Most colleges and universities have minimum academic progression standards their students must meet to continue their studies—and if a student can't keep up their grades, they may face academic dismissal. This can be devastating for any student, but being dismissed from school can create an instant crisis with potential long-term repercussions for international students. An academic dismissal usually means their F-1 student visa is revoked and their SEVIS status terminated—meaning they must leave the country immediately.
Unfortunately, academic shortfalls can't always be avoided. Sometimes, “life” just happens, even for international students. What happens if personal crises, mental health issues, family problems, or other short-term issues prevent an international student from keeping up academically? What steps can an international student take to avoid a complete derailing of their studies and their future career?
At times like these, having an experienced attorney-advisor can make the difference in preventing dismissal over academic progression issues. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has nationwide experience helping international and domestic students alike who are dealing with student discipline issues or facing possible dismissal. The Lento Law Firm has compiled answers to some of the most pressing questions asked by international students who are having academic issues.
What Are the Academic Expectations for International Students?
Generally speaking, most college and university students are expected to maintain a minimum Grade Point Average of 2.0 (essentially a “C” average or higher) to remain in good standing with the school. This same standard applies to international students. If their GPA falls below that mark, the school may begin taking steps to help the student get back on track with solutions that may include academic probation, remediation, and sometimes a leave of absence or academic suspension. Students who consistently fall or stay below a GPA of 2.0 or who do not improve their grades with remediation may face academic dismissal from the school.
Different degree programs may have additional requirements or minimum grade standards. For example, medical schools and certain healthcare graduate degree programs may require a minimum GPA of 2.5 or 3.0 to stay in good standing. Additionally, some graduate programs only allow a specific time window for students to complete the course work and qualify for a degree. If the student's progress is delayed or falls too far behind in their coursework, they may face academic dismissal.
How Do Colleges and Universities Track Academic Progress?
Schools have several ways in which they monitor the progress of their students. A growing number of colleges and universities are implementing data tracking algorithms that track the grades of students and automatically flag students for probation when they fall below the acceptable GPA. Certain academic departments and graduate schools may have their own committees that track academic progression and recommend solutions for those who fall behind. (This is quite common in medical schools, for example.) Finally, most schools have some sort of International Student Organization to support the international community, and there may be academic monitoring within these organizations.
What Are the Remediation Options for International Students?
Most schools offer various forms of remediation to help students who aren't making sufficient academic progress. These remediation programs may be overseen by the specific departments or grad schools for the student's chosen major or degree—and in fact, remediation is often a requisite for accreditation. Remediation is generally recommended as an alternative to academic dismissal or to prevent the need for dismissal.
If an international student is struggling academically, examples of remediation may include any/all of the following:
- Retaking an exam
- Repetition of a course
- Repetition of a semester or school year
- Personal tutoring
- Customized program developed by an academic advisor or committee
Am I Required To Accept Remediation?
No, you aren't. Remediation is always a better option than dismissal, but there are times when a remediation program is unhelpful or counterproductive. For example:
- The school might be too quick to prescribe remediation when less intrusive solutions may be available.
- Some remediation programs are “cookie-cutter” in nature and won't adequately serve the needs of an international student.
- Sometimes, student grades are incorrectly calculated or biased in a way that unfairly drops the student's GPA into dangerous territory, and you may have enough evidence to appeal the grade.
- Some schools view remediation as an obligatory step to justify dismissal rather than something that will actually help the student recover academically.
It is always best to speak with an experienced attorney-advisor before accepting a remediation program imposed by the school. It may be possible to negotiate with your school to find other alternatives or to modify remediation, so it is more helpful.
Can Remediation Eventually Hurt My Academic and Career Prospects?
Yes. While remediation is intended to help the student (in theory, anyway), there are always risks that academic remediation could be detrimental for students down the road. Here are some examples of what could happen.
- You may have to spend too much time and energy on remediation, leaving less time to focus on maintaining your other studies.
- If your degree program or graduate program has a time limit for graduation, remediation may cause delays in your academic progress that could eventually disqualify you from graduation.
- You will likely pay additional tuition and/or take on more student debt to take remediation courses or repeat a year.
- Remediation can place a notation on your permanent academic record, which could hurt your chances to compete for scholarships, internships, residencies, or even future jobs.
Never accept remediation without weighing these pros and cons, especially with the help of an attorney-advisor. Remediation can prevent dismissal, but it can cause more harm than good if not tied to your actual needs.
Can I Appeal a Bad Grade?
Yes. Schools give you the right to appeal an unsatisfactory grade. If you have evidence that shows the grade was calculated or administered unfairly, the grade change could boost your GPA out of probation territory and prevent the need for remediation or dismissal.
You'll need to refer to the school's specific procedures and policies for appealing a grade. This usually involves filling out forms and meeting with advisors or committees to prove that your grade should change.
A bad grade may be overturned on one of these grounds:
- Instructor bias influenced the grade
- A mistake was made when calculating a grade
- The grade was not assigned according to established school guidelines
- Your instructor did not properly inform you about the criteria used to determine the grade
- Your overall performance was assessed in a manner inconsistent with school policies
- The grade was influenced by more malevolent factors such as discrimination, harassment, or spite
What Is the Procedure for Academic Dismissal?
