I Don’t Do College … or Do I?
When people ask me what I do as a therapeutic educational consultant, I explain that I help families find treatment programs when they are dealing with the chaos, anxiety and turmoil caused by having a teen or young adult who is experiencing emotional problems, behavioral issues and/or learning differences. I then typically say “I don’t do college.”
So, why did I just visit Texas Tech? I went there on a tour of Texas programs that serve young adults who are seeking treatment for serious substance abuse addiction. These are programs that help emerging adults get clean and sober. What I saw at Texas Tech was an outstanding example of a growing national movement of college-based programs designed to help students stay clean and sober. Supporting students who are continuing and completing their college studies, these program are referred to as CRPs (collegiate recovery programs) or CRCs (collegiate recovery centers.)
For many families I’ve worked with who have oh-so patiently “hung in there” with their teen or young adult in the process of becoming sober, college can be a scary proposition. Generally speaking, college has been seen as an “abstinence averse” environment. CRPs are out to change that!
By way of background…over thirty years ago, Brown University and Rutgers created the first college-based recovery support programs. In the late 80s and 90s, these two schools were joined by Texas Tech and Augsburg College. Designed to support recovering students’ needs, these program generally offered sober housing, 12-step meetings, and a “recovery-friendly” space for students to create community. Research has shown that becoming part of a sober peer group is especially important for emerging adults in maintaining sobriety.
Since 2000, the number of CRPs around the country has grown dramatically. Leadership at several of these programs came together and created a membership organization, ARHE, the Association of Recovery in Higher Education. The last time I checked, collegiate membership was at 40….but growing every day! Membership is open to schools as well as interested individuals, including students and faculty.
In the past five years, the Stacie Mathewson Foundation, through its non-profit arm, Transforming Youth Recovery (TYR) has made numerous grants to colleges and universities interested in starting CRPs. These $10,000 grants are often the way interested faculty at a college or university can get the ball rolling. TYR also offers advice and counsel, based on their expertise in developing CRPs.
There is no one model for CRPs. Most require some period of sobriety between 3 months to a year. Some offer housing, some just a safe place to hang out. Almost all sponsor 12-step or other recovery support meetings. Some offer counseling but more often than not, it’s the recovery-friendly space they offer and the community that gets built there that is their hallmark.
An especially important aspect of CRPs is having staff that can translate a seemingly disastrous transcript (or often several transcripts) into a format that the more traditional admissions office can understand. Often, these students have had failing grades, expulsions and periods of missing school and not working…all connected to who they were before getting clean and sober.
There are several ways to learn more about CRPs. Take a look at the website for ARHE at collegiaterecovery.org. In addition to membership material, identifying leadership and the ARHE blog, the site offers a more complete history than I’ve mentioned here…as well as links to a significant amount of research that has been generated. As an example, a 2007 study of 29 CRPs demonstrated that “program participants’ academic achievement (GPA and graduation) surpassed the host institution’s overall outcomes.” Even more importantly, the ARHE offers valuable information on how to start a CRP.
The AHRE annual spring conference is another great way to learn more about this movement…and to meet both students and faculty from CRPs across the country. The 6th Annual National Collegiate Recovery Conference was held this year at the University of Nevada – Reno and featured nationally prominent speakers in the field of addiction as well as bestowing awards on exemplary student leaders at both the undergraduate and graduate level.
A third valuable resource is a magazine, Recovery Campus (recoverycampus.com) with both print and digital formats as well as a digital newsletter. There are feature articles on campus programs as well as moving stories recounting various individual’s journey on the road to recovery.
CRPs exist is to insure that students can have a quality educational opportunity alongside recovery support to ensure they do not have to sacrifice one for the other.
While I’m never likely to know what college a student interested in aviation finance or fashion design should attend…nor would I be good at helping high school students write essays, having recommended CRPs to several clients, I guess I have to stop saying “I don’t do college!”