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NOLS Expands College Credit Program

NOLS has announced a significant expansion to its college credit program, which allows high school and college students from across the country the opportunity to earn credit toward academic degrees. NOLS’ college credit program is unparalleled in the field of outdoor education, with over 400 colleges and universities around the country accepting NOLS credit through the University of Utah. Many other colleges also offer their own credit for NOLS courses.

Now students wanting to take time away from the traditional classroom to develop leadership, study the environment and learn skills in the wilderness will earn more credit hours for their experience — up to 19 hours on a 94-day NOLS Semester in the Rockies. That’s more credit than some students receive right on their college campus, says NOLS Curriculum Manager John Gookin. The increase also bumps NOLS courses into a new financial aid category, allowing more students to get more scholarship dollars.

Most NOLS Semesters have increased from 12 semester credit hours to 16 credit hours. All NOLS 30-day courses will now grant six credit hours, up from four hours previously. Credit, both undergraduate and graduate, is offered through the University of Utah’s departments of Biology, Health Education, and Parks, Recreation and Tourism in courses including Natural History, Environmental Ethics, Leadership Techniques, Wilderness Medicine and Skills. A new course credit is being offered in Risk Assessment and Management. About 75 percent of eligible students currently receive college credit for their NOLS course.

Kirk Nichols, a faculty member at the University of Utah’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, believes the increase recognizes the hard work students are putting into their education while at NOLS. “The new college credit hours are going to be a much closer match to a very intensive semester on campus,” Nichols says. “These students are living their semester rather than doing it in conjunction with everything else in their lives. It’s a very intense education, and now the college credit hours reflect that.”

NOLS has offered credit through the university since 1980. “Our relationship with the university is a great one,” says Gookin. “We share some faculty, have a strong internship relationship, and Utah faculty and graduate students have embarked upon a study of NOLS student outcomes that is the most comprehensive ever attempted in outdoor education.”

One thing that won’t change for NOLS students receiving college credit will be the grading system, says Gookin. “We’re known as tough graders,” he says of the letter grades students receive on each course. “This increase to college credit hours won’t make it easier to get an ‘A’ on a NOLS course.”

In addition, NOLS and Central Wyoming College in Riverton, Wyoming have partnered to offer an Associate of Science degree in Environmental Science and Leadership and an Associate of Arts degree in Outdoor Education and Leadership. These programs include classroom instruction at the college and field instruction with NOLS.

Either way, taking time away from a traditional classroom no longer means falling behind your less adventurous classmates back on campus.


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