At the University of Minnesota Morris, psychology faculty have known for some time about the severe shortage of addiction treatment professionals in rural parts of the state. This year, they’ve developed a way to help address that problem by creating a new program designed to train and prepare students to sit for the state’s licensed alcohol and drug counselor (LADC) exam upon graduation.
This new pre-LADC program, developed in consultation with Don Jarvinen, chemical dependency certificate program coordinator at Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College, will focus on training students interested in serving diverse and rural communities.
Heather Peters, associate professor of psychology at University of Minnesota Morris, heads the program with her colleague, associate professor Kerry Michael. Peters said that many of the program’s graduates will work in rural communities, providing addiction counseling and support for individuals in a range of organizations, including treatment centers, hospitals and correctional facilities.
It wasn’t a tough sell to get the university’s administration interested in launching the program, Peters said. They’d already been aware of the need statewide for more mental health professionals, and, she added: “When the pandemic hit, the need for mental health support became even greater. The administration said, ‘Now is the time. We want to help solve the problem in Minnesota.’”
In rural parts of the state, the shortage of LADCs is stark. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in the Twin Cities, there are 2,786 residents for every 1 LADC. In rural areas, the number is 13,576 residents to every 1 LADC. And the numbers aren’t any better when it comes to ethnic diversity: In 2019, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that 87% of all LADCs in the state were white.
Morris seems perfectly suited to help fill some of these care gaps. A significant number of the school’s students — 37.8% — come from Greater Minnesota, and Morris’ student body is, Peters said, “Forty-six percent or so BIPOC — Native American or Asian American or African American or international students. The diversity on our campus is very high.”
Before the new program was announced, Peters explained that Morris students interested in becoming LADCs needed to complete their four-year psychology degree at the university, then go to a two-year school to take additional classes and complete the required 880 practicum, or internship, hours, at outside mental or chemical health agencies. The new pre-LADC program will make the path to licensure smoother and shorter.
Peters said that student interest in the new program, which was approved by the state this spring, is strong. “We have 12 students at Morris who are interested already,” she said. “We did a soft rollout and they stepped forward right away.” She explained that the dozen students in the program started taking their required classes at the start of the academic year, and a few of them will begin their practicum hours next summer.
“The students will now take all the courses with us,” Peters said. To arrange the practicum hours, she explained, “We will be partnering with agencies across the state. I will be reaching out to the providers in those areas to create an agreement with us and the university. They will mostly be treatment centers. That’s where students will have hands-on experience.”
Partnership creates new opportunities
In this changing world, Peters said that the ethnic and racial diversity on Morris’ campus is an advantage.
“About a third of our students are Native American,” she explained, adding that the school has official status as a Native American-serving non-tribal institution (NASNTI). “There’s a huge need within rural and Indigenous communities for LADCs. So it makes sense for us to start a program like this.” And Morris graduates, no matter what their cultural or ethnic background, have a strong understanding of the importance of diversity in all of its forms, she added: “We have tried to infuse multicultural issues throughout our curriculum. In psychology, we try to develop the cultural sensitivity of all of our students.”
The partnership with Jarvinen and Fond Du Lac, which has been built over years, has been helpful in shaping Morris’ Pre-LADC option. “We talked to Don to gain his guidance as we were creating our program,” Peters said.
In the not-so-distant past, LADC licensure could be earned with a two-year degree. Then, the state of Minnesota changed the education requirement to a four-year degree. Those holding two-year LADC certificates are allowed to practice with their certificate for five years, but after that will need to earn a four-year degree for their license to remain valid.
Together, Jarvinen, Michael and Peters developed a new pathway program so Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College LADC students can now earn their four-year degree at Morris. Peters said that the university’s NASANTI status, combined with their “long-term, meaningful, mutually beneficial relationship with our tribal partners” helped the group earn a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to make the project possible.
“We created an online psychology program at Morris,” Peters said. “We built an agreement with Fond Du Lac where their LADC students are going to be able to enroll in our online program so that they can get their four-year degree.”
This partnership is unique in the state and should help to further boost the number of LADCs of color, Peters said.
“I think we are innovative in regards to how we partner with tribal institutions, really doing it as a reciprocal relationship to make whatever we do a win-win situation for both parties involved,” she said. “That is a novel approach.” While most non-native institutions have not always had equitable partnerships with tribal institutions, the Morris-Fond Du Lac partnership has a long history, Peters added: “I think it is important that the focus is on the relationship and maintaining it over years. That’s the kind of meaningful partnership we want to foster.”
Helping at home
Krista Gloppin came to Morris’ pre-LADC program through a circuitous route. Growing up, she knew relatives who struggled with addiction, and she never really knew how to help.
“There is some alcohol and substance use history in my family,” Gloppin said. “That’s been hard to watch.” The best way to support these relatives never felt clear, she explained: “There is no textbook that says, ‘This is the one way to help somebody through.’ It is difficult to be a loved one of somebody going through that.”
When Gloppin, 37, decided to finish her college degree, it made sense to enroll at Morris. She already lived in town with her husband and two elementary school-aged children, and she wanted to build a career in social services.
Gloppin’s original plan was to earn a criminal justice major with a psychology minor. Then she met with Peters, who told her about the new pre-LADC program. “I didn’t know about it,” Gloppin said. “It wasn’t on my radar. But Heather is my adviser. She explained that it was offered to all students. It just interested me.”
The more Gloppin learned about the program, it the more she felt like earning her LADC license could be a perfect fit for her interests — and her career. “I always knew I wanted to do something in a helping capacity,” she said. “This felt like a good way to accomplish that. If I was going to be able do it while doing the coursework here at Morris it worked out for me.”
It also helped to know that LADCs are in high demand statewide and that she shouldn’t have a hard time finding a job once she completed the program. “It is predicted to be one of the largest needs coming up through human services,” Gloppin said. “That reinforced my decision.”
Gloppin, who is Native American, is also committed to living and working in Greater Minnesota. “I would hope to find a job within that capacity in this area,” she said. “We’re staying in Morris.”
With the decision made to join the pre-LADC program, Gloppin is now focused on completing her coursework and looking forward to diving into her practicum next year that she hopes will include working in a local agency that supports clients with substance use disorder.
Gloppin said it feels like being an LADC is a role she’s been prepping for for most of her life, and she can’t wait to take the next step.
“I think my parents influenced me,” she said. “They looked out for people who could use help or compassion. That’s always been the kind of jobs I’ve held. I’ve been most happy in roles where I am supporting people in the community. It has always been on my mind and on my heart. I can’t wait to make that my career.”