Instructors from the National Outdoor Leadership Schools (NOLS) and Outward Bound have a running joke: "NOLS is the place where you learn to stuff everything - even your feelings - in a backpack and hike hundreds of miles. Outward Bound is a better place to go for a group cry."
between outdoor education's two biggest schools is philosophical.
While Outward Bound leans more toward emotional development of its
students, NOLS emphasizes technical prowess. The specialties are
apparent in the schools' course catalogs: In addition to the
standard wilderness classes, Outward Bound offers courses for youth
with motivational or behavioral problems and team-building courses
for professionals. NOLS sticks to teaching wilderness skills.
But the differences are minimal compared to the
similarities. The core of both programs is wilderness training.
Courses teach students minimum-impact camping, food preparation,
navigation and first aid, plus specific skills such as kayaking,
mountaineering, sailing, dog sledding or caving. For some people, a
NOLS or Outward Bound course pushes them to expect more of
themselves in all endeavors. Others go home with a lifelong passion
for the West's wild lands and the knowledge they need to recreate
Outward Bound, founded in
1961 near Marble, Colo., was the first American school of its kind.
The idea originated in England. Knowing that many young sailors
died at sea because they didn't have enough stamina or training,
German-born educator Kurt Hahn started Outward Bound, using as its
name a sailors' term which means headed out to sea. Through
adventure training, he believed, young men gained the strength and
maturity needed for war (HCN, 4/24/89).
years after Outward Bound got started in the States, Paul Petzoldt,
an early instructor at Colorado's Outward Bound School, founded
NOLS in Lander, Wyo. Although the school's initial purpose was to
train instructors for Outward Bound, it soon gained its own
reputation as a premier wilderness training school.
Today, both nonprofits have training centers all
over the world. Each year, Outward Bound teaches 30,000 students in
the United States, ranging in age from teenagers to
septuagenarians. Worldwide, courses are based at more than 50
schools in 26 countries. Two Western schools - Colorado Outward
Bound in Denver and Pacific Crest Outward Bound School in Portland,
Ore. - educate about 5,000 students each
NOLS is more Western-based. Some 2,700
students annually attend four schools in the United States - in
Wyoming, Washington, Arizona and Alaska - or international schools
in Baja California, Kenya, Chile and Canada. Most NOLS courses
cater to high school and college students.
Though enrollment has leveled out over the past
few years, with both schools experiencing less than 5 percent
growth over the past few years, neither school is in danger of
going out of business. NOLS, one of the largest employers in
Lander, pop. 7,000, has $12 million in assets and an annual
operating budget of roughly $15 million. Outward Bound's two
Western schools cost the same amount as NOLS to run, although the
total operation has assets of $20 million and an annual operating
budget of $39 million.
Bruce Palmer, admissions
manager for NOLS, adds that the two schools may also be coming
closer together in philosophy: "We're realizing that when people go
home, they talk about community, not skills. So we're starting to
place less emphasis on skills and more on experience."
For more information contact Outward Bound,
Route 9D, R2 Box 280, Garrison, NY 10524 (914/424-4000) or NOLS,
288 Main St., Lander, WY 82520-3140 (307/332-8800).