New coordinator to address non-traditional student needs

By Gus Bode

A full-time coordinator has been appointed to serve the needs of nearly 2,000 non-traditional students at SIU.

Deborah Barnett, a graduate student in workforce education from Marion, was hired as coordinator for non-traditional students and single parent programs, a position previously held by two graduate students. Barnett said she will focus on the inclusion and retention of non-traditional students.

Barnett said she defines a non-traditional student as someone who has taken a break during their college education, supports one or more dependents, a military veteran or who works full-time in addition to school. However, she said a non-traditional student is not limited to these categories, and the term may apply to students with other circumstances.


“These students have a lot to offer, but often they don’t feel included. In order to attract non-traditional students, we must collaborate to address their needs,” she said.

Because the classroom is a major part of the college experience, Barnett said it remains the best place to properly engage non-traditional student. She said most non-traditional students have obligations during the day that make it difficult to access on-campus resources that are only open during business hours.

Provost John Nicklow said the position is the university’s attempt to support a specific population.

“We are able to reach and assist these students in a way that we were unable to before,” he said. “This population sometimes has specific needs which can be unique. They need to learn to handle the pressures of a college education while at the same time being a parent, returning to school, or working, and the challenges aren’t always the same.”

Elizabeth Cooley, a non-traditional graduate student in community health education from Carbondale, said she returned to the university in 2008 after she had two children. She said it wasn’t until she built relationships with other non-traditional students that she learned more about available resources.

“There are so many offices and departments that all students need, but when you are non-traditional, you either don’t have time or don’t know how to access them,” Cooley said.

Barnett said she hopes to better identify non-traditional students enrolled at the university so she can reach out to them. She also said she wants to learn more about the obstacles non-traditional students tend to face and their perspective on day-to-day life as a student. Barnett said some return to the university after they realize the importance of additional education.


Frank Henson, a senior from Forrest City, Ark., studying agribusiness economics, said during his time away from school he found that he was unable to progress in the professional world without a bachelor’s degree.

Henson, age 60, said the inability to grow as a professional strained him financially and hurt his pride. He said he has had more drive to increase his self-worth through education since his return to college.

“I want to increase my economic value and I need to have the technical skills that an education can offer me,” he said.

Barnett said another one of her goals is to encourage people who are considering returning to school, and show them that SIU is a welcoming environment where non-traditional students can succeed.

“We want to provide enough support from the moment these students enter the university, so they are successful and graduate,” she said.