Breaking Barriers:
Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles that
Nontraditional Students Face
Carol Fleming and Sarah MacDonald
James Madison University
Barriers: Obstacles for Success
Barrier (bar-ee-er). noun.
• anything built or serving to bar passage, as a railing, fence, or
the like
• any natural bar or obstacle
• anything that obstructs progress, access, etc.
• a limit or boundary of any kind
• James Madison University enrolls 20,000 students as of this year
• Tradition of excellence in undergraduate education
• While nontraditional, nondegree seeking, graduate, and adult
student populations are growing rapidly, they often run into
policies and processes that are not designed for their needs
• JMU eID and password
• For security reasons, password expires every 90 days (faculty, staff,
students, affiliates)
• To reset password, users login, go through security awareness
training, and reset password
• Reminders sent to JMU email address 20 days before, then 15, then
10, then 9, then 8….
• If the password expires and isn’t reset, the user must go in person
to the Frye Building and show approved ID to prevent unauthorized
• Sounds perfectly reasonable, right?
• High school students earning dual enrollment credit
• Teachers earning a master’s degree at an off-campus location
• Online students
• …So now what?
Strategy #1: Meet with Stakeholders
• Seek first to understand, and then to be understood
• What’s the primary concern here?
• Present a reasonable case
• Show examples of exceptions (as many as feasible)
• Suggest alternatives
• Ask for help
• What barriers do your students face?
Barriers: Our List at JMU
• Registrar’s office – permission to enroll, permission to drop all
credits, permission to give incompletes
• University Business Office – when to bill contract courses, how to
control registration, how to accommodate different and varying
tuition rates
• Visa – ability to accept for noncredit courses
• Admission deadlines – Adult Degree Program
• Course scheduling– eight week, intensives, crossing semesters
• Certificates – creating modules
• Financial aid – credit, noncredit
More Strategies
• Being at the table
• Roadshow
• Internal and external marketing
• Telling stories (in every possible way)
• Present evidence – data-driven decision making
More Strategies
• Over-deliver
• Provide as much service as possible – servant leadership
• “This is what we do now.”
• Suggest a pilot
• Breakfast!
• What other strategies can be used to overcome these institutional
A Note About Change
• Systems are designed to resist change, even against all rationality
• The image of traditional students, living on campus and
sequestered from the world, learning everything they need to
become empowered citizens and change the world – it’s pretty
powerful and deeply embedded
• But: this isn’t the reality of higher education anymore
• Nontraditonal is the new traditional
• It just might take our institutions a while to catch up
Barriers We Haven’t Been Able to Address Yet
• Child care
• Degree progress report
• Social opportunities for adult students
• Evening courses
• Parking
• Housing
Barriers We Haven’t Been Able to Address Yet
• How can you apply these strategies at your institution?
• What are the top three things you can begin to address on
Carol Fleming
[email protected]
Sarah MacDonald
[email protected]

Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles that Nontraditional Students Face