The Value of Accreditation for Outdoor Leadership Education Programs


  • Will Hobbs Georgia College
  • Kelli McMahan Baylor University
  • Jeannette Stawski Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education



outdoor leadership, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, Wilderness Education Association, accreditation, training and development, standards


More than 50 years have passed since the first programs emerged in the United States for outdoor leaders. In that time, the Wilderness Education Association (WEA) has equipped countless outdoor leaders to plan and implement safe, enjoyable expeditions in the backcountry with minimal environmental impact (Petzoldt, 1984). In 2017, the WEA Board of Directors hosted a diverse group of professionals who examined and discussed the value, constraints, and benefits of accreditation for outdoor leadership education. While the meeting has implications specific to the ongoing efforts and initiatives of the WEA, the outcomes from these conversations provide insight and direction far beyond the scope of WEA operations and products, indicating general and specific challenges for any accepted accreditation scheme. Until the outdoor industry can collectively agree on minimum qualifications and expectations for outdoor leadership education, the “professional” status of leaders, managers, and educators will remain in question both within and outside the industry. This commentary shares the primary goals and structure of the gathering and perspectives from the participants, representatives from other accreditation schemes, and the leadership of the WEA and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) to add to the discussion on the value of formalized external review and its application to applied curriculums.

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Author Biographies

Will Hobbs, Georgia College

Outdoor Education Faculty
Board of Directors, Wilderness Education Association


Kelli McMahan, Baylor University

Associate Clinical Professor
Board of Directors, Wilderness Education Association

Jeannette Stawski, Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education

Executive Director


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