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.Subscribe to JOREL


Anderman, L. H. (2003). Academic and social perceptions as predictors of change in middle school students’ sense of belonging. The Journal of Experimental Education, 72(1), 5–22.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191–215.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2006). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents (pp. 307–337). Scotsdale, AZ: Information Age Publishing.

Bell, B. J., Gass, M. A., Nafziger, C. S., & Starbuck, J. D. (2014). The state of knowledge of outdoor orientation programs: Current practices, research, and theory. Journal of Experiential Education, 37(1), 31–45.

Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78(1), 246–263.

Blomfield, C. J., & Barber, B. L. (2011). Developmental experiences during extracurricular activities and Australian adolescents’ self-concept: Particularly important for youth from disadvantaged schools. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(5), 582–594.

Burnette, J. L., O’Boyle, E. H., VanEpps, E. M., Pollack, J. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Mind-sets matter: A meta-analytic review of implicit theories and self-regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 139(3), 655–701.

Burnette, J. L., Pollack, J. M., & Hoyt, C. L. (2010). Individual differences in implicit theories of leadership ability and self-efficacy: Predicting responses to stereotype threat. Journal of Leadership Studies, 3(4), 46–56.

C5 Foundation. (2015). Target population. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from

Chesney, M. A., Neilands, T. B., Chambers, D. B., Taylor, J. M., & Folkman, S. (2006). A validity and reliablity study of the coping self-efficacy scale. British Journal of Health Psychology, 11(Pt 3), 421–437.

Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Quantitative Methods in Psychology, 112(1), 155–159.

Conley, D. T. (2007). Redefining college readiness. Eugene, OR.

Covay, E., & Carbonaro, W. (2010). After the bell: Participation in extracurricular activities, classroom behavior, and academic achievement. Sociology of Education, 83(1), 20–45.

Creswell, J. W., Hanson, W. E., Clark Plano, V. L., & Morales, A. (2007). Qualitative research designs: Selection and implementation. The Counseling Psychologist, 35(2), 236–264.

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Choosing a mixed methods design. In C. J. W. & V. L. Plano-Clark (Eds.), Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed., pp. 53–106). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Dawes, N. P., & Larson, R. W. (2011). How youth get engaged: Grounded-theory research on motivational development in organized youth programs. Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 259–269.

Duckworth, A. L., & Gross, J. J. (2014). Self-Control and grit: Related but separable determinants of success. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087–1101.

Duncan, G. J., & Murnane, R. J. (2011). The American dream, then and now. In G. J. Duncan & R. J. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity? Rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances (pp. 3–23). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., & Pachan, M. (2010). A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 294–309.

Dweck, C. S., Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). Academic tenacity: Mindsets and skills that promote long-term learning. Seattle, WA.

Ewert, A., & Sibthorp, J. (2014). Outdoor adventure education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Farrington, C. A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Nagaoka, J., Keyes, T. S., Johnson, D. W., & Beechum, N. O. (2012). Teaching adolescents to become learners. The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. Chicago, IL.

Feldman, A. F., & Matjasko, J. L. (2005). The role of school-based extracurricular activities in adolescent development: A comprehensive review and future directions. Review of Educational Research, 75(2), 159–210.

Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Is extracurricular participation associated with beneficial outcomes? Concurrent and longitudinal relations. Developmental Psychology, 42(4), 698–713.

Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2010). Breadth of extracurricular participation and adolescent adjustment among African-American and European-American Youth. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20(2), 307–333.

Gass, M. A., & Priest, S. (2006). The effectiveness of metaphoric facilitation styles in corporate adventure training (CAT) programs. Journal of Experiential Education, 29(1), 78–94.

Glennie, E. J., Dalton, B. W., & Knapp, L. G. (2014). The influence of precollege access programs on postsecondary enrollment and persistence. Educational Policy, 29(7), 1–21.

Goodenow, C., & Grady, K. E. (1993). The relationship of school belonging and friends values of motivation among adolescent students. The Journal of Experimental Education, 62(1), 60–71.

Gookin, J., & Leach, S. (Eds.). (2009). NOLS leadership educator notebook: A toolbox for leadership educators. Lander, WY.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.

Hattie, J., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T., & Richards, G. E. (1997). Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 43–87.

Heckman, J. J., & Kautz, T. (2013). Fostering and measuring skills: Interventions that improve character and cognition (No. 19656). Cambridge, MA.

Heckman, J. J., & Rubinstein, Y. (2001). The importance of noncognitive skills: Lessons from the GED testing program. The American Economic Review, 91(2), 145–149.

Kwok, O.-M., Underhill, A. T., Berry, J. W., Luo, W., Elliott, T. R., & Yoon, M. (2008). Analysing longitudinal data with multilevel models: An example with individuals living with lower extremity intra-articular fractures. Rehabilitation Psychology, 53(3), 370–386.

