Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/29/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Sander, Heather A

First Committee Member

Carrel, Margaret

Second Committee Member

Koylu, Caglar

Third Committee Member

Laurian, Lucie

Fourth Committee Member

Tate, Eric


Contact with nature confers numerous benefits to mental and physical well-being, including enhanced recovery from stress and mental fatigue. Given that stress and mental fatigue likely interfere with performance in school, vegetation in student environments, an element of nature, could support academic achievement and greater educational attainment, a critical component of social mobility and therefore well-being. However, such benefits may be reduced for urban populations, as living in cities often entails reduced access to environments with vegetation, access which may be even lower for minority urban populations. The distribution of vegetation in urban areas therefore has serious implications for well-being and justice in the distribution of environmental amenities, particularly given the increasing majority of humans in cities. Several studies have identified positive relationships between vegetation and various indicators of school-level achievement. However, findings are inconsistent across studies, and in some cases suggest that vegetation may be detrimental to student progress. This research aimed to assess relationships between vegetation and school-level academic achievement and how they vary with vegetation type and social and environmental context, and in so doing, addressed inconsistencies in the literature.

This dissertation consists of three studies. The first study identified positive relationships between tree canopy coverage and third-grade reading proficiency at a metropolitan extent. Spatial autoregressive models were applied to account for residual spatial autocorrelation when necessary. The second study examined relationships between vegetation and high school graduation and reading and mathematics rates using a sample of high schools from across the continental US. However, negative binomial mixed-effects models were unable to provide sufficient evidence to suggest academic benefits of vegetation at a national extent, although negative relationships between tree cover and graduation rate were observed for schools serving low-socioeconomic status (SES) attendance areas with greater proportions of African-American students. The third study applied a K-means statistical learning algorithm and mixed-effects beta regression models to a dataset covering the same sample of high schools from the second study to investigate the implications of social and environmental context for academic benefits of vegetation in more detail. Positive relationships between tree cover and agricultural vegetation and graduation rate were identified. The positive association with tree cover was stronger for high-SES populations and low-SES Latino/a populations. A negative association between non-forest vegetation and graduation rate was observed for low-SES, African-American populations.

These findings suggest academic benefits of vegetation in student environments at both a metropolitan and national extent, and that those benefits vary according to social and environmental context. Thus, landscape design and management approaches that incorporate vegetation as a resource to support academic achievement should carefully consider the social characteristics of the populations such approaches intend to benefit, as well as the environmental contexts within which those populations live. This work has revealed several opportunities for future research. Those opportunities include investigating which age-groups might benefit most from urban greening with the intent of supporting academic achievement, and investigating the mechanisms behind social and environmental variation in the academic benefits of vegetation.


ix, 139 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 122-134).


Copyright © 2019 Cody Brian Hodson

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Geography Commons