Expand Recovery Schools and Collegiate Recovery Programs
Collegiate Recovery Programs
Collegiate recovery is a field, profession, and community. Collegiate recovery involves thousands of students across the country, their supporting staff mentors and allies, researchers learning more about recovery every day, and their collective experiences. Although the first collegiate recovery program started in the 1970s, the field as a whole is one that is young and blossoming.
Collegiate recovery is anchored to the personal development of students in recovery and their communities, the prevention of substance use disorders and their related impacts, and the healing of the wounds that may have led to or resulted from maladaptive behaviors. All of this leads to ensuring that students impacted by addiction can access the full benefits of higher education without having to put their recovery at risk.
Recovery High Schools
Recovery High Schools are secondary schools created specifically for students who are in recovery from a substance use disorder or co-occurring disorders. The purpose of recovery high schools is to offer students who are in recovery a safe place to earn their diploma while also focusing on their recovery. Just like other secondary schools, recovery high schools are staffed with teachers, counselors, support staff, administrators, and mental health professionals.
The main difference between recovery high schools is that they provide students in recovery with the opportunity to separate themselves from situations and peers who might have impacted their prior use. Recovery high schools also provide opportunities for group therapy, meetings with addiction counselors, and an environment where they are encouraged to be open about their struggles.
History of Collegiate Recovery
The first collegiate recovery program emerged in 1977 at Brown University when a professor who was in recovery saw the need to help students find recovery as well. His title soon switched to “Dean of Chemical Dependency”, and he spent over 25 years serving students by helping them find counseling, meetings, offering non-clinical support, and academic advising.
The next school to recognize the need for recovery support services was Rutgers, who in 1983, hired the school’s first ever Alcohol and Drug Counselor. This ultimately led to the opening of the first recovery house on a college campus in the world in 1988.
In 1986 the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities (CCRC) opened at Texas Tech. Their primary focus was conducting research, offering students' academic support, and providing a space for meetings. Texas Tech remains one of the strongest programs in the country.
Later, in 1997, Augsburg University launched their StepUp program, which remains one of the largest CRPs in the country.
Unfortunately, it would take years for the collegiate recovery field to gain notoriety, and to this day, it is still not widely accepted or offered. Due to a grant program that Transforming Youth Recovery offered throughout the 2010s, many programs began to emerge. Today, there are over 250 communities and programs across the country.
Less than 5% of universities offer collegiate recovery programs despite the evidence that proves their need. Furthermore, fewer than 5% of four-year institutions and less than 1% of community colleges and trade schools offer true recovery support for students.
Types of Collegiate Recovery
Due to the unique culture, structure, and needs of each university, there is significant diversity among recovery support programs and initiatives. Among these differences, most initiatives can be understood as being a collegiate recovery program (CRP) or a collegiate recovery community (CRC), with additional support services giving each their own unique approach.
Collegiate Recovery Program: Institutionally supported program offered at institutions of higher education that provide safe, supportive learning environments for students in recovery from substance misuse or dependency, and often behavioral addictions and mental illness. The primary components of collegiate recovery programs are:
- Mutual aid support groups
- Physical space for students to gather
- Institutional acceptance and support of the CRP
- Staff, counselors, and/or student leaders
- Peers, recovery coaches, and/or counselors for recovery support
- Social events and programming
- As of 2017, 37.8% of university recovery support initiatives were designated as CRPs
Collegiate Recovery Community: Efforts energized by students to create recovery-supportive learning environments at an institution of higher education. The primary difference between a CRP and a CRC is that CRCs are often student-led and not always recognized or supported by the institution. The key components of collegiate recovery communities are:
- Mutual aid support groups
- Students and/or other committed individuals who gather socially
- Peer recovery support
- As of 2017, 59.84% of university recovery support initiatives identified as being a CRC
Recovery support referral: Colleges and universities that offer some level of substance misuse prevention services and referral-based recovery support resources for enrolled students. Although this level of support can differ widely from campus to campus, the key components of recovery support referrals are:
- Dedicated Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) professional on staff
- Referrals to local treatment centers
- Continuum of care built into student conduct protocols
*As of 2017, 28.3% of collegiate recovery initiatives included recovery support referrals.
