A snapshot of permaculture in higher ed

Where and how is permaculture appearing in education at universities and colleges?

This is a question I set out to investigate in 2014. I identified academic institutions offering permaculture education through personal communication, interviews, emails to program administrators and faculty, and online academic catalogs and course schedules. Of course, what I’m presenting here isn’t exhaustive – courses are added, removed, and re-named all the time, and there are hundreds of schools in North America. But this post offers us a snapshot of what’s happening in terms of place, time, and context.

At least 33 academic institutions in Canada and the US have offered a permaculture design certificate (PDC) or permaculture program for academic credit. About half of these institutions also offered permaculture education through other courses with permaculture as a topic or through non-credit PDCs. At least 24 other institutions have offered either a non-credit PDC, or other credit courses with permaculture as a topic or major focus. There are without doubt many more schools to add to the list, which was created in May 2015. But as this table shows, there’s a general trend in the number of PDCs offered for academic credit, which has begin to rise at a quicker pace within the past decade:

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Approximate number of PDCs offered for academic credit in Canada and US, 1996-2016

As this map shows, the trend is mainly happening in the US. It’s most common in the Northeastern US, followed by the Pacific Northwest, including southern British Columbia:

Regional distribution - Permaculture in higher education

Map of permaculture courses at post-secondary institutions in Canada and the US. Red pins indicate PDCs and permaculture programs for credit. Blue pins indicate non-credit PDCs at academic institutions and non-PDC permaculture courses for credit.

The PDC is offered for credit by all kinds of institutions, the most common being large public research or land grant universities and small private institutions, often with a liberal arts focus. As this table shows, permaculture education is associated with a variety of different fields, the most common being Environment & Sustainability, followed by Agricultural Sciences.

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Academic programs and departments offering permaculture courses in Canada & US

The most common model for integrating the standard 72-hour PDC curriculum is a semester-based two-course series. Intensive 2-7 week courses (often off-campus) are also common. In some cases, the PDC is offered through a single course using an online format or a combination of regular classes with three-hour labs or intensive weekend days. In rare cases the PDC is offered over three or more courses.

The PDC is offered at all undergraduate levels, as well as in graduate studies. Most are open to students from a variety of fields and do not have pre-requisites. Most courses are general electives, but several are required program components or are approved electives meeting requirements.

So what does this data tell us about permaculture in higher education? Well, it’s certainly growing in many different types of academic spaces and places. I think this is a positive sign that the value of permaculture is being recognized in diverse regions and fields of study. Permaculture has had a strong historical focus in agriculture, but bringing it into higher education could help the ideas evolve and be applied in new ways to different fields.

This trend only shows signs of growing. What are the implications of this for the permaculture world? And what are the impacts on environmental and sustainability education? These questions form the core of my Master’s research and a series of short videos I’m creating. I’ll be exploring these questions and sharing more data I’ve uncovered on this site in the coming months.

See you in 2016!


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