“This is an important area and there are only a few journalism schools that have specialized programs in environmental journalism, and I think there’s a real need for that,” Detjen said. “I think there’s a real need for advanced training in a field as complicated as the environment and environmental science, and for journalism schools to provide people with all sorts of new media and entrepreneurial skills.”

Michigan State now has three instructors focusing almost exclusively on teaching environmental science and health courses in print, broadcast, and online. It has also expanded its course offerings in environmental journalism, and the graduate program now fields six to nine students per year.

The University of Montana will have two “point people” running its new program—Löwisch and assistant professor Nadia White—with additional support coming from the journalism’s school’s eighteen other faculty members. White is the only one who specializes in covering environmental issues, but that’s still a good start. In July, CJR complimented her for launching an innovative reporting project in which her students spent an entire semester covering one of the most significant environmental criminal prosecutions in United States history, which took place in Missoula.

The new graduate program—which will take up to fifteen students—is accepting applications until February 15, and will begin classes next fall. At a cost of almost $40,000 in tuition and fees, it is significantly less expensive than its counterparts at Columbia ($89,000) and NYU ($69,000), and slightly more than its counterpart at Michigan State ($36,000). All of the schools offer options for partial tuition support and financial aid.

One hopes that the University of Montana will have no trouble attracting applications. If it can field a solid class, deliver a useful education, and help its first graduates find jobs (within the industry or otherwise) three years from now, it will have proved a very important point about the value of such programs.

Clarification: A sentence that previously read, “All of the schools offer roughly comparable levels of tuition support and financial aid,” was changed for clarity. While the schools offer similar types of assistance, the relative amounts they are able to provide are less clear.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.