College and university students who are pursuing STEM-related degrees have a unique set of challenges to face. While STEM careers are in high demand and typically quite lucrative, the college coursework is grueling, the assignments and tests challenging, and even the most dedicated students often struggle to keep pace while maintaining acceptable grades. For this reason, it's not unusual for STEM students to find themselves facing probation, remediation, suspension, or even dismissal over academic progression issues—often within the first year of study but sometimes even in the months before graduation.
Most schools are aware of the academic challenges of STEM students, and they offer remediation options that can help students get back on track. However, depending on the school and the program, these options can prove unhelpful at best and may even make matters worse. In addition, because “life happens,” many students find themselves behind over issues they can't control, such as family problems, mental health issues, or other factors. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of grace for STEM students where potential employers are concerned. Negative academic marks or a dismissal from a STEM program could prove disastrous for a student's future career prospects.
The good news is, there is help available—if you are proactive about getting it. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced student discipline attorney-advisor who has helped thousands of students nationwide facing possible academic dismissal. The following answers frequently asked questions about academic progression will help you know what to expect and how to take action to safeguard your future.
Why Are Stem Programs So Academically Challenging?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Since these four fields often work hand-in-hand, a STEM program goes beyond a simple major in any one of these fields by interweaving these disciplines together into the student's coursework. Of course, any of these fields can be academically challenging on their own—so imagine what it takes to integrate all four of them into a single degree plan! Most schools require high school applicants to carry a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.5 or higher just to qualify for a STEM program—and even higher if they want to be eligible for scholarships. But once they are accepted, even the most diligent students frequently struggle to maintain a decent GPA through college.
Here's where it gets especially challenging for STEM students. Most colleges and universities require students to maintain a GPA of at least 2.0. Any lower than that, and the school may place the student on academic probation or offer some sort of remediation. For STEM students—even those who carried GPAs as high as 4.0 in high school—it's not unusual for their GPA to fall to 1.8 or lower in college. If these grades stay consistently low despite probation or remediation, or if the student simply can't keep pace, they could face dismissal.
How Do Colleges and Universities Track Academic Progress?
Colleges and universities monitor students' progress in several ways. Most academic departments and grad schools have their own student progress committees (consisting of faculty, students, or both) that evaluate student progress within their respective departments. Many schools also now utilize advanced data algorithms that track student grades and automatically flag them for probation when they fall below the acceptable GPA. In either case, when a student falls short academically, it's usually not long before the school starts responding with remedial or disciplinary actions.
What Options Are There for Stem Students as Far as Remediation?
STEM programs tend to be so challenging that remediation is integrated into the process from the beginning. Indeed, many students seeking to enter STEM programs must complete a remedial course before enrolling in STEM classes just to bring them up to speed. A growing number of institutions are even implementing co-requisite remediation for incoming students, allowing them to take college-level courses with additional academic support alongside their regular classes to be better prepared for the challenges ahead. But even with these safeguards in place, many STEM students still find themselves in additional remediation when they fall behind academically.
Although every school has its own remediation policies and solutions, the student progress committee will likely recommend one or more of the following solutions for struggling STEM students:
- Taking a specified remedial course in the affected subject
- Repeating a failed exam or failed course
- Private tutoring or increased academic advisement
- Repeating a semester or an entire school year
- Taking a leave of absence to deal with personal issues
Should I Accept Remediation When Offered?
Not automatically, and not always. While remediation can be an effective alternative to dismissal in some cases, remediation is not a foolproof solution, and it can even make things harder for the student. Here are some examples:
- Sometimes STEM programs rush students into remediation without exploring other options or customizing it to the student's needs. This can cause an unnecessary burden on them.
- Sometimes student grades are miscalculated or with an unfair bias. This places students in probation or remedial territory when they don't deserve it.
- Some schools see remediation only as a mandatory step before they can dismiss a student. Therefore, they don't tailor their program to make it beneficial.
Before accepting any school-imposed remediation plan, consult an experienced attorney-advisor to make sure the program actually works in your favor. There may be other options you haven't considered or that the school has not offered.
Can Remediation Hurt My Career or Academic Prospects?
Yes. While remediation is always preferable to dismissal, there is always the risk that academic remediation could cause harm to students. For example:
- Remediation may include additional time and energy that take the student away from other studies.
- If the STEM program has a window of completion, remediation could slow the student's progress to the point of failing to qualify for the degree in the allocated time.
- Remedial courses may result in higher tuition costs or student debt.
- Sometimes remediation can leave a mark on a student's academic record that is not favorable. This reduces their ability to compete for future internships.
Can I Appeal a Bad Grade?
Yes. You have a right to appeal a negative grade, especially if you can present evidence that the bad grade is undeserved. A successful grade appeal can result in an adjustment on your GPA, avoid the need for remediation, or prevent dismissal.
Each school has its own guidelines and procedures for grade appeals. To find out more, you will need to consult the school's manual. An appeal usually involves filling out a form, meeting with an advisor or committee, and presenting evidence to support your grade being changed.
Appealing on any of the following grounds may allow you to reverse a negative grade:
- Instructor bias influenced the grade rather than academic performance.
- An error occurred in the calculation of a grade.
- The grade was assigned in contradiction to established school criteria.
