Outward Bound USA

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Outward Bound USA (OBUSA) is the collection of outdoor education organizations in the USA which are officially registered as schools by Outward Bound International. In the U.S., more than 60,000 people participate in its programs every year.[1] OBUSA operates "Schools" under the Outward Bound Wilderness division focusing on expeditions and travel and "Centers" which are based-in large cities and provide similar expedition and educational services to the public school systems of their respective cities.


In 1961, Joshua L. Miner, the first president of Outward Bound USA (OBUSA) and one of the men responsible for bringing the innovative ideas of Kurt Hahn to the United States, inspired US legislation approving a training and development model to prepare Peace Corps volunteers in Puerto Rico. This first camp, and then the more famous Colorado school, became OBUSA's first presence in the USA.

A history of the first 20 years of OBUSA is provided by Miner and Boldt (1981).[2] NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt was an early OBUSA instructor. The development of OBUSA lead to several other off-shoot programs, including Project Adventure.

Following a decline in enrollments and financial difficulties during the 1990s,[3] in May 2005 four legacy Outward Bound Schools were combined into a new division of Outward Bound called Outward Bound Wilderness (Outward Bound Wilderness.) The four legacy schools known as 1) Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, 2) Outward Bound West, and 3) Voyageur Outward Bound School are now operated under one central office, but still offer the same programs and expeditions.

There are five Outward Bound Schools and Centers: [1] NCOBS (North Carolina Outward Bound School), POBC (Philadelphia), BOBC (Baltimore), TIOBC (Thompson Island, Boston) and NYCOBC (New York City). From their respective beginnings, each of the schools and centers operated individually and was audited by OBUSA for safety and international policy standards. During 2005, OBUSA unified several of these schools into one larger OBUSA, sharing all resources alike.

Outward Bound Wilderness[edit]

Outward Bound wilderness programs, such as the programs run by the North Carolina Outward Bound School (NCOBS) and Outward Bound in Maine, Voyageur Outward Bound School (VOBS) in Minnesota, Colorado, and California (plus others), offer experiential learning wilderness programs to teens and adults. Besides teaching wilderness skills, the programs also try to teach leadership and compassion to participants.

Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound[edit]

Additionally, a third version of Outward Bound in the United States is Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB), created in 1993. A non-profit comprehensive school reform organization which is part of Outward Bound USA, ELOB works with over 129 urban and rural schools across the United States including Puerto Rico.

ELOB has a national headquarters located in Garrison, New York as well as eight regional offices which are based in Cambridge, Massachusetts; New York City; Annapolis, Maryland; Palm Harbor, Florida; Puerto Rico; Dubuque, Iowa; Boise, Idaho; and Yakima, Washington.

Outward Bound Discovery[edit]

Outward Bound Discovery is a largely Florida-based branch of OBUSA that specifically deals with at-risk youth. They primarily run three types of courses: Short Term Expedition Program (STEP), Families In Need of Services (FINS), and Intercept. Originally known as Southern Programs, it began as a branch of Hurricane Island Outward Bound School in 1975 with STEP in Yulee, Florida.

Short Term Expedition Programs[edit]

Short Term Expedition Program (STEP) courses are based out of Yulee, Florida (located near Jacksonville) and Fairhope, Alabama, and are a highly successfully alternative to incarceration for non-violent juvenile offenders. These courses last approximately 30 days in the wilderness. They are funded by Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice and approximately 30 courses are conducted per year with 8-10 students in each course.

Families In Need of Services programs[edit]

Families In Need of Services (FINS) courses are designed to help students who are struggling at school and at home, with a focus on helping the entire family to adopt practices to increase freedoms as students demonstrate responsibility and create clear consequences for the students actions on which the student can then base their decisions upon. FINS courses involve a 20-day wilderness phase with the students, during which the parent has phone conversations and meetings with the office-based staff members about their child's individual performance and struggles for dealing with their child's disruptive behaviors. There is then a follow-up phase during which the instructors and a program coordinator visit the student and their families at their homes to help mediate conversations and create concrete plans for improving their behavior. The education coordinator and instructors also meet with students, their parents, and school teachers or counselors during the follow-up phase to discuss what the student learned on the course and how this learning can be applied to their school environment. Successful graduation from a FINS course is contingent upon both the students' and parents' full involvement in both phases of the course. FINS courses are funded by local county education departments. The Key Largo, Florida base serves Broward, Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. The Scottsmoor, Florida base serves the Cape Canaveral area and the Orlando area. Additionally there is a base east of Mobile in Fairhope, Alabama that runs an assortment of courses including both Intercept and FINS.

Diversity training[edit]

In the United States, Outward Bound schools have employed "diversity trainings" for their staff in order to prepare instructors to address the various issues that may arise on course due to a diverse group of participants. Diversity trainings are intended to provide the arena where staff can be challenged in the same ways that they challenge participants to step out of their comfort zone.

The methods employed to increase diversity awareness among Outward Bound staff have, as recently as 2008, come under some scrutiny from a small number of individuals. However, there have been no formal investigations or findings of wrongdoing at any point in time.

Outward Bound programs continue to focus on enriching the lives of students from all walks of life, and strive to empower their staff in matters of diversity awareness.

TV series[edit]

A television series aired on Discovery Kids from 1999-2003. In each location, the show followed a group of 8 young adults as they learned to work together and help each other survive in the wilderness. Under the guidance of instructors from the Outward Bound school, the group members struggled to cope with nature and each other, success and failure, and physical and mental challenges, and finally bonded together in an unforgettable life experience.


  1. ^ "Man on survival trek, girl on Outward Bound hike die in Utah deserts". USA TODAY. 2006-07-19. Retrieved 2007-08-23. 
  2. ^ Miner, J., & Boldt, J. Outward Bound USA: Crew Not Passengers (2nd edition). Mountaineers Books
  3. ^ Pereira, J. (1997, July 24). Into the woods: Leader of the pack in wilderness training is pushed to the wall. The Wall Street Journal, A1.