So I’m finding a place to set up my swag for the night and I
Please note: This essay is a digress, one that summarizes my thoughts on the OE and Organized Camping Industry.
I go to school at a Community College with budget issues. Most of the Community Colleges in my State have this issue, although you’d think they wouldn’t. After all, we have a “free” community college program through the state that should let most (but not all!) high school graduates have two years and 90 credits for free. And yet, despite this, we are 3 million in the hole. 3 million. So, some programs have to be cut and the ones that have the worst cost-income-expense rates, poor economic forecasts for graduates, and low-enrollment rates are getting cut. Among these are things like Environmental Health and Safety, Automotive Light Repair, Cosmetology, and their Outdoor Recreation(OR) program. I would argue that eliminating this degree is a good thing.
This is not a claim I make lightly. I plan to go into the Organized Camping Industry, I have an ACA Student Membership, a site-specific ACCT Level 1 certification, have 10 seasons of experience, and want to be a Park Host when I retire. Outdoor recreation is my passion. And yet, I think that this program, one that on the surface seems like it would be perfect for me, should be eliminated. Furthermore, I am not even a part of this program. Wouldn’t that be a better fit for me? I’d argue it wouldn’t.
The OR program offers classes in Wilderness Survival, whitewater raft guiding, ACCT training, rock climbing, skiing, and more. These are amazing things for participants to experience and worthy endeavors to train people in. But, they are not worth a college that is 3 million dollars in the red to keep. Not only are they expensive, they charge students for classes that teach information that is cheaper outside of formal schooling, and they could potentially harm students in the long-run.
The expense is a non-starter. Our college doesn’t have a Challenge Course, for instance. We have the trees for it, that’s not a problem. There is space for a Pamper Pole, that’s not an issue here. But, we don’t have one because of the costs associated with it. According to one of the old directors at the camp I work at, it cost us $40,000 to install the updated version of our Adventure Park/High Circuit. Since then, we’ve added to it just about every year and have bought new equipment each year as well. Harnesses, helmets, carabineers, rope, and static traversing belay systems are expensive and the insurance costs associated would increase the college’s premiums. So, the OR program rents out my camp’s space to run their programming for their ACCT classes. Combine this with fees for state park use, ski passes, and other equipment. That is a lot of money being spent on a program that quite frankly doesn’t have the enrollment numbers to justify it. At a financial perspective alone, it isn’t justified to keep this program going. When we add in the intangible expenses the students face? It’s a non-starter.
My site-specific ACCT Level 1 certification was free. I paid nothing for a one year certification, got paid for the 44 hours of training I’ve gone through, and already have around 200 hours of facilitation as documenting in my ACCT Portfolio. I received this training as a part of my job this past summer. If I were to take the OR program’s class, I would have to pay for a four credit class, pay the overhead they charge, and have 10 weeks to spend with the material along with two or three other classes. Similarly, all Outdoor Education programs I know of have a paid training period where skills taught in OR courses are provided for no cost to the Practitioner. The OR program does allow students to have a variety of skills and experiences that could be useful to the workplace, but, as we’ll see later, this could be a bane rather than a boon. The only thing that they offered that I see as a benefit to the program is their Wilderness First Responder class. A WFR is usually not provided by the site being worked at, and is a valuable addition to any resume in the industry.
However, that would be one of the few benefits of this program on the student in the long run. Coming out of college with a degree or certificate in Outdoor Recreation is limiting. Students have a disadvantage when it comes to moving up the ladder, for instance. Practical skills, such as marketing, creating a budget, or anything else on the organizational side of things is lost. For some, this might not matter. All they might want to do is create wonderful experiences in nature. But, is a degree that makes you a Jack-of-All-Trades really the best? Not only would it be harder to get a job outside of the industry, which will have to be the case for some graduates, but it also makes it harder for someone to get a job with the degree. For example, if I was hiring someone to work at a camp and saw that they were getting a degree in OR, I’d ask them about what the classes they have taken. I’d then want to know about their grades in said classes to have as an indicator. They can have all the certifications in the world, but if I’m hiring a challenge course facilitator who took a class in facilitation, I’d want to know what their grades were. What kind of student they were. For some, this may not be a problem and is still a problem recent graduates in other programs have faced too. But, a pattern of B’s or less in skills an employer finds important, or a particularly bad comparative grade could make all the difference. For people who went through trainings in skills at jobs elsewhere, they have an advantage. They may not have all of these certifications on their resume, but they have experience using those skills and that gives them a leg-up. You may have taken a ten week class, have the same certification, but the smart hire is the person who used that certification over nine weeks after a week of training. OR degrees provide a solid foundation in a lot of places, but they are lacking in substance in any one place.
It is true that having an Outdoor Recreation degree is not completely harmful to the student. Having any degree is beneficial, but other degrees can be better. For someone who wants to be on the front lines as a guide for the rest of their life, practical experience is more useful. Instead of paying for a degree, it would make more economic sense for the student to start working and learn from there. No need to pay for a degree to be a raft guide. For the student who wants to work their way through an organization and eventually lead the people who lead the programming? A different degree could provide more use. A background in sports training could offer an advantage, a business degree is multipurpose, an education degree could provide a solid foundation, a psychology degree could be helpful, and ad infinitum. An Outdoor Recreation degree is already a huge expense for the college and other degrees can lead to the same outcome. The industry is a game and there are many pathways to get to where you want to go. It’s just a matter of leveraging them.