- The instructor didn't appropriately inform you about the criteria that determine the grade.
- The guidelines used to assess student performance were inconsistent.
- The grade you were assigned was not based on your merit but malevolent motives like discrimination, harassment, or spite.
What Is the Disciplinary Process for Academic Dismissal?
Each college and university implements specific procedures to respond to poor academic progress. You can find this information in the Policies and Procedures material published by the school. That said, most schools will use some version of the following process:
- Review. The Student Progress Committee will evaluate your academic progress and determine whether any further actions should be taken.
- Notification. The school will inform the student about possible dismissal and the next steps to take so that they can respond.
- Hearing. The committee will schedule a formal meeting where you will present your arguments to the board.
- Final determination. The committee will decide whether to recommend dismissal or some other action.
- Appeal. An unfavorable decision can be appealed before it becomes final.
What Could Happen to My Career if I Am Dismissed From the STEM Program
The long-term consequences of being dismissed from a STEM program could be devastating for your academic and professional career prospects. Here are just a few of the possible repercussions:
- You might have trouble getting into another STEM program. Many schools won't qualify students for a STEM program if they've already been dismissed from one. This can make your education challenging to continue or complete—or at the very least, force you to accept a less demanding major.
- You may have trouble getting hired. Even if you eventually finish your degree, a mark of dismissal on your academic record may make you less competitive for STEM-related jobs.
- You will lose any academic progress you made. This could be problematic if you're looking to try and transfer to another program.
- Extended financial problems may arise. You will lose all the tuition money that you have already invested in your education. If student loans were taken out, they would also need to be repaid—with or without the high-paying job to support them.
Suffice it to say, dismissal is an outcome you should try to avoid at all costs. An experienced attorney-advisor could make a big difference in the outcome of your case. It may even save your career.
What Can I Do to Appeal My Dismissal?
You have the right to appeal the school's adverse decision before it becomes final. Students may file appeals through the school's established procedures, which may include an additional hearing. You may be allowed to appeal dismissal on the following grounds:
- The outcome was negatively affected by a procedural error.
- When deciding whether to dismiss, the committee did not take into account key relevant factors or evidence.
- The hearing was marred by bias. The committee was biased against your case and prevented you from having a fair hearing.
Schools usually allow students to appeal within a 5-15 day window. This means that you only have a limited amount of time to present your strongest argument why the school should allow you to remain enrolled. An attorney-advisor can be invaluable in these situations.
What Happens When You Appeal To Avoid Dismissal?
Although the exact process will vary depending on school policies and other factors, student appeals typically include the following three stages:
- Submitting a request in writing. For some schools, this simply serves as a way to notify them of your intention to appeal. For other schools, the written request is the actual appeal, in which case you'll also need to include all documentation and arguments in writing.
- Consideration stage. Your appeal will be reviewed by school authorities who will take into account any additional evidence. An informal meeting may take place with the Dean, or a formal hearing may be held before an appeals committee. Sometimes, the consideration stage consists of a closed-door meeting of the appeals committee to consider your written request.
- Final decision. There will be a ruling on your appeal by the final decision maker (usually a Dean). One of three outcomes can occur at this stage: 1) You will have your dismissal reversed and reinstated in the STEM program; 2) You may be reinstated conditionally upon meeting specific requirements; 3) The dismissal will be upheld. This decision will be final regardless of the outcome.
Why Should I Hire an Attorney-Advisor, and How Can They Help?
While students cannot have an attorney officially in student disciplinary matters, they can hire an attorney in an advisory role. An attorney-advisor can help you navigate this situation toward its most favorable outcome. A good attorney-advisor can:
- Assess your academic situation in relation to the school's expectations so that you can understand what is at stake.
- Find out if there are any discrepancies with the school's way of calculating your grades or evaluating your performance.
- Evaluate remediation offerings to see if they are genuinely beneficial without being too burdensome.
- Offer guidance on how to negotiate for remedial solutions effectively.
- Help you file successful grade appeals.
- Assist you in preparing evidence and a persuasive defense during disciplinary hearings.
- Assist in appealing your dismissal.
In short, not only can a good attorney-advisor help you avert unnecessary probation or remediation, but in many cases, the attorney-advisor's involvement can prevent you from being dismissed—basically saving your future career.
What If Anything Can an Attorney-Advisor Do If Standard Channels Provide No Relief?
You may still have two sensible and effective options: (1) intervention with your school's Office of General Counsel (OGC); or (2) a civil lawsuit in the federal or state courts. Colleges and universities generally hire their own attorneys to staff an Office of General Counsel (OGC). The OGC makes sure the school applies policies and procedures fairly in all cases. An experienced national academic attorney can advocate with the OGC for your reinstatement, even if the school's standard processes resulted in your dismissal. OGC intervention could save your STEM education. If OGC review doesn't lead to your reinstatement, then you may have constitutional and contractual rights that a national academic attorney could enforce in the courts. OGC relief is quicker and less costly, but a lawsuit could be an effective last resort.
As a STEM student, you understand the difficulties and academic challenges of the major you've chosen. Don't let all your hard work go to waste by leaving your academic future to chance. If you're facing possible dismissal over academic progression, let attorney Joseph D. Lento act as your attorney-advisor to help turn things around. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.