January 04, 2017

SIU honored for commitment to non-traditional students

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- NASPA-Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education is honoring Southern Illinois University Carbondale for its longstanding commitment to non-traditional students.

SIU’s Non-Traditional Student Services is the 2016 Annual Outstanding Undergraduate Adult Learner Program, as recognized by NASPA’s Adult Learners and Students with Children Knowledge Community.

“This recognition honors all of those who have advocated for and supported SIU’s adult learners since the inception of the Non-Traditional Student Services office in 1986,” Deborah Barnett, assistant dean of students, said. “The office has a rich history of work that has been built upon and continued by many over the past three decades. I am happy and honored to accept the award on behalf of so many.”

Although SIU is a traditional, residential institution of higher learning, more than 30 percent of its students are adult learners. Barnett said non-traditional students are typically those who identify with any of these criteria: financially independent; delayed college enrollment rather than attending directly after high school; returning to higher education after interrupting college education at least once; working full-time; attending college part-time; have children; veterans;  are married, widowed or divorced.

The NTSS office provides a variety of services to the adult student population, including guidance, support and resource referrals. The goal is fostering a sense of belonging and a culture of success in this diverse group of students, according to Barnett.

The NTSS office communicates with adult learners through social media, a weekly “Monday Morning Minute” video and other venues. Individualized and personal assistance is offered as well, connecting students to the assistance and resources they need regarding everything from financial aid and time management to technology and support. The university and NTSS office strive to help remove barriers that could hinder non-traditional students in their academic pursuits and success, she said.

The initiatives put in place in recent years for non-traditional students include a Family Study Room at Morris Library, stocked with toys and games children can play with as their parents study. Nearby, construction is wrapping up on a student-designed lactation space for nursing parents. SIU also offers a Family ID Card that enables family members of students to access campus programs and resources. In addition, special programs and activities allow non-traditional students to socialize, network, and learn more about resources and programming available to them.

“At the heart of NTSS are the students it serves. Their courage and resilience as they pursue their educational goals are what drives NTSS to serve them better and advocate for their needs,” Barnett said. “Above all, NTSS strives for student voices to be heard, for their educational experience to be life-changing, and for barriers to be removed.”

SIU and its NTSS office will receive a plaque and certificate in conjunction with the award and be recognized at the NASPA-Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education annual conference, set for March 11-15 in San Antonio, Texas.