Let's Talk: Accreditation

Let's Talk: Accreditation

Choosing an adventure-based program that is reputable and the best fit for your goals is a difficult task. There are hundreds of organizations from which to choose. How can you know which programs meet or exceed industry standards for quality and risk management?


 Attaining accredited status through the AEE Accreditation Program is solid evidence of an organization’s commitment to quality and safety, belief in professional standards, and allocation of resources toward continued excellence and improvement. Programs that achieve AEE Accredited status can be confident that they meet or exceed recognized industry standards.

 An interview with Steve Pace, M.S.W

Steve Pace, M.S.W.
Director of Standards Development & Accreditation
Contact: [email protected]

Steve, as the Director of Accreditations here at AEE, can you tell us a bit about the history of accreditations?

There were a number of initiatives that led to the development of the AEE Accreditation Program.  In 1981, the Board of Directors of AEE formed the AEE Safety Committee to research and compile a set of commonly accepted practices for safety and leadership.  Around 40 organizations participated in the initiative. This work culminated in the publication of Commonly Accepted Practices of Adventure Programs in 1984. Continuing this grassroots approach, AEE helped set up peer-review opportunities to assist organizations in assessing themselves. This proved successful, and further improvements were made, but participating organizations wanted even more.

In 1993 the 1st edition of the Manual of Accredited Standards for Adventure Programs was published and AEE’s Accreditation Program was launched.  NOLS and Project Adventure were the first programs to be accredited. In 2013, AEE was approached by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council (OBHC) to develop accreditation standards for wilderness treatment programs*. AEE and OBHC worked to develop accreditation standards for programs that used licensed mental healthcare professionals as an integral part of their programs. In 2015, AEE published the 1st edition of the Manual of Accreditation Standards for Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Programs.

 *( OBHC was formed in 1996 by representatives from a number of wilderness treatment programs to collaborate and share effective practices.

Can you tell us about the process of developing and maintaining the accreditation manuals?

As is the case with every field, effective practices for risk management and program quality are constantly evolving.  The AEE Accreditation Council has developed a Standards Committee that is charged with gathering input from experts in the field to keep the accreditation standards up to date.  Over the years, many associations and organizations have contributed to and informed the development of these standards. Here are just a few:

The American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy; the American Mountain Guides Association; the American Psychological Association; the Association for Challenge Course Technology; the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children, Inc.; the Council on Outdoor Education; the Global Organization of Tree Climbers; the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics; the Wilderness Medical Associates; NOLS Wilderness Medicine; and the Worldwide Outfitters and Guides Association.

Pictured Above: For the third time in many years, the 2019 Association for Experiential Education's Accreditation Council recently held their mid-year meeting at Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center. Find out what the group focused on and accomplished during their three-and-a-half-day meeting by reading Eagle Rock's Blog post. READ MORE

AEE recently published the 7th Edition of the Manual of Accreditation Standards for Adventure Programs and the 2nd Edition of the Manual of Accreditation Standards for Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Programs.

Why is it important for an organization to become accredited? 

The AEE Accreditation Process is a journey toward organizational development and improvement.  During this journey, an organization seeking accreditation systematically addresses each accreditation standard and develops methods that fit its unique mission to meet these standards. At the end of the process, an accredited organization can have confidence that their program meets or exceeds the commonly accepted practices of our field. The public is served by being able to identify which programs have gone through this rigorous process facilitated by an objective and independent association.

What can an organization expect during the accreditation process? 

After an organization applies and is accepted into the accreditation program, they engage in a self-assessment study, and a member of the AEE Accreditation Council is assigned to the applicant to support their success. During the self-assessment study, the applicant discovers which accreditation standards are met and develop methods to meet standards that were previously not met.  A site visit is conducted to verify the accuracy of the self-assessment study and to give detailed feedback to a program on additional work that needs to be done to meet all the accreditation standards that apply to them. After this work is completed, the Accreditation Council discusses whether the applicant is ready to be accredited.

Pictured Above: AEE accreditation review team on a site visit to Aspiro Wilderness Adventure Therapy June 18 - 20. From left to right:  Steven DeMille, Executive Director of RedCliff Ascent; Summer Hornbeck, Academic Director of New Vision Wilderness Therapy; and Paul Smith, past Chair of AEE’s Accreditation Council and current Executive Director of Strengthening Rural Families.

Experiential Education programs are rapidly growing and evolving. So, why might it be important to choose an accredited program? 

There are many programs to choose from, but how do you know that they are any good? When you choose an AEE accredited program you can have confidence that they are engaged in continuous program development and improvement to meet internationally accepted standards.

What are your hopes for the future of accreditations and standardization of practice?

AEE has high standards but does not wish to standardize our field. It is important that the public has an opportunity to choose from a diverse range of offerings that are of a high quality. One of the main strengths of the AEE accreditation standards are that they have been designed to be able to fit the educational mission of a variety organizations. During the past few years, there has been an uptick in applications from outside of North America. If this trend continues, AEE Accreditation is poised to serve a broad international audience, and that is very exciting!

 Programs that have gone through the AEE Accreditation process have distinguished themselves in the growing field of experiential education.

Don't just take our word for it. Check out what the Director of Outward Bound Hong Kong had to say about the importance of becoming an accredited program:

"For those considering accreditation: achieving this milestone for OBHK was the culmination of an intense journey, but it has also acted as a springboard for further innovation and growth in course design and programming excellence. It has also served as a magnet that continues to attract great educators and new business opportunities to us. So for other organizations we say ‘go for it’!"
Looking for other accredited programs? Find a program online.
Read more about accreditations here.


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