Collegiate recovery residency programs: Collegiate recovery programs that offer recovery housing options for students in recovery enrolled at an institution of higher education. Examples of these programs include:
- Augsburg University
- Virginia Commonwealth University
- University of Houston
Take note that recovery housing options differ from campus to campus. Some options include a building dedicated strictly to students in recovery and often have commitment requirements while others involve a sober living floor in a dorm building or a Living Learning Community framework.
*As of 2017, 11% of collegiate recovery initiatives also have a collegiate recovery residency program.
Additional support services:
A small number, less than 1% of the 5% of universities with collegiate recovery, offer transitional living, recovery housing education programs, young adult IOPs, or treatment and education programs.
History of Recovery High Schools
Although the first recovery high school was opened in the 1970s, recovery high schools did not gain a lot of traction or notoriety until roughly 2008. Today, there are approximately 45 recovery high schools across the nation, with this number increasing each year.
Effectiveness of Recovery High Schools
According to the research available to date, students who attend a recovery high school are much less likely to return to use compared to their peers who are either out of school or return back to a traditional high school. 
Funding of Recovery High Schools
Given the smaller nature and more involved education that recovery high schools offer, they tend to be more costly than traditional public high schools. Funding often comes from private donors, partnerships with other nonprofit organizations/agencies, and insurance. In some cases, there is state funding available.
Each institution is unique, so best practices should be adapted to fit the needs of students. Generally speaking, the field of collegiate recovery recommends the following:
- Dedicated space on campus
- Dedicated staff
- Institutional financial support
In addition to the above, the following are common in many different types of programs and communities:
- Sober social activities
- Advocacy efforts for student needs
- Awareness events
- Mutual aid meetings (of any kind)
- Conference attendance
- Peer mentoring
- Registered student organizations
- Academic advisement and/or early registration
- Educational and training opportunities
- Service opportunities
- Recovery ally training
- Career readiness
- As of 2017, 87.4% of collegiate recovery supports focus on peer support, 74.0% focus on social activities and sober fun, and 34.7% focus on counseling or clinical support.
For those who have experienced addiction and pursue the promise of higher education, universities that are recovery-ready have found that these students have greater outcomes than the average of their student body regarding GPA, retention, and graduation rates. Further, research has indicated that students who feel accepted enough to be open about their recovery often take leadership positions among student government, student wellness organizations, and employment opportunities. Then, in turn, collegiate recovery can model effective peer-led recovery support for communities in which they serve and even encourage students in recovery to stay in those communities as active citizens and/or pursue further education.
In college and in recovery: Reasons for joining a Collegiate Recovery Program
Collegiate Recovery Communities Programs: What do we know and what do we need to know?
Supporting Recovery and Building Resilience on Campus: The Role of Collegiate Recovery Programs
Collegiate recovery is a young, emerging, and quickly growing field. At SAFE Project we are committed to contributing to the knowledge base through the Collegiate Recovery Census Project. To learn more about collegiate recovery as a field and/or contributing information about your university, please visit SAFE Project .
Relevant Research Recovery High Schools
Teen drug and alcohol use continue to decline, but numbers still alarming
Teen Drug Use: Monitoring the Future 2019
Recovery high schools prove to be more effective in preventing return to use than traditional schools
Recovery High Schools: A Descriptive Study of School Programs and Students
Impactful Federal, State, and Local Policies
Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016(CARA 2.0)
On July 22, 2016, President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (P.L. 114-198). This is the first major federal addiction legislation in 40 years and the most comprehensive effort undertaken to address the opioid epidemic, encompassing all six pillars necessary for such a coordinated response – prevention, treatment, recovery, law enforcement, criminal justice reform, and overdose reversal. While it authorizes over $181 million each year in new funding to fight the opioid epidemic, monies must be appropriated every year through the regular appropriations processin order for it to be distributed in accordance with the law.
Both the U.S. Department of Education and the Office of National Drug Control Policy have, in the past, endorsed expansion of recovery support services in academic settings and said they should be a priority.
