The Third Census of Outdoor Orientation Programs in the United States, 2019




outdoor orientation, census, high impact orientation, wilderness orientation


This study investigated the number of outdoor orientation programs—high-impact transition programs for college students—in the United States. Researchers used a census methodology to identify the number of outdoor orientation programs existing at accredited, residential, bachelor’s degree-granting colleges and universities within the United States (N = 1,217). Researchers found 212 outdoor orientation programs (OOPs), representing 17% of the identified colleges, the largest number of OOPs in the history of these programs. A follow-up survey found OOPs were notably aligned in risk management procedures (medical training of leaders, tracking incidents, etc.) and programmatic similarities (use of name games, problem-solving and initiative activities). Programs diverged in the use of curricular activities (i.e., solo experiences) and the specifics of risk management (i.e., physician oversight). The COVID-19 pandemic led to 83% of programs being cancelled in 2021. A question remains as to how well these high-impact programs will recover after the pandemic.

Author Biography

Brent J. Bell, University of New Hampshire

Associate Professor of Outdoor Leadership and Management at the University of New Hampshire.


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