Published: June 18, 2020 By
People mountain biking in snow

A new, one-of-a-kind online professional graduate program launching in 2021 at CU Boulder taps into a key strength and economic growth area in Colorado: human desire to be in the great outdoors.

The Masters of Science in Outdoor Recreation Economy (MORE) was approved June 18, 2020 by the CU Board of Regents and is pending approval by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

While four Colorado higher education institutions have programming that incorporate some of the elements of the outdoor industry, and several other states offer undergraduate degrees in outdoor recreation economy, MORE will become the nation’s only exclusively online, interdisciplinary outdoor recreation economy graduate degree program.

Joel Hartter

Joel Hartter enjoys climbing in Colorado. (Credit: Joel Hartter)

The online program will focus on three core thematic areas: the outdoor recreation industry sector, public lands policy, and resilient communities. Its content will be dynamic, responding to industry needs and trends.

MORE will consist of a series of stackable certificates, which can be taken individually or over the course of up to three years. The first of these certificates will be available in spring 2021, with the full degree program launching in fall 2021.

"We created a program that allows professionals who may be at a variety of career stages—whether they're new to the outdoor industry, seasoned veterans, or pivoting from another industry—to advance their careers in a meaningful way. MORE meets professionals where they are and allows them to customize their graduate-level education to meet their unique career needs," said Joel Hartter, Associate Professor and the Director of CU Boulder’s Masters of the Environment program (MENV).  

The MORE degree and certificates, which will reside within the Environmental Studies Program and will be administered by the Graduate School, are part of a suite of planned educational offerings in Outdoor Recreation Economy including non-credit and for-credit professional education opportunities, executive education and training, and professional development workshops. 

Although students will be taking this program remotely, they will engage with communities and companies to work on real-world problems, such as recommendations for community economic resiliency planning. Students graduating from the MORE degree program will be equipped to engage in state, federal, and local policy debates such as that concerning the Bears Ears National Monument. Similarly, MORE graduates will have the knowledge and tools to advocate on behalf of federal outdoor recreation legislation such as the Great American Outdoors Act.

While principles of diversity, equity and inclusion will be woven throughout the fabric of the entire MORE curriculum, one of the certificates will specifically focus on diversity, inclusion and leadership in the outdoor industry, Hartter said. "We strongly feel that an outdoor recreation sector that is inclusive and looks more like America will ensure that our public lands are indeed for all the public." 

women walking dogsFly fishing

Coloradans and tourists alike enjoy a variety of outdoor activites that utilize public lands and positively impact the state's economy. (Credit: Unsplash) 

Career opportunities in the outdoor industry exist far beyond guiding, outfitting, lodging, and park services. The outdoor recreation industry employs product developers, small and large retailers and other professionals. The outdoor recreation economy sector creates jobs for highly skilled workers in diverse fields such as policy advocacy, community economic development, manufacturing sustainability, and global commerce.

A unique focus of the program will also be on public lands and building relationships with western communities.

"The responsible stewardship of Colorado’s vibrant outdoor recreation industry relies on the continued cultivation of knowledgeable leaders and advocates who can serve our industry’s evolving needs," said Nathan Fey, Director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry in the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. "CU’s new graduate program focusing on the outdoor recreation economy will play a major role in producing tomorrow’s outdoor industry workforce."

Fey added that it is especially meaningful to collaborate with CU Boulder on such a groundbreaking program. He noted that it fills a key industry need while advancing Colorado’s national leadership in the outdoor recreation industry.

Nationally, outdoor recreation accounts for 7.6 million jobs and provides $887 billion in annual consumer spending. The state of Colorado represents a significant piece of the national outdoor economy, supporting 511,000 direct jobs and $28 billion in annual consumer spending.

"The outdoor industry represents 10 percent of our state’s economy. We need a sustainable and diverse talent pipeline. What is being proposed is not only innovative, it comes at the right time. Our industry needs to evolve and graduates of this degree can provide that important spark and leadership," said Luis Benitez, Vice President for Government Affairs and Global Impact at the VF Corporation. "For our industry to re-emerge stronger, we need curriculum that aligns with where the industry needs to be going. Providing professional education that reaches policy, community stakeholders, and the industry is the right move by CU."

The Board of Regents also approved four other degree programs at today’s meeting. They include online master’s programs in corporate communication, teacher leadership, and data science and a traditional master’s program in data science.

"These new online master’s programs represent CU Boulder’s commitment to innovation and impact," said Robert H. McDonald, dean of the University Libraries and senior vice provost of online education. "Not only will these programs offer individual opportunities for students to advance in their professional careers, they will provide a significant impact to our communities and to the economy at a time when the need is significant."