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Ex-Addicts Getting Scholarships

August 26, 1999

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) _ Four years ago, Adrian Corral sat in a dank prison, wracked by convulsions from cocaine withdrawal and filled with thoughts of hanging himself with a bedsheet. He survived his four-year sentence for drug dealing only because he lacked the nerve to kill himself.

Now Corral, 34, is going to college under a program at Texas Tech University that gives recovering addicts scholarships for staying clean, getting good grades and attending recovery meetings.

It may be the first program of its kind in the nation.

The addicts-to-scholars program, started four years ago at the Texas Tech Center for Addiction Studies, rewards participants regardless of their previous academic careers.

Corral, who had only a high school education, is getting a bachelor’s degree and hopes to attend medical school and become a pathologist.

``I wanted to be a part of law enforcement and I realize that I can’t do that because of my history,″ he said. ``But at least this way I can be a part of the process.″

Carl Andersen, director of the center and himself a recovering alcoholic, founded the program.

``This isn’t a situation where you’ve got someone in charge who doesn’t know what he is dealing with,″ said Andersen, who carries in his pocket a golden medallion inscribed ``16″ for the number of years he has been sober.

``I was going to lose my wife and family and everything that meant anything to me,″ he said. ``Now I’m giving others the chance to save their lives.″

To get in, participants must show that they have been in drug or alcohol rehab for at least a year. That, a high school diploma or equivalency degree and Andersen’s faith are the only requirements for acceptance into the program, which admits around 100 undergraduates each year.

The scholarship money comes from private sources, including rehabilitation groups and former students who are in recovery.

``I’ve never heard of a program like that and I like the idea,″ said Dr. Herbert Klebert, former U.S. deputy drug czar and director of Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Officials at the National Association of Colleges were also unaware of any similar rehab program.

The amount of money a student gets depends on the participant’s grades: a 4.0 grade-point average earns $2,000 per semester, a 3.5 is worth $1,500, a 3.0 gets $1,000 for a 3.0, and a 2.5 earns $500. Participants have to pay the rest of their expenses. Tuition and fees at Texas Tech are typically $2,500 per semester.

Anything less than a 2.5 GPA and students can be kicked out of the program. They also can be removed for poor attendance at class or recovery meetings.

``I have deans sometimes tell me that I’m being too hard on students,″ Andersen said. ``But one of the first signs of a reversion back to a substance is tardiness or absence from scheduled events.″

Andersen said only 5 percent of participants have reverted to drug or alcohol abuse. The National Substance Abuse Institute says 54 percent of all abusers in recovery programs nationwide backslide.

Nearly as impressive is the participants’ overall GPA of 3.67, compared with a 3.42 for Tech undergraduates.

Bob Weiner, spokesman for White House drug czar Barry McCaffrey, called the program ``enlightened.″

``The program keeps them out of crime,″ Weiner said. ``Programs like these are in the public interest. How can anyone be against that?″

University officials call Andersen ``cutting-edge″ and ``visionary.″ But Andersen said the president of the university at the time laughed when he first proposed the idea.

``He funneled a bunch of people my way that said stuff like, ’I’ve got a son who has never touched a drug in his life and he can’t get scholarship money,‴ Andersen recalled. ```Why should we give it to someone who has been snorting cocaine? And do we really want people like that on campus?‴ Andersen acknowledged: ``I live in horrible fear that one day, one of these students will do something to embarrass or bring down the program.″ After all, many of the 600 students who have been in the program have prison records, some for violent crimes.

But he said the opportunity to give addicts a second chance is worth the risk.

``You have to help people build something that is worth not destroying,″ Andersen said. ``These aren’t people who are dumb or don’t have a brain. They’ve just burned every possible bridge and won’t be able to break the cycle unless someone, somewhere takes a chance on them.″

Because none of Andersen’s students has gotten into serious trouble _ most, in fact, are older than 25 and live off campus _ many parents are unaware of the program. Several Tech students said they have no problem with recovering addicts getting scholarships.

``The truth is that at Tech, many students are Christian and believe in giving a person another chance,″ said Brent Jacobs, 19. ``There but for the grace of God go I.″

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