Larson, R. W. (2011). Positive development in a disorderly world. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21(2), 317–334.

Marsh, H., & Kleitman, S. (2002). Extracurricular school activities: The good, the bad, and the nonlinear. Harvard Educational Review, 72(4), 464–515.

Masten, A. S., & Cicchetti, D. (2010). Developmental cascades. Development and Psychopathology, 22(3), 491–495.

Nagaoka, J., Farrington, C. A., Ehrlich, S. B., & Heath, R. D. (2015). Foundations for young adult success: A development framework. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, Consortium on School Research. Retrieved from Report.pdf

Nagaoka, J., Farrington, C. A., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E., Keyes, T. S., Johnson, D. W., & Beechum, N. O. (2013). Readiness for college: The role of noncognitive factors and context. Voices in Urban Education, (38), 45–52.

Paisley, K., Jostad, J., Sibthorp, J., Pohja, M., Gookin, J., & Rajagopal-Durbin, A. (2014). Considering students’ experiences in diverse groups. Journal of Leisure Research, 46(3), 329–341.

Pellegrino, J. W., & Hilton, M. L. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st century. National Academies Press. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Putnam, R. D. (2015). Our kids: The American dream in crisis. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Randall, E. T., & Bohnert, A. M. (2012). Understanding threshold effects of organized activity involvement in adolescents: Sex and family income as moderators. Journal of Adolescence, 35(1), 107–118.

Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

ResearchWare. (2013). HyperRESEARCH. Retrieved from

Richmond, D., Sibthorp, J., Jostad, J., & Gookin, J. (2016). Factors determining peer status in outdoor adventure groups. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, 8(1), 41–56.

Roderick, M., Nagaoka, J., & Coca, V. (2009). College readiness for all: The challenge for urban high schools. Future of Children, 19(1), 185–210.

Sánchez, B., Colón, Y., & Esparza, P. (2005). The role of sense of school belonging and gender in the academic adjustment of Latino adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34(6), 619–628.

Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting grit, tenacity, and perseverance: Critical factors for success in the 21st century. Washington, D.C.

Sibthorp, J., Furman, N., Paisley, K., & Gookin, J. (2008). Long-term impacts attributed to participation in adventure education: Preliminary findings from NOLS. Research in Outdoor Education, 9, 86–102.

Sibthorp, J., & Jostad, J. (2014). The social system in outdoor adventure education programs. Journal of Experiential Education, 37(1), 60–74.

Sibthorp, J., & Morgan, C. (2011). Adventure-based prorgamming: Exemplary youth development. New Directions for Youth Development, 120, 105–119.

Snellman, K., Silva, J. M., Frederick, C. B., & Putnam, R. D. (2014). The engagement gap: Social mobility and extracurricular participation among American youth. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 657(1), 194–207.

Tamir, M., John, O. P., Srivastava, S., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Implicit theories of emotion: Affective and social outcomes across a major life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(4), 731–744.

Tough, P. (2012). How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Vandell, D. L., Larson, R. W., Mahoney, J. L., & Watts, T. W. (2015). Children’s organized activities. Handbook of child psychology and developmental science (vol 4, 7th Ed.). Washington, D.C.: Committee on Community-Level Programs for Youth. Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Division of Behavioral and Social Science and Education.

Vandell, D. L., Shernoff, D. J., Pierce, K. M., Bolt, D. M., Dadisman, K., & Brown, B. B. (2005). Activities, engagement, and emotion in after-school programs (and elsewhere). New Directions for Youth Development, (105), 121–129, 13–14.

Venezia, A., & Jaeger, L. (2013). Transitions from high school to college. The Future of Children, 23(1), 117–136.

Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2007). A question of belonging: race, social fit, and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(1), 82–96.

Walton, G. M., Cohen, G. L., Cwir, D., & Spencer, S. J. (2012). Mere belonging: The power of social connections. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(3), 513–532.

Washington, H., Pretlow, J., & Barnett, E. (2016). A good start?: The impact of Texas’ developmental summer bridge program on student success. The Journal of Higher Education, 87(2), 150–177.

Werth, L., Markel, P., & Förster, J. (2006). The role of subjective theories for leadership evaluation. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 15(1), 102–127.

Widmer, M. A., & Taniguchi, S. T. (2014). Increasing and generalizing self-efficacy: The effects of adventure education on the academic efficacy of early adolescents. Journal of Leisure Research, 46(2), 165–183.

Wright, M. (2015). Economic inequality and the social capital gap in the United States across time and space. Political Studies, 63(3), 642–662.

Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 267–301.





Regular Papers