Colleges, universities, and even individual departments within the school may have their own policies and procedures to address poor academic progress. This information is likely published or posted in the school's Policies and Procedures information. That said, most programs follow a similar set of steps to determine whether to dismiss a student over poor academic progression:
- Review. An appointed committee will review your academic history to determine whether further action is necessary.
- Notification. The school will notify you of your potential dismissal and the next steps so you can prepare a response.
- Hearing. The committee will typically schedule a formal hearing in which you will appear before the board or committee and present any reasons for why you shouldn't be dismissed.
- Final determination. The committee/board will determine whether to recommend dismissal.
- Appeal. You have the right to appeal any adverse decision.
What Happens to Me as an International Student if I Am Dismissed From School?
Dismissal from a college, university, or grad school can be devastating for any student because it makes it more challenging to re-enroll in school, derails their career prospects, and may even load them up with excessive student debt. However, the crisis may be much more severe for the international student because it puts your immigration status in immediate jeopardy.
International students typically come to the United States on an F-1 student visa through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which authorizes them to be in the country as long as they are enrolled at an approved school. The government monitors international student status through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). When an international student is dismissed for academic or other reasons, their F-1 status is automatically revoked, and the school must report this information to SEVIS. There is no grace period for an F-1 revocation—meaning the student must immediately appeal, apply for re-enrollment, or transfer to another program; otherwise, they may be required to leave the country immediately. Students who don't (or can't) enroll in another program and don't return home are then considered illegal, and if caught, they may be deported and barred from re-entry.
In short—if you're an international student and you are dismissed from school, your career prospects are placed in immediate danger of irreparable damage. For this reason, you should do everything in your power to prevent dismissal if you can. Hiring a skilled attorney-advisor can significantly improve your chances of avoiding academic dismissal.
How Can I Appeal My Dismissal?
Any adverse school decision, including dismissal, can be appealed to the school. Students who wish to appeal must follow school procedures, which may include a hearing. You may be eligible to appeal against dismissal on any of the following grounds depending on school policies:
- An error in procedure could have adversely affected the outcome.
- The committee did not consider all relevant factors when deciding on dismissal and thus dismissed you unfairly.
- Bias was evident in the hearing. You were denied a fair hearing because the committee was biased against you.
Dismissed students usually have a very short time period to appeal, typically between 5-15 days. As an international student with revoked F-1 status, you may have even less time to prepare a compelling appeal. An experienced attorney-advisor can be invaluable in these situations.
What Happens When I Appeal To Avoid Dismissal?
While the exact process depends on school policies, most student appeals include these three steps:
- Submitting a request. In some schools, this request simply means you intend to appeal at an upcoming hearing; in others, the written request is the appeal in itself. If it's the latter, you'll need to submit all supporting documentation and arguments in writing.
- Consideration stage. The school authorities will consider any additional evidence and review your appeal. A meeting with a Dean may be held, or you may have a second hearing before an appeals panel. Sometimes the consideration stage is just a meeting of the appeals committee to discuss your written request.
- Final decision. The person considered to have the “final word,” usually a Dean, will decide your appeal. At this point, one of the following outcomes will happen: 1) The decision to dismiss you will be reversed; 2) You will receive reinstatement with conditions (e.g., required remediation) that must all be met; or (3) The dismissal decision will be upheld. This decision is final and binding, regardless of the outcome.
What Can an Attorney-Advisor Do To Help Me Avoid Being Dismissed Because of Academic Deficiencies?
In student disciplinary cases, students are not allowed to have an official lawyer. However, you can hire an attorney in an advisory role to assist with your case. An attorney-advisor has the experience and training to guide you through the situation. A good attorney-advisor can:
- Assess your academic situation and school's expectations to understand what is at stake
- Identify discrepancies (e.g., bias) in the way your grades and performance were assessed
- Determine whether any remediation offered will benefit you without causing you an unnecessary burden
- Give guidance on how to negotiate successfully regarding grades and remediation
- Help you file a successful grade appeal
- Help you prepare evidence and a convincing defense for your formal hearing
- Help you appeal your dismissal
As an international student, being threatened with dismissal is a crisis of the highest degree—one for which you have very little time to avoid disaster. An attorney-advisor can play a critical role in preventing this from happening, reducing your chances of being dismissed and forced to leave. Ultimately, hiring an attorney-advisor can save your career.
What Can an Attorney-Advisor Do After I've Exhausted Standard Channels?
A skilled national academic attorney may help you two other ways if you still face dismissal after exhausting your school's standard disciplinary process. Outside of the disciplinary process, colleges and universities generally have their own Office of General Counsel (OGC) ensuring the school applies its policies and procedures fairly. Your national academic attorney can advocate with your school's OGC for your reinstatement, even after you have exhausted the ordinary procedures. Your national academic attorney's advocacy with your school's OGC could just save your education. If OGC review doesn't change your dismissal, then you may also have constitutional and contractual rights that your national academic attorney can enforce in the courts. OGC relief is the preferred solution, but a lawsuit might be a necessary last resort.
If you're facing disciplinary actions due to unacceptable academic progress, don't leave your fate to chance. Hiring an attorney-advisor now can help you keep your academic status on track and protect your career prospects. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully helped countless students across the United States facing academic dismissal and other school disciplinary issues. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 today for a consultation.