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.
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, such as a dispute over the application of the school's academic standards, can face byzantine rules and procedures. Attorney Lento helps that student by, among other things:
- identifying and communicating effectively with the responsible officials;
- obtaining and interpreting the applicable academic standard;
- gathering and analyzing the necessary documentation;
- making the correct calculations and correcting the school's errors;
- presenting compelling arguments for the standard's correct application;
- advocating for the matter's informal resolution;
- invoking formal proceedings when necessary;
- organizing evidence and helping the student present it; and
- appealing any adverse decisions under special-relief provisions.
College and university students face academic challenges for many different reasons. Yes, some students lack academic preparation, while other students have the preparation but don't make the effort. Annual surveys of college students show, though, that their study efforts have increased overall, especially in the first year. Students are working harder. Too often, the source of academic problems is instead in structural and motivational barriers. The complex academic administrative environment can frustrate students until they acquire the administrative knowledge and master the necessary strategic skills. And poor instruction, with unclear goals and abstruse resources, can especially harm students who are still adjusting to college.
Attorney Lento has helped student after student maintain enrollment against academic-standard challenges long enough to gain the necessary traction toward a rewarding graduation. Attorney Lento does not see students who stumble at the start or along the way as expendable, even when the school does so. He instead sees the desire and ambition to succeed, to better oneself through education, toward a rewarding career. That opportunity is what colleges and universities advertise. Attorney Lento has made a career of holding those schools accountable to their promise. Trust attorney Lento to help with your academic-standards issue.
Progression Issues Leading to Dismissal
For a few students, college is a breeze. More commonly, though, college and university coursework challenges students to learn, just as it should. Learning needs to be difficult to be effective. Yet, some students face significantly more challenges than others, to the point of facing dismissal under satisfactory academic progress policies. The reasons for those challenges can be self-inflicted but are more often the result of other considerations, including things like illness, injury, military call up, employer demands, or the needs or demise of family members.
While the common outside reasons are by definition beyond the student's control, the academic-progress issues often start with a poor or failing grade in one course, with snowballing effects across terms and courses. Catching up in courses takes more time and effort than staying current in courses, when time and energy are already at a premium due to those other constraints. One bad grade turns into two or more, and soon the student, once fully capable academically, is on academic probation.
Students in those circumstances of academic progress peril need their institution's support but sometimes don't get it. At times, the institution may instead compound the student's problem with administrative obstacles and demands. Those obstacles and demands can include the following activities that under other circumstances might be helpful but simply are not because of the unusual stressor causing the academic challenge in the first place:
- extra advisor and administrator meetings and conferences;
- grade appeals including elaborate briefing and documentation;
- extra coursework and makeup or retake exams;
- repeated courses or portions of courses;
- counseling, tutoring, and other remedial attendance demands;
- completing elaborate forms and requests for documentation;
- researching elaborate administrative instructions and procedures.
Students facing dismissal for academic progress issues can fight their way back, especially with expert help. Colleges and universities very often provide probationary periods before dismissal. Ohio State University maintains a common form of academic progress policy beginning with academic warning status, special-action probation as the student nears an academic minimum, then academic probation as the student fails to meet the minimum requirement, and finally dismissal if the student has not timely regained the minimum.
The student can, in other words, usually see potential dismissal coming, if willing and in a condition to look. The time to act is when approaching probation or first on probation, not as probation ends with dismissal. The early action to reset your path away from dismissal and toward graduation may be to:
- meet with your professor in an effort to complete an assignment, complete a course, or earn extra credit to improve a grade;
- meet with a department chair to get help with a professor or to appeal a grade or professor sanction;
- meet with an academic-support professional for resources, strategies, or help advocating with a professor or department chair.
If, though, you already face probation and are now at risk of dismissal, then the above early steps to reverse course and restore your good standing may not be enough. They may instead also drain the student of time, energy, and attention to studies. In those cases where dismissal is a clear risk, national academic attorney Joseph Lento can help you evaluate your options, determine the school's procedures, and strategize as to your best path to return to good academic standing before suffering dismissal. Averting dismissal before it happens is better than trying to reverse a dismissal that has already occurred. Seek attorney Lento's counsel earlier rather than later, if possible.
Attorney Joseph Lento also helps students confirm or correct their probationary, at-risk status. Institutions do make mistakes when placing students on probation and projecting imminent dismissal. An above section describes some of those mistakes including misrecording lower-than-earned grades, miscalculating the grade-point average, ignoring earned grades and credits, and failing to offer courses required for graduation. And sometimes, with the best of actions and intentions, a student is unable to maintain adequate progress and meet academic standards due to the school's own actions. Schools don't lightly correct their own mistakes, instead too often blaming the student. Students often need attorney Lento's expert advocacy for those instances where the school is responsible for the student's failure to adequately progress, bringing about imminent dismissal.
