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Why Collegiate Recovery Programs Work

Students in dorm common area

What Is a Collegiate Recovery Program

Collegiate recovery programs are not entirely new.  The idea of providing specialized support for college students in recovery actually became a reality in the 1970s at Brown University.  Rutger’s University and Texas Tech University followed suit in the 1980s and the Augsburg University StepUP Program began in the late 1990s (White & Finch, 2007).

What makes a program a Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP)?  These programs are more than a “dry” or “sober” residence hall.  Colleges and universities designate first and second-year student residence halls as “alcohol-free” but unfortunately, this designation and the reality can be quite different things.  A CRP is much more than simply an “alcohol-free” space.  A CRP is a program which offers specialized and strategic support to help students achieve growth and success in their recovery and academic journey.

On another level CRPs are counter cultures to the “party scene” in the college environment.  Research for several decades has illuminated the entrenched culture of binge drinking and drug use on college campuses (Wechsler & Weithrich, 2002).  CRPs offer an alternative, safe and supportive environment and culture for students attending college while maintaining their recovery.

Why Collegiate Recovery Programs Work

Research is bringing to light the effectiveness of CRPs for students in recovery.  A strong community of recovering peers provides an important buffer to the risky environment of college drinking.  This community also provides an important social network that helps to meet the belonging needs of these students (Harris, Baker, Kimball, & Shumway, 2007).  The community also helps to provide multiple opportunities for sober and safe recreation to help students get the entire “college experience” but without the negatives and regrets.

Furthermore, having program staff trained and experienced in addiction disorders provides another element of critical support for these students. Given that a significant percentage of students who enroll in CRPs such as StepUP also have co-occurring mental health challenges, the availability of licensed counseling staff becomes an even more critical support component for their success (Botzet, Winters, & Fahnhorst, 2007).

Oren Gateway Center exterion at night

What Makes StepUP Distinctive

Several factors make StepUP distinctive as a Collegiate Recovery Program.

  • Recovery in Residence

    StepUP is more than a student organization on campus.  StepUP students live together in their own residence hall as a recovering community.  The peer support is available 24/7.  They support each other and hold each other accountable to help foster recovery and academic success.

  • Professional Counseling Services

    The StepUP Program has a counseling office staffed by licensed counselors trained in addiction counseling dedicated solely to the StepUP community. The counselors use evidence-based approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as Motivational Interviewing techniques, to assist students in their recovery growth and development.  Furthermore, staff help students network with local resources for mental health issues when needed.

  • Leadership Development

    The StepUP community has its own student governance through a Leadership Team of student leaders who are senior respected peers in the program. Staff manages the program through a partnership with the student Leadership Team to continue developing and improving the program as the community grows and changes year by year.

  • Academic Support

    Augsburg University is a leader in providing specialized support services for students with learning challenges and disabilities. The CLASS (Center for Learning and Adaptive Services) program provides unparalleled support to students with learning challenges to help them achieve academic success.

  • Unique Community Context

    StepUP is distinctively well-positioned because of its location in the Twin Cities with its rich history of chemical dependency treatment and recovery resources.  Research has established the importance of mutual support groups for successful ongoing recovery for adolescents and emerging young adults (Winters, Stinchfield, Opland, Weller, & Latimer, 2000). Students in StepUP have ready access to a plethora of recovery support groups, meetings and networks.


Botzet, A., Winters, K., & Fahnhorst, T. (2007). An exploratory assessment of a college substance abuse recovery program: Augsburg college’s StepUP program. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 2: 2-4, 257-270.

Harris, K., Baker, A., Kimball, T., Shumway, S. (2007). Achieving systems-based sustained recovery: A comprehensive model for collegiate recovery communities. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 2: 2-4, 220-237.

Wechsler, H., & Wuethrich, B. (2002). Dying to drink: Confronting binge drinking on college campuses. Rodale Press.

White, W. & Finch, A. (2006). The recovery school movement: Its history and future. Counselor, 7 (2), 54-58.

Winters, K., Stinchfield, R., Opland, E., Weller, C., & Latimer, W. (2000). The effectiveness of the Minnesota Model approach in the treatment of adolescent drug abusers. Addiction, 95, 4,   601-612. Retrieved from


Association of Recovery in Higher Education

Association of Recovery Schools

U.S. department of education. (2010). Meeting the needs of students in recovery. Higher education center prevention update. Retrieved from

Weibe, P., Cleveland, H., & Harris, K. (2010).  Substance abuse recovery in college.  New York: Springer.