A woman is standing, arms crossed, in an aisle of a library. She is surrounded by books.

Kierra Greer, of Chicago, a master’s student in counseling and rehabilitation education, is one of the students obtaining her CADC credentials at SIU, thanks to grant funding from the state. (Photo provided)

May 31, 2024

SIU uses $186K grant to fully fund training for counselors as drug, alcohol problems rise

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University Carbondale is training certified alcohol and drug counselors and fully funding their instruction, as part of a new state program to alleviate the shortage of professionals.

After record numbers of drug overdose deaths in Illinois for five consecutive years, the state is providing $3 million to eight Illinois institutions of higher education to recruit and train more behavioral health professionals as substance use counselors. SIU, which received $186,000 for the initial phase of the project, is the only one outside the Chicago metropolitan area.

“Drugs and alcohol use disorders are really pervasive, nondiscriminatory and often just not discussed,” said Jane Nichols, associate professor and counseling and rehabilitation education program (CARE) director emerita who led SIU’s program during the spring semester. “We are in an underserved area with too many people needing services and too few trained, licensed and certified counselors to meet that need. The abuse of methamphetamines continues to be a problem in Southern Illinois, as does opioid addiction, cannabis dependence and poly-substance use.

“SIU stands separately in Southern Illinois as we are the only university in the region that offers master’s level training for licensed mental health counselors with the option of obtaining a substance use disorders and behavioral addictions certificate like this. We’re covering an area that just doesn’t otherwise get covered. The state is looking to us to provide help so there is real value in this. I’m confident this grant will increase the number of people who graduate from SIU as licensed mental health counselors with their certified alcohol and other drug counselor, or CADC, credentials.”

The initial phase runs through June 30. The funding agencies plan to continue the program for at least two more years, pending state approval. It is anticipated that SIU and other current recipients in good standing will be supported during that period and can reapply for subsequent years.

Wraparound funding

The Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Substance Use Prevention and Recovery  and the Illinois Certification Board developed the CADC Workforce Program, and they are providing the grant funding in a comprehensive package to reduce financial barriers to education and workforce participation, officials said.

The grant covers tuition, internship stipends, certification-related costs and a variety of other expenses for students in an ICB-accredited training program. In addition, the program helps with job placement, credential renewal, continuing education and more, as well as additional and wraparound support as needed.

“This grant has been a huge blessing,” said Mikaylah Rodriguez, an SIU master’s student in counseling and rehabilitation education. “Because of the funding, I don’t have to stress about affording tuition and the necessary materials for classes, which frees up time and mental resources that I can now put toward my classes.”

Rodriguez, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, works at SIU’s Evaluation and Developmental Center (EDC), to help individuals who are on probation or parole obtain employment.

“Many of the people that I’ve been serving seem to have charges that could be linked to substance use,” she said. “My hope after I graduate is to work in the prison system as a mental health and substance use counselor to essentially try to help disrupt the cycle of addiction so that individuals are not stuck in a cycle where substance use leads to reoffending for the rest of their lives.”

Kierra Greer, of Chicago, a master’s student in counseling and rehabilitation education, also decided to obtain her CADC credentials before graduating in May 2025.

“I’m interested in becoming a CADC to give hope to those who are feeling like there’s no way out of their addiction,” Greer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said. “My father runs a nonprofit called YANA (You Are Not Alone) House where I get to see firsthand how the clients in the program are rejected by society and labeled due to their addiction. I would like to be a therapist for them, another positive person in their corner, supporting them on their journey to heal.”

Greer currently works as a therapist in training for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at SIU. She said the practical experience is valuable and the grant assistance has been priceless.

“As a single mom of a 3-year-old, it is difficult to manage both work and school,” Greer said. “This grant provides financial as well as social support toward helping me reach my educational goals.”

Greer was one of three single parents who took advantage of the grant during the first semester, officials said, and SIU quickly found seven students to claim the initial scholarship openings.

“I am thankful to Dr. Nichols and the SIU team for their work to pursue and receive this grant as it creates an excellent opportunity for students,” said Scott Collins, director of the School of Health Sciences.

Looking ahead

Nichols will continue to oversee the program, and she encourages additional students to apply.

Yancy Cruz-Virella, assistant professor and CARE program coordinator, will be assisting.

SIU’s substance use disorders and behavioral addiction certificate program is accredited by the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Certification Association, Inc. to prepare students to obtain their Illinois CADC credentials. Students who are working on their bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees in a behavioral health-related degree program are welcome to apply, officials said. Postgraduates who would like to add the certificate to their portfolio are also invited to participate.

The CADC certificate program requires five specific didactic courses along with one prepracticum course to prepare students for their clinical experiences. The students then participate in a 500-hour internship at an Illinois substance use prevention and recovery center. As of fall 2025, SIU will be offering all of the didactic courses online.

Students agree to serve in the field in Illinois for at least two years after earning their certifications.

For more information about the substance use disorders and behavioral addictions certificate or the counseling and rehabilitation education program, visit the websites or contact Cruz-Virella at yancy.cruz@siu.edu or 618-453-8223 or Nichols at jlnichols@siu.edu. Updates about grant and funding availability will be posted on the Counseling and Rehabilitation Education (CARE) website and the SIU School of Health Sciences Facebook page.