Bridging the Opportunity Gap: College Access Programs and Outdoor Adventure Education


  • Dan Richmond University of Utah
  • Jim Sibthorp University of Utah



outdoor adventure education, noncognitive skills, college readiness, socioeconomic status, mixed methods


Students with low socioeconomic status (SES) are much less likely to participate in out-of-school-time (OST) activities than their more affluent peers. This “opportunity gap” may have compounding effects, as these activities help develop key noncognitive factors: the skills, beliefs, and behaviors associated with college readiness. College access programs may provide opportunities that are out of reach to students with low SES, including outdoor adventure education (OAE) experiences. This study involved 175 adolescents from a needs-based college access program and examined the relation of participation in a weeklong OAE experience to changes in student attitudes and beliefs, specifically (a) self-efficacy for dealing with challenge and engaging in help-seeking behaviors, (b) growth mindsets toward leadership and emotional regulation, and (c) sense of belonging within a community of learners. The study employed pre- and postcourse measures of noncognitive factors along with in-depth interviews to identify outcomes and converging results from quantitative and qualitative data. Results indicate that OAE participation relates to gains in self-efficacy for dealing with challenge and using help-seeking behavior and reinforces sense of belonging. Interviews identified that the OAE experience provides an emotionally intense and authentic practice setting where students feel impelled to overcome difficulties. Unfamiliarity with the backcountry setting necessitated that students reach out to others for assistance, remain flexible, and adapt to new environments—key skills associated with college success.

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