College Recovery Programs: Supporting Students Choice for Recovery and Academics

CollegeRecoveryPrograms650x519School may still be out for students, but Patrice Salmeri, Director of Augsburg’s StepUP Program in Minneapolis is hard at work ensuring all is ready is for the start of another successful school year. Recently she took time out to answer questions about college recovery programs and Augsburg’s StepUp Program.

Collegiate recovery programs (CRP’s) provide support for students in recovery who are seeking a degree in higher education. Colleges with recovery programs provide the infrastructure necessary to support the academic performance of college students in recovery. CRP’s are not new — they’ve been around since the 1970s. Brown University was the first to start a program, with Rutgers University and Texas Tech University following suit shortly afterwards.

The pioneers in the academic recovery program realized that although sober residence halls were a good place to start, colleges needed to offer more. Over the years, specialized programs and strategic support have been developed to help Gabe Stumme, Katie Strong, Joe Joyce, Ann Thompson Heller (left to right) spoke for recovery and academics at the Association of Recovery in Higher Education Conference in May. College Recovery Programs: Supporting Students Choice for Recovery and Academics students achieve personal growth and academic success, while maintaining sobriety on campus.


Augsburg College in Minneapolis boasts the largest residential collegiate recovery program in the country and have served over 650 students since the program began in the late 1990s. Augsburg’s website describes the program: “The StepUP Program at Augsburg College strives to help students champion lives of recovery, achieve academic success and thrive in a community of accountability and support. The culture is shaped by its values, which emphasizes a recovery based on spirituality and the 12-Step model. Educational success is strongly supported

and encouraged, along with giving back through service to others. Students find themselves thriving in a community that is an alcohol and drug-free environment; which further encourages the development of healthy minds, bodies, spirits and emotions.”

On a Mission

Patrice has made it her mission for the past 14 years to prevent students from having to make an unfair choice, “No one should have to choose between recovery and a college education. Unfortunately many college campuses are ‘recovery hostile.’” She explains that many students have had to make a choice between going to college and risking their recovery, or saying no to an education in order to protect their sobriety.

She serves as the President of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE), and shares advice to any institutions interested in developing a collegiate recovery program. Patrice laughs good-naturedly, “I tell anyone interested in starting a program to start by making friends with everyone on campus — from the janitor to the president and everyone in between— because you’ll need everyone’s help!”

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Besides Augsburg, Minnesota also has CRPs at St. Cloud State and St. Scholastica in Duluth. When asked why Minnesota doesn’t have more, Patrice sighs, “Some college administrators don’t think their students have a problem with alcohol or drugs or they may not want to attract ‘those types of people.’” Patrice feels more education is necessary to remove the stigma attached to recovery, but happily reports that when students at Augsburg say they are in the StepUP Program and live in the Gateway Center (residence hall for StepUP students) most everyone at Augsburg is accepting and supportive.


Patrice works alongside a small staff consisting of an assistant director, two counselors and an administrative assistant who do what it takes to help students have a normal, healthy academic life, while supporting their recovery. She tells parents at orientation, “I take my responsibility to care about your child very seriously.” The program can house and serve 106 students; currently 94 of those spots are filled for the upcoming school year.

Typical Student

According to Patrice, most StepUP students at Augsburg are referred by word of mouth either from recovery high schools, treatment centers (such as Hazelden) or outof- state organizations and partners. When asked about demographics of a typical StepUP student, she recited these statistics:
• Age ranges from 17-26
• Most are either first year college students or transfers from another college
• Forty percent are from Minnesota, 60 percent are from out state
• One-third are women; 2/3 men
• Forty percent are of ethnic background
• The abstinence rate for students currently runs 93 percent.
Average grade point average (GPA) is 3.2 out of a possible 4. Out of the 40 percent who make the Dean’s list, half have a 4.0 average.

Commitment, Contract and Service

Students who apply must have successfully completed treatment and have six months of clean, sober living. They come to school a week before the other students, attend an in-depth orientation with their family and sign a comprehensive two page student contract spelling out their responsibilities such as:

Remaining abstinent from alcohol or other drugs, developing a strong relationship with a sponsor, attending two recovery meetings each week and attending all mandatory StepUP programs.

Keeping counseling appointments.

Attending and being on time for all classes and turning in all assignments on time.

Regular cleaning of personal residence.

Refraining from high-risk environments such as bars or places where alcohol and/or illegal drugs are present.

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Holding themselves accountable and speaking to StepUP staff if any item on the agreement is broken.

Sober Dorm Life

Students at Augsburg have a brand new residence hall, which they pay an additional $1,000 per year to live in, but there is no extra charge for the StepUP program. Patrice tells students, “Your dorm room is where you sleep, but your residence hall is where you live.” She requires students to be accountable to each other, attend the weekly circle meetings every Monday night and attend additional floor meetings. Students must clean their own residence, including bathrooms, and participate in service opportunities throughout the year. Peer support is available 24/7 and the Resident Assistants in the dorms are trained to handle most issues that arise. If they cannot handle an issue, they call the StepUP staff. If a student does relapse, staff will assist them in getting to treatment, if desired.

Multiple Challenges

Patrice finds that time management is the biggest challenge for these students. “It’s huge,” she says. “Students have to balance all the demands of academics with the responsibilities involved with recovery — attending meetings, performing service work… it’s a lot to juggle.” She added another challenge. “These days, many young people are struggling with heroin addiction, a difficult drug to kick.”

And then there is the catch-up factor for many recovering addicts. “Some students are simply stunted in their emotional growth, and have to learn basic life skills,” says Patrice. “Recently I had to teach one student how to send a letter through the postal service. He had just never done that before.”

When asked what she loves about her job, Patrice lit up, “To see the transformation in the students. These are some of the most wonderful, creative, intelligent people I know. They write poems and compose music. I have nothing but respect for them, and it is both an honor and pleasure to work with and support them.”

For more information on Augsburg’s StepUp Program call 612-330-1405 or visit their website You may also consider supporting Augsburg in some of the following ways:
•Donate money for scholarships
•Buy tickets for the Gratitude Gala on October 24, 2015
•‘Adopt’ a StepUP student from out of town. Show them the Twin Cities, or invite them to (nonalcoholic) celebrations and events.

Mary Rose Remington is a freelance writer in the Twin Cities

Last Updated on June 9, 2020