Outdoor Orientation Program Trends at Colleges and Universities in the United States


  • Brent Bell University of New Hampshire
  • J. David Starbuck Gordon College W.I.L.D. Semester


Outdoor orientation programs provide an engaging introduction to college life. These programs involve adventure activities and physical challenges for small groups of 15 or fewer students spending at least one night away from campus in a wilderness environment (Bell et. al., 2010). Outdoor orientation programs began to develop (with the exception of Dartmouth's beginning in 1935) on college campuses in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and their rate of growth has steadily increased since 1968. In 2006, Bell, Holmes & Williams (published 2010) conducted the first nationwide census of such programs, establishing outdoor orientation programs as a distinctive branch of outdoor education. Findings indicated older, established colleges and universities were most likely to have an outdoor orientation program. For example, all eight Ivy League institutions utilize outdoor orientation programming, as well as some long-established institutions such as Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Penn State. Each year these programs provide students with outdoor experiences and leadership training. This study summarizes results from the second outdoor orientation program census in 2012, including current growth, cost, medical training, and evaluation trends.