Attorney Joseph Lento's expert advocacy can also make a difference, though, when the school hasn't made a mistake but is instead overlooking the student's compelling grounds for relief from its satisfactory adequate progress policy. Remember that progress policies requiring students to graduate within a certain time or against a certain percentage of attempted credits routinely include relief from that limit. For example, the University of Georgia's satisfactory academic progress policy referred to above expressly authorizes the university Office of Student Financial Aid to consider special circumstances mitigating the student's failure to maintain satisfactory progress. The student must, though, do each of the following things:
timely complete the office's appeal form clearly setting forth the mitigating circumstances;
- provide supporting documentation confirming those circumstances;
- explain how the student has resolved or stabilized the situation causing the failure to maintain satisfactory progress, enabling the student to now be academically successful; and
- provide supporting documentation confirming the situation resolution or stability.
Attorney Joseph Lento and the Lento Law Firm frequently assist students with these advocacy steps. Establishing mitigating circumstances is not like waving a magic wand. Instead, the advocate must construct and document a compelling argument. Reinstatement outside the institution's satisfactory academic progress policy is not a matter of right but instead of discretion. School officials, usually the financial-aid officers, may not be prone to exercise that discretion favorably. Attorney representation and advocacy can make the critical difference to salvaging the academic work and degree.
If, on the other hand, you have already suffered dismissal, then you may well still have options with which attorney Lento can help. Institutions often offer appeal or reinstatement procedures after dismissal. Those procedures routinely require a written presentation of the type that attorney Lento has the special advocacy skills to make. Schools may also offer special forums for relief through an ombudsman's office or general-counsel office, although generally requiring special advocacy of the type attorney Lento exercises.
Extenuating Circumstances: Issues Students Face
Not every student has a perfect life all the way throughout their higher education. At times, a student may face difficult circumstances that can have an adverse effect on the way he or she performs in school. Many schools, when properly notified of these circumstances, can make arrangements for you or even provide you assistance.
These circumstances may include:
- medical conditions (illness, depression, medical treatment)
- loss of a loved one (especially close relatives such as parents or siblings)
- domestic abuse or victim of a crime
- serious injury (i.e. a car accident)
Often, however, it is only after you receive bad or even failing grades in classes that you realize that the extenuating circumstances were having such a negative effect on your academic abilities. In that case, it is often through a grade appeal or other process that you can request assistance, a change of grade, or other help from your university.
Americans with Disabilities Act Violations
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires that businesses, governments, and schools make certain accommodations for those individuals who have a legally recognized disability. Violations of this law typically involve a failure by the school to provide access and amenities to public places for persons with disabilities. For universities, they are also required to take a disability into account in making sure their students are able to learn.
For students with disabilities who are experiencing concerns at their college or university, it is important to understand that there can be interplay at times between the ADA and the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights under applicable laws.
Violations of the ADA by a college or university may include both academic and non-academic concerns:
- Lack of assistive learning equipment in classrooms;
- Failure to provide testing accommodation in-class tests; or
- Failure to otherwise account for necessary adjustments to learning styles as a result of a disability
- Failing to install a wheelchair-accessible ramp when necessary;
- Failure to provide handicap parking spots in parking lots;
- Inadequate handicap restroom accommodations;
- Lack of handrails in walkways;
- Walkways that are too narrow or steep;
- Problematic elevator or escalator systems;
If a school fails to meet the obligations imposed upon it by the ADA, negotiations with the appropriate parties at the school, be it the school's disabilities office, the school's office of general counsel (the school's attorney), and so forth, are often the best first step.
A concern, however, is how the school's failure to implement or abide by reasonable accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act may have already negatively impacted the student. For example, did the school fail to provide a student an approved accommodation such as additional time or a private setting to take the exam? In the school's failure to do so, did the student suffer a lower grade or other academic consequence which can result in further consequences yet, such as not achieving anticipated honors, or being subject to academic probation or even dismissal? These concerns are unfortunately common themes for students who have disabilities and whose accommodations, or even the disability itself, are not given due consideration by the school.
A constructive resolution is generally best, but when the school fails to properly address such concerns or make a situation right, an ADA accommodation lawsuit may be the answer. These lawsuits seek injunctive relief and also potentially money damages as a result of the universities' failure to accommodate a legally recognized disability as required by federal law.
In many cases, however, negotiations between your attorney and the university can result in a favorable settlement in your favor, without the hassle of a lawsuit. The important thing is to make sure your rights are protected, and you are able to have the best college experience possible.
Consult an Academic Issues Attorney
Academic issues such as grade appeals, extenuating circumstances leading to negative consequences, and ADA violations can feel impossible to rectify if you go it alone. However, with the help of a highly experienced attorney, you will never be alone.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled understanding of the issues students face and has helped countless students with such concerns at colleges and universities across the United States. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today for help.