Swarthmore College, the epicenter of student protest last year over investment in fossil fuels, has budgeted $300,000 as part of an ongoing commitment to improve energy conservation on campus.

The college's board of managers, at its meeting last weekend, approved the expenditure as part of a $160 million budget.

Swarthmore drew national attention last spring when students staged a 32-day sit-in to try to persuade the board to divest fossil fuels from its endowment portfolio.

The board voted last May not to divest any of its $1.9 billion endowment, citing investment guidelines that call for "the endowment to yield the best long-term financial results, rather than to pursue other social objectives."

But the protests - which are continuing on a smaller level - resonated with some faculty, many from the economics department. They met over the summer, and proposed that the college cost out its carbon emissions and look to reduce them. Microsoft Corp. has been a leader in this effort, and similar projects are underway at several other colleges, including Princeton and Yale Universities.

"Climate change has been - no pun intended - a hot topic on this campus," said Steve Golub, a professor of economics. "We weren't necessarily pro or against divestment, but we thought divestment wasn't going to fly at the college."

The faculty, led by Betsy Bolton, an English professor and chair of environmental studies, presented its proposal to college leaders, and Golub said he was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the college moved.

"We've been talking about this for many years," said Greg Brown, vice president for finance and administration, noting the college's commitment to become carbon neutral by 2035. "This really puts sustainability outside of the theoretical and brings it into the consciousness of the community at large."

Sophia Zaia, a core member of Mountain Justice, the student protest group, called the move "valuable and important" but said it doesn't go far enough.

"We need to move away from a fossil-fuel-dependent economy," said Zaia, 20, a sophomore from Austin, Texas, who said her group will continue to push for divestment.

The initiative will become a line item in the budget each year, Brown said, with each college department contributing. Eventually, the plan is to charge each department based on usage, which would encourage conservation. Revenue also will come through savings from some of the projects, creating a revolving fund.

In the first year, the college likely will look closely at power usage on its more than 300-acre campus, with 68 buildings. The college last year emitted roughly 4,535 metric tons of carbon dioxide, down from 7,257 a decade ago.

"The process we're going through right now," said Aurora Winslade, director of sustainability, "is an assessment of all the different projects, how much do they cost and how much do they save."

Projects could take many forms. An experiment initiated by students, she said, is underway to use "reduced flow" shower heads.