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Formal vs. informal education (especially in terms of $)

Rob Meyer

Joined: Nov 14, 2011
Posts: 103
I have asked basically this same question on this board before, but here I am a semester later, and questioning my path yet again.

Obviously, depending on what one wants to do, a formal degree may be necessary. For me, I've been interested in becoming a landscape architect, and as such, just started a LA program this past semester. Well, it's not going as well as I had hoped, not because I'm not able to learn the stuff, but because I just haven't been able to focus enough to do the work. I've been distracted by finding work, and now that I've found a job, working, planning and planting gardens, and reading on my own time. It seems like the answer for me here is clear, that I should just quit school, learn on my own, take a PDC, and go for the homesteading/part time designing path, and leave the landscape architecture for those who are more focused and able to deal with bureaucracy than I.

My overarching question that I'm pointing to here is, in the end, which path is generally more successful in terms of making money, getting a college degree and trying to apply permaculture from that angle, or foregoing the debt (I already have 20k+ because of a previous aborted music education career path...), or simply working, saving, learning on your own, and building your business from that knowledge and experience. I know that some of the most successful people in the world dropped out of college, and even high school. Some of the greatest inventions/companies came from college drop outs, including facebook and apple.

So what is everyone's thoughts on this? Should I follow the marc zuckerburg and bill gates of the world, or should I keep at it and try to finish, even if it's a liberal arts degree or an associates from a community college. I've got to be close to something by now, but I'm not sure if I would even really benefit from it in the end, compared to studying at my own pace and working/saving. As my brother said to me, who recently finished a computer science associates degree, which he paid for with his own money he earned while working, he thinks of it as what he could be doing instead, such as working, getting experience, and saving, as opposed to being busy all the time while hemoraging money on supplies, transportation, books, and accumulating debt. This sounds like sound advice to me. What do you think?
Rob Meyer

Joined: Nov 14, 2011
Posts: 103
Forgot to mention an alternative I recently found, that could be a much better option. Check it out:

Katy Whitby-last

Joined: Apr 18, 2011
Posts: 231
Location: Scotland
Having spent 20 years teaching at University I would say don't bother with the degree unless you are really committed to it as otherwise you won't give it your best shot.
Kota Dubois

Joined: Oct 13, 2011
Posts: 171
Rob, I saw your first posting of this question and I bit my tongue and didn't reply. So here goes.

About half a dozen years ago a change to the student loans was buried in another unrelated bill that made it impossible to clear student debt through bankruptcy (a gift to the bankers). If you don't want to be forced to work just to service this debt don't accumulate any more and work to get rid of that which you already have.

I've made a lot of money in the last 20 years riding every economic bubble (tech, housing and the latest equity one), and gotten out before they burst. Since last December I am in cash only. That's how confident I am in the present situation. One can never be sure the things that worked last time around will be the same that work the next time.

If you are truly a self learner, as I am, you do not need a university degree to succeed, just a good attitude and work ethic. Work, live frugally, pay down that loan, save your pennies and soon enough you can buy some land (I'm convinced prices have a way to fall yet). By that time you will have all the book learning you need to make a go on your own.

Good luck. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I was born in a time of plenty that I was able to do what I did. I really fear for your generation.

We cannot change the waves of expansion and contraction, as their scale is beyond human control, but we can learn to surf. Nicole Foss @ The Automatic Earth
Jordan Lowery

Joined: Sep 26, 2009
Posts: 1528
Location: zone 7
i find that the informal path tends to help you think outside of the modern mono-thought culture. where everything must be the same, done the same way and so on. when you learn the same skills outside that mindset you are more open to new ideas, new thoughts, and in turn have a whole different perspective on things.

i traveled this path and can say without a doubt it was better for me, I have people coming and looking to me for landscape/permaculture work because of this outside the modern mindset path i have taken. Though i cant say that it is not for everyone. Some people really struggle when set upon a path where there is a lot of trial and error and learning to be done without someone telling you step by step what to do and say.

