meet the environmental challenges of our times.

What is the Job Outlook for Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy Majors?

The Department's focus on professional programs oriented toward the management of urban and natural environments meets the growing demand for trained professionals in the fields of urban planning, policy, and sustainability. In 2016, and again in2020, WWU received national accreditation of its BA in Urban Planning and Sustainable Development (UPSD) major, granted by the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB). The College's BA degree in urban planning and its predecessor planning degrees have continuously operated at WWU for over 45 years. The BA planning degree has been granted to well over 750 students and is one of only 16 accredited undergraduate programs in the nation, and one of only two accredited undergraduate planning degrees in Washington State. Accreditation requires the program to adhere to strict curricular and academic standards.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) outlook for urban planning and policy occupations projected a “much faster than average” growth in employment over the next 10 years – 11% growth for urban planners, for example, compared to a 4% average growth rate for all occupations. WWU’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness reported that our 2019 class of urban planning and policy majors earned entry level salaries averaging $10,000 higher than other College of the Environment majors. At the State level, the Employment Security Department (ESD) projected an average annual total of 506 job openings in Washington State each year through 2028. These are above-average paying jobs nationwide. In Washington State, the lowest 10th percentile earned $62,750 in 2020 and the average annual salary policy and urban planners was $86,460.

What is the BA Urban Planning and Sustainable Development Major about?

Cities, where most of the world’s population lives, are ground zero in the struggles for climate change, environmental quality, and social justice. Even in rural areas, cities are vital components of supply chains. Clearly, we live in an urban world. This interdisciplinary Department of planners, urban designers, policy makers, and lawyers teach a curriculum of diversity and inclusion towards building sustainable and equitable communities.

College of the Environment's BA degree in Urban Planning and Sustainable Development prepares you to develop and apply practical, sustainable, and just solutions to these problems.

College of the Environment's BA in Urban Planning and Sustainable Development (UPSD), (102 credits minimum), is nationally accredited.  Why does accreditation matter? It establishes that the program meets professional standards, and it signals to employers that they can have confidence in graduates’ education in planning.

The UPSD major emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to solving complex problems that face communities. The program emphasizes a concern for progressive change that is needed in the design of equitable, healthful, livable, diverse and sustainable communities for present and future generations. Our program aspires to serve diverse communities and we encourage students with a breadth of backgrounds and life experiences to apply. The program prepares students with the knowledge and skills needed to make positive changes towards sustainability in an increasingly complex world. Graduates are prepared for professional careers in planning agencies, consulting firms, and nonprofit organizations at the local, state, and federal levels of government, as well as graduate study.

What is the BA Urban Sustainability about?

The Urban Sustainability major (67 credits minimum) examines the intersection of human and environmental dimensions of cities in the United States and around the world.  The curriculum incorporates approaches from a range of disciplines including urban planning, environmental policy, economics, urban design, political science, and history.  The program emphasizes analytic and communication skills, which are highly valued by a range of employers.  The program provides an excellent foundation for students pursuing graduate studies in urban and social sciences disciplines.     

What is the Sustainable Design Minor about?

The Departments of Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy and Engineering Technology jointly offer a minor in Sustainable Design (28 credits minimum). The program enables students with strengths in design, planning, policy and environmental studies to gain complementary skills to pursue sustainable design careers. The program is open to students from any field of study that would benefit by the concepts and skills offered. Students in the program gain an understanding of the natural and social systems within which institutions and technologies shape sustainable projects.   

How do I declare as a UEPP Pre-major?

At any time, you can declare yourself as a pre-major with interest in any major in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy (UEPP). There are several advantages to declaring an UEPP pre-major during your freshman or sophomore year. Once you are declared you are assigned a College of the Environment professional advisor and a UEPP faculty advisor to help you understand graduation requirements and how to navigate through the curriculum. Your faculty advisor can discuss with you which courses to take and give you advice about how to prepare for a future career or graduate school. As a pre-major, your email is added to an email distribution list for College of the Environment majors so you will begin to receive notifications and announcements. Pre-major status will also give you access to priority registration for some classes.                                                           

How Do I Apply to UEPP Majors?

Before applying, students should complete UEPP major and minor foundation courses. To apply to one of our majors, students submit an application that includes a 1-2 page essay describing your reasons to enter into the major, as well as a plan of study. The Urban Planning major also requires the submission of a portfolio. Applications are accepted as follows:


Quarters and applications accepted
Winter Spring Summer Fall
BA in Urban Sustainability

BA in Urban Planning / Sustainable Development

BA in Urban Sustainability

Minor in Sustainable Design


BA in Urban Sustainability

Minor in Sustainable Design

Additional Questions?

Contact the Program Administrator, Nick Zaferatos at Nicholas.Zaferatos@wwu.edu