State Policy Collegiate Programs
New Jersey: In 2015, a bill was passed that required campuses to implement a sober living option within four years if at least 25 percent of the student body lives on campus.
Virginia: In 2019, the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) awarded $675,000 of federal State Opioid Response (SOR) grant funding to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to help expand substance use recovery programs at eight universities across the state.
North Carolina: In 2015, The NC Department of Health and Human Service’s Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services (DMH) initially began using $750,000 in annual Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant funds to offer support to six campuses: University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, and Greensboro, North Carolina A&T University and East Carolina University. Each campus initially received $125,000 annually to aid education, prevention and recovery efforts. As the pilot programs became more self-sustainable, funds were reallocated to add Appalachian State University, North Carolina State University and North Carolina Central University to the program.
West Virginia: In 2019, the Alliance for Economic Development of Southern West Virginia was awarded roughly $321,000 by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services to establish a Southern West Virginia Collegiate Peer Recovery Network, offering peer recovery support services on seven higher education campuses (Bridge Valley Community and Technology College, Bluefield State College, Concord University, Marshall University, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, and West Virginia State University).
State Policy Recovery High Schools
Senate, No. 2058, State of New Jersey, 216th Legislature, Introduced May 5, 2014
Authorizes establishment of three pilot recovery alternative high schools that provide high school education and substance dependency plan of recovery to test the effectiveness of this model.
2013 Rhode Island General Laws, Title 16 - Education, Chapter 16-95 - The Recovery High Schools Act
Authorizes the creation of a pilot recovery high school for the purposes of demonstrating the effectiveness of this model in Rhode Island.
Available Tools and Resources
SAFE Project’s SAFE Campuses Initiative
SAFE Project was founded in November 2017 by Admiral James and Mary Winnefeld, following the loss of their 19-year-old son Jonathan to an accidental opioid overdose. SAFE seeks meaningful metrics that strengthen our interdependent six lines of operation, and ultimately aim to achieve SAFE Communities, SAFE Campuses, SAFE Workplacesand SAFE Veteransacross the nation.
The SAFE Campuses initiative aims to normalize recovery on every campus in the country. They do this through a variety of programs that focus on advocating for recovery support services, providing educational opportunities for collegiate staff and administrators, collecting data to strengthen the field of collegiate recovery, and offering students in recovery leadership opportunities.
Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE)
The Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE)is the association that represents collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) and communities (CRCs), the faculty and staff who support them, and the students who represent them. The Association of Recovery in Higher Education provides the education, resources, and community connection needed to help change the trajectory of recovering student’s lives.
Young People in Recovery (YPR)
Young People in Recoveryenvisions a world where all young people have the resources they need to thrive in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol. YPR’s mission is to provide the life skills and peer support to help people recover from substance use disorder and reach their full potential.
Texas Tech’s Guide
As one of the pioneers in the collegiate recovery field, Texas Tech is a model for what many Collegiate Recovery Communities and Programs can look like. In recent years Texas Tech created a Collegiate Recovery Communities Curriculum for campuses who are interested in replicating their model.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.
Single State Agencies (SSA)
Every state has a designated Single State Agency that oversees federal grant applications for programs that aim to prevent, treat, and rehabilitate those with substance use disorders. Below is a state-by-state directory of agencies.
ARS is the only association exclusively representing recovery high schools while supporting and inspiring recovery high schools for optimum performance, empowering hope and access to every student in recovery. ARS offers technical assistance, accreditation, and support to members.
Every campus is unique with differing needs, resources, and student desires. It’s important to keep this in mind when developing a community and/or programming because there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to supporting students in recovery. While there is no template that fits the needs of every campus, below is a diverse list of campuses who have each approached collegiate recovery from a different lens and have found success in distinguishing ways.
Auraria Recovery Community
A coalition serving students at three institutions in the Denver area (University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Community College of Denver).
North Carolina A&T State University
An HBCU serving students in recovery at an agricultural and technical institution.
Two faith-based, private institutions serving students in recovery.
The Ohio State University and University of Michigan
Two large public institutions serving students in recovery.
Northampton Community College
A community college serving students in recovery.