The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings. - Masanobu Fukuoka
Austin Max

Joined: Mar 15, 2012
Posts: 98
Location: South Central Kentucky
I am about to graduate with a degree in sculpture, and art is something I have been/am very passionate about. I have been very grateful for all the skills and techniques I have learned, however I still feel burdened by school. You end up paying a lot of money to do what is often meaningless busy work. The schools all require you to take their pre determined program of classes along with whatever you are actually interested in. In the last few years that I have turned to farming/permaculture, I feel that school holds me back, in more ways than just finances. My advice: stop throwing your money away and get out there and get some real experience. There are tons of people out there who are doing what you want to do and succeeding at it. Search out those people, and offer yourself up as a willing learner and helper. For me there is no teacher like someone doing it for a living, for the love of doing it, not bound by anyones requirements or curriculum. I may just be being a bum, but in my final weeks I feel particularly weighted by my school requirements, I have to much else to do of my own design. Don't get stuck! Get out there now and learn while you earn, instead of getting into more debt.
paul wheaton

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 17427
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
Jocelyn and I recorded a podcast about this today. But it could be a while until it is uploaded.

sign up for my daily-ish email / rocket mass heater 4-DVD set / permaculture playing cards
world domination gardening 3-DVD set / my youtube videos / my podcasts
wayne stephen

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1793
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
Just as any other habit - you will need a means to support your permaculture habit. Do you have the investment capital and time to build your system? Do you have the means to afford the time to build it ? Then does a straight job become necessary and what is better - Low pay or Higher ? I am a Registered Nurse getting started on a Homestead that will one day provide me with the means to not have to work so much and put more into my fauna , flora , and home. If I was a younger man , less in debt , and without others who depend on me for sustinence I would find it easier to tough it out , like any starving artist. A piece of paper can open doors and provide a bit of leverage to higher pay , just pick the right field. If you choose nursing you would be always needed and have many flexible options , become an advocate for alternative approaches such as Eden Alternative and Naomi Feils Validation Therapy - these are the " permaculture "
approaches to human caring.
" If I was a rich man ..... " Rev Tevia

For unlimited return on all your investments - Make your deposits at 'The Entangled Bank' !

Fred Morgan

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 977
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
If you don't want to go to college because you are lazy, you should go to college. If you don't want to go to college because you have so many ideas, plans, etc and can't slow down long enough to go to college, you don't need college most likely.

In my opinion, it is about momentum. Those who have succeeded in spite of having no college did so because they themselves are nearly an irresistible force. If they need to learn something, they will. If they need to get opportunity, they will make it.

For the record, I never slowed down long enough for college - and can't stand going for training because it is so slow. But, both our children have degrees, and so does my wife. Everyone I know who has made it pretty big without college would have been successful no matter what - at least in making money. There are naturals in painting, throwing a ball, etc. There are naturals in business too.

When I was in High school, I had grades that would make a turnip look like an overachiever. The thing that surprised people was, that I scored very high on ACT, SAT, etc. The reason is, I had learned everything, and a lot more, and retained it because I was interested in it. I just hated doing busy work, i.e. homework.

So, the answer is, it depends, and what it depends on most, is you.

Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Lissa Lane

Joined: Mar 30, 2012
Posts: 10
Hi Rob,
I've spent the last 7 years cultivating a career that required a lot of school and experience, and now I've got a graduate degree and there aren't any permanent jobs. I weighed my options heavily and almost returned for yet ANOTHER degree.... but luckily realized before it was too late that more school was the last thing I wanted to do. My point is, its easy to keep doing what you think you SHOULD be doing, and ignore what your intuition and soul are telling you to do. My decision making strategy was to make a choice, sit with it for a few days and watch what comes up in you... do you feel regret? relief? excitement?

Two brief thoughts to consider:
1- Higher education institutions are BUSINESSES. That is, they're out to make a profit. They've obviously been very successful in roping in young curious minds and filling them with ideas of what is necessary for their career.... then giving them a bunch of busy work to slow the process of education, all while charging large sums of money for tuition fees and supplies.... which as someone else mentioned, is with you for life- cannot be cancelled even by bankruptcy.
2- Think about what you really want to do, and what you need to learn to get there. Most likely, if you already have a job in your field you don't need the formal education right now. You could learn as much as you can from your collegues, experieces and personal studies, then, if you find you can't advance like you would like, you could always try school again. School will always be there, and will always be anxious to take you (and your money).

Above all, be careful not to work yourself into a tailspin about this. A calm head is a clear head.

Good luck!

