Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School approves Alternative Admissions Pathway

Decision broadens admission opportunities for aspiring substance use and mental health counselors
Learn About Hazelden Betty Ford

Center City, Minn. (March 6, 2024) – After a successful pilot, faculty at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School approved the permanent implementation of an Alternative Admissions Pathway for prospective students who do not have a bachelor's degree, opening new doors to bolster the substance use and mental health workforce.

The equity-minded decision on Feb. 29 is aimed at expanding opportunities for those seeking to work, or already working, in the treatment field—including many with a personal connection to addiction and recovery—who are prepared for graduate school success despite not having a traditional four-year undergraduate degree. By expanding access to master's level opportunities, the school also hopes to attract greater diversity of professionals into this area of health care to better reflect the diversity of people who need help--which is one reason the Graduate School earned a 2024 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Impact Award from the Hazelden Betty Ford DEI Committee. Research has shown that culturally specific care provided by people with similar identities of those seeking treatment improves patient satisfaction, retention, and engagement. 

Nine students were admitted through the Alternative Admissions Pathway during the pilot period. According to faculty, there has been no discernable difference between their performance and the performance of their peers who have bachelor's degrees.  

"Our hypothesis was that if we kept the application process rigorous and focused admission decisions on applicants' readiness to succeed at the graduate level—as demonstrated in other ways—academic performance among our alternative pathway students would be comparable to other students', and this has indeed been the case," said Jorja Jamison, PhD, a professor at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024 and will hold its annual commencement on April 19. The school is part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2024. 

"The United States has an urgent need for well-trained, educated, caring substance use and mental health professionals, and two-thirds of our admissions inquiries are from people who do not have a bachelor's degree," added Kevin Doyle, EdD, the school's president and CEO. "Even with decades of experience, many are held back from professional growth, earnings potential and opportunities to ascend into leadership roles and—most importantly—help save more lives. We want to open the doors wider for their future growth, as well as expand and diversify the workforce." 

LaCresha Dotson is one of the nine students admitted through the Alternative Admissions Pathway during the pilot period. 

"To call the Alternative Pathway innovative and pioneering is an understatement," Dotson said. "The reality is some people don't or can't pursue higher education before entering the workforce for many reasons. And for those who gain some combination of valuable work, military and/or other school experience, they may be ready to succeed in graduate school but not have the time or resources to go back to square one of obtaining a bachelor's degree first. I, for example, have been working for many years and have completed some undergraduate courses but am still a long way from my bachelor's degree. This new pilot pathway is enabling me to accelerate my educational path while I continue to work, demonstrate the value of my experience, advance my career, and bolster the workforce."

"The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School is experienced in serving non-traditional students. Our current average student age is in the mid-40s, and many have not been in school for years," added Dean of Student Affairs LeAnn Brown. "We know how to provide the support that such students require—and we are well-positioned to maintain our academic rigor and ensure the success of all of our prospective students."

Before the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School launched in 1999 by admitting its first master's students, it had been a counselor training program since 1963. It is the longest continuously running, accredited provider of substance use counselor training in the United States.

"After 75 impactful years of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and 25 years of the Graduate School, both institutions continue to innovate and lead the way at the center of addiction care nationally and globally," said retired Judge Susan Fox Gillis, who serves on the Graduate School's Board of Governors. "The new Alternative Admissions Pathway may be a model for all of higher education and certainly helps address the biggest challenge facing the behavioral health field: the workforce. I'm proud that we're creating more opportunities and helping great counselors advance in their career."

Application deadlines for the fall 2024 semester via Alternative Admissions Pathway are due July 11 for the Online Master's Program and Aug. 8 for the Hybrid/On-Campus Master's Program.

For those interested in learning more about the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School, the school offers regular open houses and events. The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School admissions team can also be reached directly at graduateschool@hazeldenbettyford.edu to answer questions about admissions, federal financial aid, donor-supported scholarships, or any other related topic. 

1. Meyer, O. L., & Zane, N. (2013). THE INFLUENCE OF RACE AND ETHNICITY IN CLIENTS' EXPERIENCES OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT. Journal of community psychology, 41(7), 884–901.


About the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School

The Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School educates future leaders in addiction counseling who provide evidence-based, integrated care for substance use and co-occurring disorders. Hazelden Betty Ford has been training addiction counselors longer than any other institution in the U.S. and aims to set the international standard for addiction counselor education, practice and leadership. The school and its programs hold accreditations from the Higher Learning Commission, the National Addiction Studies Accreditation, Commission, and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Learn more


About the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. Through charitable support and a commitment to innovation, the Foundation is able to continually enhance care, research, programs and services, and help more people. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in its services and throughout the organization, which also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.