Facing Academic Progression Dismissal – Frequently Asked Questions

Colleges and universities require students in all programs and at all levels to make satisfactory academic progress (SAP) toward their degree. Unsatisfactory academic progress can mean a warning, probation, and dismissal. Low grades, failing grades, frequent course withdrawals, and terms off can all contribute to unsatisfactory academic progress. But professors also make mistakes awarding grades and assigning incompletes, while schools also make mistakes applying their satisfactory academic progress policies. And those policies typically permit a student to show extenuating circumstances excusing unsatisfactory academic progress. Don't let your school's satisfactory academic progress warning, probation, or dismissal end your education and ruin your career plans. Retain national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's academic administrative team to help overcome your academic progress challenge.

Why Do Schools Demand Academic Progress?

Your school isn't just giving you a hard time when pressing and warning you to maintain satisfactory academic progress. Federal student loan regulations at 34 CFR 668.34 require that colleges and universities receiving federal student loan proceeds maintain satisfactory academic progress standards. Nearly all public and most private schools receive federal student loan proceeds, so you'll find satisfactory academic progress standards at nearly all colleges and universities. Your school isn't just giving you a hard time. Its records and files must show that it is applying its satisfactory academic progress standards consistently when auditors examine the school's financial and academic records. Indeed, many schools, such as Mississippi State University, call a student's probation or dismissal for unsatisfactory academic progress a “financial aid suspension.” Your finances may be in great shape. Financial aid suspension instead often means the school believes your academic progress is unsatisfactory.

What Are the Satisfactory Academic Progress Standards?

College and university satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policies typically set three academic standards that students must meet to remain in the degree program: (1) minimum grade-point average; (2) minimum percentage of courses completed; and (3) maximum time to complete the degree. Students are generally familiar with their grade-point average and generally aware that they need to keep it up to a certain level. Schools often warn students who have grade-point averages just above the required minimum and, of course, notify students when their grade-point average falls below the minimum. Students are often unaware, though, that they have to complete a certain percentage of courses (credits) attempted. Many students assume that they can withdraw from courses or take incompletes as often as they wish. And students may also be unaware that taking terms off or taking too few credits each term can lead to dismissal for not completing the degree within the maximum time. Watch out for grades, credits not completed, and overall time.

How Do I Find My School's SAP Standards?

Students can typically locate their school's satisfactory academic progress standards through the school's office of financial aid and its webpage, although academic support offices and other academic departments will often republish and interpret the standards for students. Satisfactory academic progress standards are certainly academic concerns to the student. But college and university administrators see satisfactory academic progress policies through a different financial lens involving satisfying student loan auditors. That's why schools post their SAP policies on financial aid websites and in financial aid offices. Here are some prominent examples:

  • The University of North Carolina publishes its satisfactory academic progress policies through its Scholarships and Student Aid office and webpage
  • The University of Virginia publishes its satisfactory academic progress policies through its Student Financial Services office and webpage
  • The University of Colorado publishes its satisfactory academic progress policies through its Office of Financial Aid and its webpage
  • The University of Washington publishes its satisfactory academic progress policies through its Student Financial Aid office and webpage
  • The University of Arizona publishes its satisfactory academic progress policies through its Scholarships and Student Aid office and webpage

Do All Students Face the Same SAP Standards?

Not necessarily. Individual schools and graduate programs within your college or university may have their own satisfactory academic progress requirements. For instance, 2.00 / 4.00 is a common undergraduate grade-point average requirement. Yet many graduate programs, even graduate programs at the same college or university, require students to maintain a 3.00 / 4.00 grade point average. The University of Missouri's Student Financial Aid Office follows those standards: a minimum 2.00 term and cumulative grade-point average for undergraduates but a minimum 3.00 / 4.00 cumulative grade-point average for graduate students. But for another example, the University of Arizona requires a 2.00 for undergraduates, a 3.00 for graduate students, and a 2.00 for law students. Be sure that you are following, and your school is applying, the correct satisfactory academic progress standards for your program.

What Mistakes Do Schools Make Causing SAP Problems?

College and university professors and administrators can make any number of different mistakes affecting your satisfactory academic progress. Don't assume that, in every case, your school is correct. If you suddenly face your school's notice that you are on SAP probation or that the school has dismissed you for unsatisfactory academic progress, retain national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento to represent you and help you get your good standing restored. College and university professors and administrators may cause your SAP problem in any of the following ways:

  • Ignoring coursework you completed or exam scores you earned
  • Adding up course assignments or exam scores incorrectly
  • Awarding a lower grade than your course and exam work earned
  • Awarding you another student's grade and another student your grade
  • Miscalculating your actual grade point
  • Using the wrong date for your matriculation starting school
  • Refusing to allow you to enroll in required courses
  • Canceling undersubscribed courses or failing to offer courses
  • Ignoring transfer or visiting student credits after agreeing to accept them
  • Misinterpreting and failing to follow the school's own sap standards
  • Refusing to consider illness, injury, or other special circumstances

What Minimum Grade-Point Average Meets SAP Standards?

