For most students, a common misperception is that the college experience includes frequent alcohol parties, most college students use marijuana and other illegal drugs, and many use prescription drugs recreationally. For young people in recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs, these perceptions about college life can act as a barrier to completing their college education. A young person in recovery may opt to stay out of school or avoid engaging in college life while they focus on their recovery rather than place themselves in what they perceive will be a high-risk environment.
Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) are designed to support young people in recovery while they pursue their academic goals. The aim is to ensure that students in recovery can fulfill their future dreams by pursuing a recovery lifestyle while attaining a college education, rather than postponing their college education until they are in long-term recovery. CRPs offer a variety of supports that may include sober housing facilities, recovery support meetings on campus, life skills training, social support, academic support services, and other opportunities to help students thrive in their recovery and their college experience.
The oldest known CRP was developed at Brown University in Rhode Island in 1977 when a professor in recovery began supporting students in recovery by helping them find resources and Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. Later, in 1988, Rutgers University in New Jersey established a recovery housing program where students in recovery lived together in student housing facilities. Texas Tech (1986) and Augsburg College in Minnesota (1997) followed suit, as have many other institutions of higher education. Today many colleges and universities have established programs to support students in recovery. The Association for Recovery in Higher Education lists nearly 100 member institutions at this time.
Each CRP is different, depending on the needs identified by the students and the capacity of the institution. Some tips for advancing your CRP:
- Survey the students to learn the scale of the student population who are in recovery. At Arizona State University (ASU) we added questions to our annual health behavior survey. Through this survey we learned approximately 4 percent of students had been or were currently being treated for an addiction to alcohol or other drugs, or were currently in recovery. This information allows us to advocate for ongoing resources to serve the population.
- Engage students in recovery and allies of recovery in making plans for their support and connection. At ASU we hosted planning sessions to learn from students in recovery what they wanted and needed, and to learn from faculty and staff how they could support students through their positions and departments.
- Maintain an ongoing Advisory Board to reflect on the programs and services provided and to make plans for continuous improvements in the offerings.
- Develop a comprehensive plan and take action to fulfill it. At ASU our goals include:
- To increase the visibility of the recovery lifestyle.
- To connect students in recovery to each other through support meetings and social networks.
- To educate students, faculty, staff, parents, and other partners to better support students in varying stages of recovery, serve as allies, and engage students in sober activities and the choice to lead a sober lifestyle. Our training is designed to raise awareness of addiction and recovery, provide tools to engage and support students in recovery, develop empathy with students in recovery through a panel discussion, promote correct perceptions of student drinking (i.e., that nearly half of ASU students do not drink), and to develop allies to students in recovery.
- To provide seamless support for students in recovery across departments and programs.
- Build in a sustainability plan. Even if your funding is stable, determine what you must do to keep the momentum going.
- Affiliate with the Association for Recovery in Higher Education, Transforming Youth in Recovery, and your local Young People in Recovery group for training, networking, and support for your efforts. These and other organizations can help guide your steps and support your students’ success.
These basic steps can help you further your efforts to support students in recovery in their educational pursuits. Students in recovery have tremendous potential. Through your efforts you can help them to achieve their highest purpose.