Academic Issues | Lento Law Firm

While at college or your university, it is very possible that you will face some type of academic issue throughout your time. These issues can range from issues with grades, disability accommodations, and much more. When these issues arise, it is critical that they are addressed in order to protect not only your current rights but your entire future - both academic and professional. Issues that occur while in this important stage of life can impact your future career, and have long-lasting consequences. With the help of a highly experienced attorney, you can ensure that your rights are best protected.

If you or your child are dealing with academic issues, experienced academic issues, defense attorney Joseph D. Lento is here to help. You deserve to have your rights protected, and the Lento Law Firm has helped countless students with academic issues at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States.

Experienced Academic Issues Attorney

A veteran of both the nation's highest-stakes court systems, Joseph D. Lento has spent close to 20 years passionately advocating for students. As an attorney, he learned the practice of law in the trenches, dedicating himself to finding solutions to clients' matters both in and out of the courtroom. At times, a student's academic matter can be resolved diplomatically, and he is a skillful negotiator. At other times, resolving a client's matter requires additional efforts, and with the right attorney at your side, your rights will be well protected.

Academic Issues Faced by College Students

College students may face a great many different academic issues during their time in school. Whether you are in your undergraduate studies or have moved on to graduate work, these possible issues follow you everywhere you go in higher education. Schools are on the lookout for the slightest infractions, or perceived infractions in many cases. A great many simple misunderstandings can get blown out of proportion, and schools are too quick to assume the worst of you when that is simply not the case.

Issues with Grades

Your class grades are an incredibly important part of why you are in school and can have a significant effect on your future employment opportunities. A single bad grade in a class can weigh down your total grade point average, acting as an anchor, always pulling that average down. When a bad grade is improper or unwarranted, it is vitally important that you fight the bad grade properly through the process, but with tenacity at all times.

If you get a bad grade in a class that is unwarranted for some reason, you can file a grade appeal. This asks the university to modify a course grade. A student must have grounds for why the grade must be changed, not simply because he or she is unhappy with it. These reasons may include, but are not limited to:

The assignment of a grade was imposed based on components other than the academic performance of a student (personal bias, partiality)

  • An error was made in the calculation of a grade
  • The assignment of a grade was imposed for reasons that deviate from the established standards and criteria
  • An instructor failed to notify students of criteria in regard to grade determination
  • Arbitrary and inconsistent guidelines applied to the evaluation of a student's performance
  • The overall grade was given on the basis of discrimination, harassment, or malice

Most schools enact a process through which students can appeal their grades, but these processes are often landmines of detailed requirements that, if not followed exactly, can result in dismissal of your request on technical grounds. With the help of an experienced attorney at your side, you can rest assured your case will be fought with knowledge and hard work.

Progression Issues

People joke about perpetual students, but in fact, colleges and universities require that students make satisfactory academic progress to remain enrolled. You cannot remain enrolled in a degree program for whatever duration you wish, taking a course here or there, some terms on and other terms off, while delaying your graduation year after year. When a student begins a college or university degree program, a figurative clock begins to run for completing the program. And satisfactory academic progress doesn't just include the overall time limit within which a student must earn the degree. Satisfactory progress includes how well a student must do, too.

Each institution may establish its own policy as to what constitutes satisfactory academic progress, although schools tend to have similar definitions. Indeed, a larger college or university with several schools and graduate degree programs may have several different academic progress policies. Cornell University is one example, offering different academic progress policies for its undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, with further variation for specific programs. Cornell's progress policies, like those of other institutions, are complex, offering a challenging formula rather than a simple answer for maximum time for the degree, and including other measures like required completion rate and minimum grade point.

The University of Georgia provides another common example of undergraduate satisfactory academic progress policies, measuring the necessary progress not primarily by a specific time limit but against the number of credits attempted. University of Georgia undergraduate students must complete two-thirds of their attempted credits. Thus, under the University of Georgia's standard, a student must earn a 121-credit bachelor's degree within 181 attempted credits. Under that common form of progress policy, failing courses, withdrawing from courses, or changing majors can all affect whether a student will be able to graduate.

The point here is that every institution will have an academic progress policy. They must do so to enable students to get the federal student aid that is the lifeblood for colleges and universities. For the student and school, unsatisfactory progress means no financial aid. Under federal guidelines, satisfactory academic progress policies must include:

  • the minimum grade-point average or similar standard;
  • minimum credits to earn each year toward timely completing the degree;
  • the effect of incompletes, withdrawals, repeats, and major changes;
  • the credits accepted on transfer from school to school;
  • how frequently the school determines adequate progress;
  • the school's actions on inadequate progress;
  • any appeal rights for unsatisfactory academic progress decisions;
  • appeal grounds like student illness or death of a family member; and
  • how the student may regain aid eligibility.

Complying with the institution's academic-progress policy is critical to each student. Because non-compliance means no financial aid, non-compliance likely also means that the institution's registrar will not continue to enroll the student in courses. Students must show satisfactory academic progress from term to term, or they may lose their right and opportunity to continue with their courses. Unsatisfactory progress can mean formal dismissal or at least no ability to continue with enrollment without some form of special relief, if such relief is even available.

Satisfactory academic progress policies raise the stakes for students facing misconduct allegations interfering with their progress. False, exaggerated, mistaken, or unfair charges of academic or behavioral misconduct can interfere with satisfactory academic progress, just as can misconduct penalties such as failed and repeated courses, suspensions, and dismissals, and reinstatements. If it weren't for a school's satisfactory academic progress policy, a student accused of misconduct might manage to muddle through the allegations, even if doing so delayed the student's graduation by terms or years. But a satisfactory academic progress policy can turn a misconduct allegation into a make-or-break matter for the student.

