Clearing a College Record of Academic Issues

Academic records are supposed to reflect accomplishments, opening doors to other rich opportunities. Colleges and universities have several legitimate roles. One of those roles is to certify their students' accomplishments and integrity. Certification is the positive side of education.

But certification means gatekeeping, and sometimes gatekeeping means denying those same opportunities because of a poor or incomplete academic record. The sad truth is that college and university records can include negative academic information that closes rather than opens those same doors to opportunity.

The Problem with Gatekeeping

Some gatekeeping is obviously necessary. Applicants for employment, licenses, or other benefits sometimes misstate or outright misrepresent their qualifications. Employers, among others, properly rely on colleges and universities to confirm graduation, degrees, majors, certifications, grade-point average, class standing, dean's list, honor roll, and other positive academic accomplishments.

One problem with gatekeeping, though, is that colleges and universities don't always get the academic record right. Institutions make recordkeeping mistakes and omissions, underrepresenting student or graduate accomplishments. Getting an institution to fix errors and omissions can at times be straightforward or at times frustrating and difficult. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento assists students and graduates nationwide with correcting erroneous or incomplete academic records.

Yet, a bigger problem for some students and graduates is that a college or university may accurately but unfairly report negative academic issues on the institution's record. A student or graduate may, in fact, have earned the credit, grade, certification, honor, or degree to qualify for special opportunities. But in doing so, the student or graduate may have stumbled here or there in a way that led the institution to record negative information on the academic record. National academic attorney Joseph Lento assists students and graduates in advocating that the institution clear an academic record of negative information affecting important opportunities.

An Academic Record's Value

The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act provides that the college or university student generally gets to control disclosure of academic records. You can, in most instances, keep your academic record private, although schools may disclose student misconduct to other officials for health and safety reasons. The problem is that you didn't go to college to keep what you accomplish there a secret. Nearly every college or university student or graduate will at some point want or need to share their academic record. You can, for the most part, control your record's disclosure only up to the point that you need that record for your next educational or career step.

Don't underestimate the value of a positive academic record, clear of any academic issues. Going to college is about more than just earning the terminal degree. All of the following may use academic information to determine whether a student or graduate gets to pursue or continue pursuing an important opportunity:

  • programs and departments within the school;
  • scholarship funds, grant entities, and loan agencies;
  • clinics, internships, and other service-learning sites;
  • graduate and professional schools;
  • employers and entities contracting for services;
  • licensing and certification boards; and
  • supporting friends and family members.

Negative Academic Records

We know the accomplishments that college and university records typically reflect, things like courses completed, major and minor fields of study, degrees earned, and academic awards and honors. The negative academic issues that might appear in an academic record, though, are less obvious. They can include any of the following several anomalies or forms of outright academic misconduct:

  • very low or failing course grades;
  • very low standardized-test scores;
  • course late withdrawals;
  • course incompletes;
  • academic probation;
  • academic dismissal and reinstatement;
  • unauthorized collaboration;
  • plagiarism or self-plagiarism;
  • exam cheating or other cheating.

Grounds for Clearing Records

The grounds that a student or graduate presents for relief from a negative academic record must ordinarily be compelling to achieve the desired relief. Institutions do not change academic records on a whim. That said, college and university administrators can show good hearts. They often know the enormous challenges that many students face while pursuing their academic goals. Your grounds for relief may be unique, but here are some common grounds:

  • the record is factually inaccurate and in need of simple correction;
  • the record is incomplete and therefore misleading;
  • the record unfairly exaggerates or overstates the issue;
  • the entry is inappropriate for an academic record;
  • the student or a close family member had a medical emergency;
  • the student had a significant mental-health issue;
  • the student had an undiagnosed learning disability;
  • the student had a severe personal issue such as homelessness;
  • the student had a significant family issue such as death or divorce;
  • extraordinary personality conflicts arose with professor or classmates;
  • language or cultural barriers interfered.

Procedures for Clearing Records

Colleges and universities differ in their procedures for correcting or clearing academic records. Some, like Harvard University, offer clear formal procedures for addressing an academic record, while others do not disclose any procedure but may have informal ways to the same end.

Informal Systems. A sound first step can be to meet with the professor responsible for entering the negative record. Some institutions, like Columbia University in New York City, grant substantial authority to the professor to adjust grades and records. Professors may have the institution's authority to accept any of the above grounds or explanations to adjust grades or other records. Professors may also have the authority to permit extra work to raise a grade or have the authority to enter an incomplete or withdrawal in place of a poor or failing grade.

Consulting academic-support professionals about the poor or disputed record may also help. Those professionals may be able to support your communication with the professor or enlist deans, department chairs, or others to review and assist. Registrars are responsible f