In this episode I examine the cost of a Permaculture Design Course compared to the cost of a college education and break down where that tuition money is spent.
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Also, thank you to Toby Howl for getting my mind started with this idea and getting me to turn it into an episode.
The first set of notes on this subject included many facts and figures facts and figures as I fell into my normal routine of wanting to break everything down into discrete pieces: how much tuition is collected, what is spent where, and so on. I didn’t like how that worked out as the show became more technical and numbers focused. This is a more general look at the class costs related to tuition, the amount of time a teacher spends developing their curriculum, and wrap up with whether or not a PDC is worht the cost.
I refere to my teacher training because we openly discussed many of these topics. The teacher training covered both how to improve as instructors and how to handle the logistics of planning, scheduling, and presenting a full PDC. My frame of reference at the time, and copious notes from that experience, provided a clearer picture of what goes into a class. My PDC took place for a few weekend days a month over 7 months compared to the teacher training which was a one week intensive, which I feel is indicative of the expectations in a 2 week on-site PDC.
If you’ve priced a Permaculture Design Course in the United States, they usually run in the $1000-2000 range, with the average in the middle of around $1500 for a 2 week, on-site, intensive. The lower cost is usually for a weekend course spread out over several months, where everyone commutes to the site, and the higher end for more expensive or exotic locations.
If you compare a PDC to a college course, this is around the price for 6 credit hours at a community college. The comparison is fair because the amount of time spent in a PDC is similar to the time spent taking 6 credit hours of courses at a college. With each credit hour representing 1 hour of classroom instruction and 1-3 hours of homework, per week, over a 12 week semester, a student will spend around 80 hours (6×13) in a class room for 6 credits, plus another 80-240 (1×80 – 3×80) hours outside of class on homework, compared to the 72+ hours of instruction for the PDC. From my own experience, I spend around 250 hours outside my PDC reading, working on homework assignments, and preparing the final design project. Plus, at least at a 2-week intensive, you will have a place to stay and have food provided for the cost, increasing the value.
One thing to remember is that permaculture courses are generally not subsidized in any way. There are no tax breaks, government funds, loans, or other resources used to cover any funding gaps or to pay for the administrative staff a college or university has that handles incidentals. For many permaculture teachers they and their team, if they have one, handle everything.
The tuition paid towards a PDC truly goes to cover the full cost of the class. Students, in addition to providing some pay for the instructors, are also paying the overhead: insurance, renting the site location, covering taxes, advertising, professional fees like a lawyer or accountant, running a website, providing guest instructors with an honorarium or other payment for their time, as well as food for the class and someone to cook. I mention this last piece because during my Teacher Training we talked about the cost of some these fees and I was surprised to learn that the cost of food, especially to cover the myriad of dietary requirements, was around 25% of the price. That comes off the top before the class begins.
Of the monies raised from tuition, upwards of 70 to 80% goes toward these costs, leaving around 20-30% to pay the teachers. But, I’ve only been to one class that had a single teacher. My PDC had 2. My teacher training had 3. Look at a PDC listing online and you will usually see 2 or more primary facilitators, plus a list of guest instructors who, as mentioned, are also usually paid.
That just counts the dollar figure and doesn’t include any of the preparation time that goes into the course materials. Though some resources exist that provide set permaculture curriculum outlines, such as Rosemary Marrow’s Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture – Teacher’s Notes, or the chapter by chapter breakdown in Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, every instructors chooses their focus and how to present the content. My PDC started with and focused heavily on the ethics and principles of permaculture. In a conversation with Andrew Millison, if my memory is correct at the moment, he chooses to start with reading and mapping the landscape. There is also an ongoing conversation about what to include in a PDC beyond the basics that Mollison originally framed, with some courses including more information and hours of material. To that end, each instructor largely develops their own curriculum and materials, which requires time.
I can say unequivocally that a PDC instructor spends many many hours getting ready for their class. During my teacher training, and reflected in my own experience just putting together the information for this show, every hour of classroom instruction takes between 1 and 20 hours of planning, practicing, and assembling material to suit the location, audience, and other factors for that particular class. The 1-20 hour figure doesn’t include the ongoing professional development necessary to stay current on permaculture trends and to teach an appropriate class.
This rather large time requirement is one of the reasons why I’m reaching to you, my audience, in September of 2012, to see if there is interest in an online PDC sometime in 2013. Even with all of my notes, experience, and resources, I’ve got several hundred hours of preparation before accepting the first student. This is true for most instructors.
I say that because even experienced teachers, to quote Jude, are continually “cooking the curriculum”. That is to say they continue to sharpen their presentation skills to clarify material, cut the fat off of a section to focus the content, add new in-class exercises or games to provide additional student practice, throw out parts that don’t work, rewrite whole sections, and update handouts, slides, or other audio-visual material to match. Not only does this happen in-between courses generally, but also in the weeks leading up to the class as students starts signing up and returning questionnaires or intro packets. For both my PDC and teacher training I completed a survey before the first day detailing my personal exposure and education with permaculture. In the case of my teacher training, each student underwent an interview with Jude and Andrew in the first few hours on-site to introduce ourselves, which influenced the material presented.
Further to this question of prep time is the devotion of time to students during the course itself. Both sets of my permaculture instructors made themselves available more than any teacher or professor I’d experienced previously. Ben and Dillon, during my PDC, answered question via email or through phone calls, as well as leading additional discussions during rest and lunch breaks. Jude, Andrew, and Rico, during the teacher training, were on from the moment they joined us for breakfast until the very end of the day as the last folks wandered off to bed. Though we talked and socialized, they each easily spent 12 hours or more a day in that teacher mode, insuring we all understood the material.
With this broad perspective of what’s behind the curtain for teaching a PDC, I think the cost is reasonable for what you get in return.
Though I was hesitant when this podcast first began to recommend everyone take a PDC, especially with the low cost and availability of permaculture books, as well as the plethora of videos on the web and other resources, these days I feel that if you are able, it is worth taking a PDC and I implore anyone who is interested to do so. The information and hands-on practice of design alone is worth it, but the experience and networking makes it even more valuable. The intense cooperation that occurs during a PDC leads to long term connections. Trust me, I’m not always a very social person but walked away with some good friends I am still in touch with 2 years later.
Does this help make sense of the cost of PDC? Leave a comment.
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