Brett Price

Joined: Mar 31, 2012
Posts: 9
I'm in a horticulture program right now at a local community college. It's just a simple 2 year program but it's kind of set up ideally for generalist. It's a very broadbased cirriculum covering Woody plants, nursery operation, greenhouse management, surveying and mapping , soils , landscape design etc. I'm stoked about this because 1) it's only 8 grand 2) it's perfect for permaculture design 3) it's only a 2 year commitment. In your situation I would have to go with getting out of there. I think alot of folks who have replied to this are pretty spot on. If you want to be a permaculture farmer (what I want to do) then hang out with some permaculture farmers. I"m looking into long term lease and tenure options for farming as well. A very big obstacle for young aspiring farmers is lack of capital for start up and land cost. Long term leases and other tenure and stewardship arrangements are the solution to this problem. If we can get landowners excited about the prospect of them contributing to society merely by allowing vibrant, young permaculturalist loose on land then we have won.
Gray Simpson

Joined: Jan 12, 2012
Posts: 67
Location: McDonough, GA
Hey, Rob. I'm in highschool and wondering what I should do after I graduate.


Here's some great advice I got from Raine Bradford on that thread: There are no wrong paths. There is only experience and insight gained from it. Enjoy the paths and don't take anything, especially yourself, too seriously.

Jeanine Gurley

Joined: May 23, 2011
Posts: 1393
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
My question to you is:
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO? No where in your post do you mention a specific goal. So my advice is write down what you want to do.

You can want to do more than one thing. I have been a heavy equipment operator, dog groomer, intelligence analyst, secretary, horse trainer, airfield manager and more. Pick something that you want to do and then focus on what you need to do to get there. If it involves school then go to school. If it doesn’t then get out of there and focus on your goal.

What if it doesn’t work out? Then do something else. You are young – you can do lots of things. If one thing doesn’t work out – or you get bored with it – reinvent yourself and do something different. Your job is not your identity – it is not ‘who you are’. You can do and experience as many different and varied things as you allow yourself to experience.

And a second note: I commend your brother for not getting a student loan. The student loan is a concept that I just cannot get my head around. It used to be taught that you worked your way through college. Now you go into debt – you are encouraged to borrow money when you have absolutely no prospects for paying it back. I know a pilot that picked cotton in order to pay for college – and he’s not even that old! He just didn’t want to go into debt. That is back breaking work but it is not the norm now days.

So write down a list of specific things that you want to do. That might help you decide what path you need to take.

1. my projects
Lori Crouch

Joined: Sep 26, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Amarillo, TX.
My uncle worked in a library to put himself through law school in the 70's. If he were to attempt that now he would still fall short to the tune of about 20k per year (same University). The price of the education has gone up, but the value of that same education has either gone down or not risen at the same rate. A degree no longer ensures a paying job.

If you don't know what you want to do, take a few classes at a community college to find out what you don't like. This way you don't waste years of your life meandering about from career to career. However, you are on Permies.com. This means that you have a good interest in permaculture. You also have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips on how to live simply, yet abundantly in a manner that does not require you to have a degree or make large amounts of money to sustain yourself. Going to school is like digging a hole. At the beginning you can see all around and imagine possibilities. However, the more you dig the hole the deeper you are and can no longer see possibilities...just a big dark pit of dirt. When you finish the degree, where are you? You are at the very bottom of a great big hole and have to climb out to be where you were when you started it all. Point: stop digging a hole and just live.
Hanley Kale-Grinder

Joined: Sep 30, 2011
Posts: 112
Location: Mountain West of USA, Salt Lake City
I absolutely loved almost everyone of my classes that I took for a BA Psychology. I also didn't have to pay for any of it... So yes, I'm very glad I got a degree even though I don't "use" it. However, I know a guy who's parents encouraged him to take his 'college money' and buy property and learn on his own. He is very book smart AND a land owner. Its a different path for everyone.
Denise Lehtinen

Joined: Sep 10, 2011
Posts: 102
Location: Tampa, Florida zone 9A
You have asked for advice as to whether you should get the degree or not.

In all honesty I cannot truely know that. But I can speak from my own personal experiences, and perhaps in them you may find something useful.

Some years ago I began an Environmental Engineering masters degree. Naively, I thought that this would be the path to save the world -- long before that in high school I had written Greenpeace a letter. As a teen I liked junk mail and I learned alot by reading what they sent.

It didn't take me a semester before I started to hate my degree program. But I was too stupid to listen to that feeling within me. I believed that the right thing to do was to get the degree so that I could then move on with my life. BIG MISTAKE. I was never able to finish that degree -- I got bogged down in the masters project which I didn't have enough oomph to finish.

