Retention Effects of an Outdoor Orientation Program at a Midwestern University
Keywords:wilderness orientation, outdoor orientation, retention
Outdoor orientation programs are not a new idea. They date back to programs at Dartmouth College in 1935. Since then, these programs have continued to expand to now include over 191 programs at private and public institutions. The effects of these programs, including developing emotional autonomy, mature relationships with peers, a sense of place, and social support, have also been well researched. Beyond student development, the benefits for the university, including improved retention and persistence of first-year students participating in the programs, have also been well established. This paper seeks to add to the established research pattern of the effectiveness of these programs while examining the structure of one such program and its possible contributions to the retention success of its students. Results for the retention of students engaged in the outdoor orientation program for first to second year ranged from a low improvement of 11.9% over university retention rates to a high improvement of 16.3%. For retention across all years, results ranged from 3.9% to 20.9% improvement over university retention. Structural components of the course that research has shown to support its effectiveness included the combination of a weeklong outdoor experience with a formal semester-long classroom course, as well as the inclusion of professional staff/faculty on each experience to increase student support during the return to campus.
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