The transition from high school to college is one of the toughest transitions many face in life. Although some students entering college have learned the coping skills and other life skills required to function as an adult in college, many have not. Even though these student’s grades or IQ may be high, their emotional maturity levels are oftentimes low. By providing students with the necessary tools needed to deal with the difficult academic and social issues at college, society can increase its human capital and develop better leaders.

As the Executive Director of Collegiate Recovery Services at a leading non-profit treatment center that focuses on assisting students with co-occurring issues, we often work with students who are facing such significant challenges at college. After working with a sample of over 900 patients/ students, we have seen that when the patient and clinical team work together to actualize a patient’s academic goals, implement study strategies/organizational techniques, and develop a relatively higher motivation, a large number of patients can successfully transition to a college setting from treatment.

Whether a student has sought out treatment voluntarily or has gone to treatment because of a mandate from the University, unless these students are willing to assume independent adult responsibilities and develop healthy coping skills, the transition back to college will be challenging. Therefore, a direct line of communication between University Counseling Centers and the Treatment Centers can play a critical role in the client’s transition to college and lead to higher retention rates for the university. Creating a therapeutic alliance with behavioral health treatment centers and university counseling centers to help with this transition helps patients/students transition from treatment to college and vice versa.

It is important that the industry move to a multidisciplinary approach to behavioral health treatment that prioritizes recovery while also honoring the importance of higher education to an individual’s ability to earn a living and contribute to society at large. This approach includes three main areas:

• Effectiveness of patients attending college and experiencing pressures of college life while still in treatment
• Value of a Therapeutic Alliance with university and treatment center
• College Admissions – competitiveness and how “Recovery” can play a role in admissions to competitive universities

Society as a whole must place a value on developing a therapeutic alliance between Treatment Centers and the Student Affair Administrators at our local and national higher educational institutions. In addition, University Admission Directors and Student Affairs offices can effectively increase retention rates through admitting so called “recovering” alcoholics and addicts to their university who have gone through a level of treatment which addresses the developmental and dependency issues that predated the drug use.

When observing a person in long-term recovery, in a number of cases, a drop in grades or extracurricular commitments occurs. What the application does not show is whether the individual
in recovery is still avoiding the personal responsibility for their own actions, and whether they are still manipulating others and functioning in the dependent mode. As Sid Goodman, (author and Founder Emeritus of Caron Renaissance), alludes to in the Psychodynamic Approach to Addiction Treatment, “By getting high and drinking, the alcoholic demonstrates the core unconscious fantasy of the addict, The Fantasy of Life without Consequences. Failing at self-care, they manipulate others to take care of them or rescue them. They appear childlike. They are assigned a dependent role in the family. However, the patient is rarely consciously aware of his or her excessive dependency needs.” Therefore, it is important for an admissions office to know at what emotional maturity level the recovering alcoholic is functioning. Furthermore, it is important for the admissions office to know the recovering student’s current commitment to his or her program. This should play an important role in an admission office’s decision in giving the recovering alcoholic or addict a second chance.

Having worked in admissions offices at both The Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania (MBA) and Florida Atlantic University, I saw first-hand how admission policy affects retention rates. The ideal solution would be admission officers and student affair administrators both working together to develop admission policies. Their policies would consider a recovering individual’s current behaviors rather than past behavior to determine how strong their sober foundation is and whether the student can withstand the ever-increasing pressures of college. Additionally, recovering alcoholics who truly attend a program are extremely successful at helping other students struggling with substance use disorders on the college campuses. Although the University Admissions Office cannot know when one is in recovery without self-disclosure, by creating an infrastructure that encourages the recovering student to engage in dialogue with the university early on in the admission process will help support a recovery-friendly environment. This is likely one of the reasons why Texas Tech’s Recovery Program has been successful with approximately a 75% retention rate amongst their students in the center and an average GPA above a 3.0.

Using knowledge gained through visiting the Texas Tech Collegiate Recovery Community Model (CRC), Rutgers University Recovery Program, and Case Western University’s Recovery and Prevention Model, we developed a Collegiate Recovery Community within
a treatment framework. The Florida Model pioneered by Sid Goodman suggests that rather than have patients reside and receive clinical services in an artificial setting in the same facility, they reside close to the treatment center and go back and forth to the clinical offices for direct service care. In the residences, the patients learn how to shop, cook and clean up for themselves. The hope is that the dependence will shift from the patient relying on staff to transport them, to patients developing their own means of transportation such as public transportation, and or other safe and effective means. This so called sober semester provides the remediation necessary for patients to learn the development and life skills necessary to an effective patient transition to a university setting. By developing CRCs on college campuses as well as acknowledging the limitations that colleges and universities face with funding and capacity constraints, innovative programs such as Collegiate Recovery Services within the Behavioral Health Framework will provide patients and students with successful transition from treatment to college and vice versa. Then, and only then, will we be able to increase our human capital.

By Jonathan Saltzburg is the Executive Director of Collegiate Recovery Services at Caron Treatment Centers.