In some cases, the student must promptly defeat or otherwise overcome the misconduct allegation, or the student will suffer an effective dismissal under the academic progress policy. The student may have done nothing wrong. Innocent students have lost their ability to complete their degree simply because they could not, under the strain and delay of false allegations, show satisfactory academic progress. Every student knows that college and university studies require energy, concentration, and attention. Any student facing misconduct allegations knows how those allegations can sap energy, reduce concentration, and distract attention, ultimately reducing the quality of academic performance and delaying its completion.

Institutions sometimes also unfairly apply their satisfactory academic progress policies in ways that interfere with a student's completing the degree. In other words, the problem isn't always a false, exaggerated, or unfair misconduct charge or allegation. Sometimes, the student's problem is the school's insistence on misapplying an academic progress policy in a way that keeps the student from progressing, as in these and other examples:

  • mistaken award of lower-than-earned grades;
  • miscalculation of grade points;
  • misapplying matriculation dates;
  • ignoring grades and credits earned;
  • barring enrollment, causing student coursework delay;
  • canceling or failing to offer courses, delaying progress;
  • refusing transfer credits;
  • failing to follow their own credits-earned standards; and
  • refusing to consider student illness, injury, or other circumstance.

If you or someone you know faces satisfactory academic progress issues threatening to prevent degree completion, then know that the expert representation of a skilled and experienced academic attorney can make the difference. National academic attorney Joseph Lento knows how to show when a school has failed to properly apply its own satisfactory academic progress policy. The institution's policy should be available from the financial aid office. Attorney Lento can evaluate the policy to apply to the student's actual, not mistaken or incorrect, record to advocate with the institution for appropriate relief. That advocacy may be with the institution's financial aid office, registrar, university ombudsman, or general counsel's office, depending on the problem that led to the progress issue.

Attorney Lento also advocates effectively for the special relief available under many policies, for things like student illness or injury or the death of a family member. That advocacy may depend on getting appropriate documentation of the illness, injury, death, or other special circumstance. That's what skilled lawyers do: document the record. That advocacy, though, may also depend on the interpretation of the documentation. As an experienced trial lawyer, attorney Lento knows how to make a student's documentation speak to the sensibilities and compassion of college and university officials. If you find yourself in a bind over satisfactory academic progress, retain the skilled advocacy of attorney Lento. Don't throw your education away. Help is available.

Failure to Meet Academic Standards

Colleges and universities maintain academic standards for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons has to do with helping students qualify for federal financial aid. As just explained above, colleges and universities must maintain satisfactory academic progress policies for students to get financial aid. But schools have other reasons for maintaining academic standards. Colleges and universities must maintain responsible academic standards to secure and keep their accreditation. Without standards, a college or university could not satisfy its accrediting body would lose its accreditation and would lose federal funding and students right along with it.

Colleges and universities also maintain academic standards to meet the requirements of employers. Students hope to get jobs on graduation. Employers do consider the quality of a school's education when deciding which candidates to interview and hire. Unusually low academic standards, or no standards, could mean an institution was graduating at least some students who would not meet the employer's minimum hiring qualifications. And students themselves rightly demand standards. They want to learn valuable knowledge, skills, and ethics. Academic standards help students, too, not just their employers. Academic standards are generally a good and necessary thing.

In their better form, academic standards establish benchmark measures for what students should know and be able to do at various points in the academic program. Academic standards are a big issue in education, where the school's and student's accountability to learning can mean the difference between life success and life failure. The U.S. Department of Education heavily promotes college and career-ready standards for what students should learn at their school.

The problem for students is not that colleges and universities have academic standards. Instead, the problem that students have with their college and university academic standards include that the school:

  • does not adequately disclose and publish its standard;
  • maintains a poorly defined and in some respects subjective standard;
  • maintains an overly complex standard that students and advisors misunderstand;
  • maintains a contradictory standard with alternative interpretations;
  • does not apply its standard uniformly and sensibly;
  • applies its standard arbitrarily; or
  • applies its standard capriciously to accomplish unfair ends.

Academic standards vary from school to school and are often dauntingly complex. Most institutions will require a minimum grade-point average. Boston College's undergraduate program, for instance, requires a 1.67 GPA. The University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill, for another example, adopts a more-common 2.00 GPA minimum. Schools, though, will simultaneously require other academic minimums. Boston College's standard, just cited, dismisses any student who has any combination of three failures, withdrawals, or unapproved underloads in any academic year. UNC-Chapel Hill's policy, also just cited, has elaborate definitions for how incompletes, repeats, withdrawals, and missed exams affect the required grade-point average.

In the wrong hands and when carelessly applied or deliberately misapplied, academic standards can become not only vague, ambiguous, and unfairly confusing but also harsh, unlawfully discriminatory, and punitive. From having helped hundreds of students with academic and related issues, national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento has seen how colleges and universities can mistakenly apply, and sometimes appear to deliberately misapply, their academic standards to student detriment. Schools, one would think, have little incentive to misapply academic standards. And in many of the cases when a school has misapplied an academic standard to a student's detriment, the school's motive or intention isn't to blame. The school has just been careless. But cases do exist when angry, extortionate, or vengeful professors or administrators appear to know the wrong that they are doing but do it anyway, until forced to correct it.

And that is where the expert services of national academic attorney Joseph Lento come in. As a highly experienced trial attorney who has devoted his law practice to representing college and university students, attorney Lento combines the skill of an expert advocate with the sensibility necessary to navigate complex academic institutions. Students who have an administrative dispute with a college or university,