I would say, that based on my experience (which may be significantly different from yours -- we are different people certainly), I would say: GET THE DEGREE ONLY WHEN you know that that credential will open doors to a direction you want to go in.

In short, I recommend that you give up on the degree you no longer care about and do what you love.

On a somewhat tangential point, I have since learned that college degrees are inherently designed to support this culture's goal of destroying everything. They are about domination and control of knowledge and what people think is true. The book that brought light to this issue for me is: The Spirit of Regeneration by PRATEC. In this book the originators of this organization, which strives to support Andean indigeneous culture, sought to capture the reality of Andean culture first in their own fields of specialty and then later in others. They failed to do so and came to the conclusion that the realities of Andean culture are impossible to capture in the system of the universities.

I myself (as someone who excelled in our educational system and finds that modality relaxing and comforting) have come to not hold with much esteem any of the products of modern learning as it is done in schools.

The best way to learn ANYTHING is by doing; not by reading. (Which is why the guys on the Big Bang Theory suck at everything.) Reading helps in bits and pieces sometimes in the process of learning, but only as it supports the process of doing.

Thank you for the opportunity to get this off my chest.

Be Well,
Cris Bessette

Joined: May 20, 2011
Posts: 735
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
I think the difference between "formal" and "informal" education often is simply that prestigious piece of paper from a recognized educator. obviously, you don't want brain surgery from a guy that took the home internet course, but in general...

There are some types of jobs and work that require that piece of paper to get your foot in the door, so I struggled through electronics school, got a job in electronics.
Once my foot was in the door however, I started learning things on my own to "move up the ladder".

For instance, I taught myself Spanish through internet courses, workbooks, old text books, and simply immersing myself in it. I have no degrees or fancy papers that confirm my ability, but regardless my company took notice of my abilities and ended up sending me around the world as the international representative for the company. (not to mention many other opportunities that were opened too)

If one is not a "self -starter" or hasn't a personal drive to push themself to learn something, then formal education may be the way to go if only for the methodology of it.
M Marx

Joined: Feb 14, 2012
Posts: 57
Location: Los Angeles
I think 75% plus of higher education is a total waste of time -- currently finishing masters -- they don't have anything left to teach, so each class, I learn about the professors family, and they always tell us about apa mechanics. All of my masters courses could have been a knowledgeable person (i.e. professor) posting material for class to read, then submit paper/take test. I get nothing from the seat time except a numb ass. My profession requires degrees. After watching Bill Mollison and geoff lawton's PDC video, I have been calling the professors' bluff. It is funny, b/c they respect me more now that they know, that I know, that they have nothing to left to"teach".
I enjoyed undergrad classes b/c it is like mental gymnastics, new ideas, a lot of WOW moments. But in the end, it was mostly mental masturbation -- which is good for the prostate right?
For what it's worth, in the PDC video (and I assume elsewhere) Bill Mollison explicitly lambasts landscape design (I took some courses for this and I totally agree) for not having -- correct me if I'm wrong -- functionality as part of its design paradigm.
He tells a story about putting his watch on the podium for five minutes after asking a group of landscape architects "who here designs functional gardens?" (or some similar idea) basically saying that landscape design might be pretty, but is totally useless except as eye candy.
The only worthwhile part of my education is that I can now write exceptionally according to The Academy (dont ding me on my grammar b/c I don't edit much/any for forum posts and I didn't say perfect).
Writing well is not acquired easily in most cases -- I have complete confidence now. Was this worth the cost of time and money?
For me the answer is a resounding no, but sometimes, one is sidetracked by goals that, in the end, end up being not exactly what one had hoped for in terms of satisfaction. This has happened to me inside and outside The Academy.
Can I earn a good living almost anywhere in the world? yes, could I do that b/4 school? not as much. Does it matter?
So, now I can save for a "grubstake" (as Paul calls it) whereas, b/4 that may not have come to fruition (as quickly) -- but who knows?
I now know a lot of jargon and have technical skills that are useful, but not required, for certain aspects of my permaculture goals.
To quote Bill "They haven't locked the gates yet!"
ps Interestingly, pdc's and earning the permaculture diplomas mimic higher ed, with the major differences (in my perspective) being hands-on requirements and generalization (where the academy honors hyper-specialization). So, if you are a jack/jill of all trades like myself, maybe consider this too.
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
subject: Formal vs. informal education (especially in terms of $)