It depends on your school's specific policy. Minimum grade-point averages vary a little from school to school. The schools cited above, the University of North Carolina, University of Virginia, University of Colorado, University of Washington, and the University of Arizona, all generally require undergraduates to maintain a 2.00 minimum grade-point average. Boston College, in contrast, requires most undergraduates to maintain only a 1.67 grade-point average. But remember that grade-point minimums can differ for graduate programs, professional programs, or other schools within a college or university that typically requires undergraduates to maintain a 2.00. The University of Colorado is an example, requiring a 2.00 from most undergraduates but a 2.75 for undergraduates in education programs. And some schools even have graduated minimum grade-point averages that start lower but increase as the student completes more credits.

Can a Student Fight the School's GPA Calculation?

Yes. Many students mistakenly assume that grade-point averages are purely a matter of numbers and that one cannot dispute the numbers. On the contrary, satisfactory academic progress policies can be just vague enough that they are open to different interpretations and just complex enough that administrators can make mistakes in calculating the numbers. For example, if you fail a course but retake it and earn a passing grade, your school's policy may not be clear about what happens to the failing grade, whether to count it against your grade-point average or let the passing grade replace it. If you face satisfactory academic progress probation or dismissal because of a grade-point average that the school says is lower than you think it should be, get an academic administrative attorney to help you check the numbers. Don't face probation or dismissal because of a mistake in the school's grade-point calculation or an unfair interpretation of a vague satisfactory academic progress standard.

Can Challenging a Grade Help Avoid SAP Dismissal?

Yes. Challenging an unfair grade is one of the best ways to avoid probation or dismissal for unsatisfactory academic progress. Correct a grade, and the school will use the corrected grade in its satisfactory academic progress calculations. Correcting one low or failing grade can make all the difference in SAP calculations and outcomes. Professors make mistakes in grading. School administrators make mistakes in entering grades. If your low or failing grade was the result of a numeric, clerical, or administrative error, then your school should provide a grade appeal procedure to correct it promptly. Professors can also grade subjectively without criteria, using invalid assessments that don't align with published criteria or using unfair assessments that produce inconsistent results for equally capable students. Purdue University, for example, offers a grade appeals process to correct grades on any of these bases:

The grade appeals system affords recourse to a student who has evidence or believes that evidence exists to show that an inappropriate grade has been assigned as a result of prejudice, caprice, or other improper conditions such as mechanical error, or assignment of a grade inconsistent with those assigned to other students. Additionally, a student may challenge the reduction of a grade for alleged scholastic dishonesty.

What Does Challenging a Grade Take?

Challenging a grade isn't necessarily easy. The student must show grounds for the grade change. The student must also timely follow the school's grade appeals procedures, which can be arduous and complex. The basic steps, though, begin with evaluating your academic work in the course for which you intend a grade challenge. You must then apply your frank and objective evaluation of your work to the school's criteria for a grade change published in the school's grade appeals policy. You must then follow those procedures to pursue and perfect your SAP appeal. These steps can challenge any student. If you need help appealing an unfair or incorrect grade to avoid SAP probation or dismissal, retain skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm academic administrative team. Get the special help you need from trusted professionals whose practice is providing that help.

How Do Schools Choose Specific SAP Standards?

Satisfactory academic progress requirements do more than just meet federal regulations. They serve other interests, including your interest and the public interest. Schools generally set satisfactory academic progress requirements right at the level where the school believes that students not meeting those standards simply aren't capable of graduating with the knowledge and skills that licensing exams, employers, and the school's other constituents require. Taking tuition money from students who appear bound to fail isn't fair to the student or to the student's lender. Colleges and universities generally don't want to graduate incompetent students. Doing so spoils the school's reputation among alumni and employers, harms the community, and harms the students. Those are other good reasons why schools adopt specific SAP standards. Don't fight the standards. Doing so is usually a losing battle. Instead, retain national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento to help you fight the application of those standards to your academic progress and circumstances.

Does SAP Probation or Dismissal Mean I'm Not Up to It?

No, it does not. You may well be perfectly capable of completing your school's satisfactory academic progress requirements, all things being fair and equal. The problem for many students is that all things are often not fair and not equal. Your SAP warning, probation, or dismissal may have entirely to do with factors beyond your control, may be unfair and erroneous, or may have arisen out of circumstances that you know you can change with just a little more patience from the school. Don't construe an SAP warning, probation, or dismissal as if to mean that you just don't measure up and never will measure up. Don't get down on yourself. Instead, take the thoughtful, firm, and aggressive action that has led you to success in other challenging situations. Get the help you need to turn your situation around, rather than let someone blame you or, worse, presume your incapability. Retain academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm academic administrative team to help you prove your capability.

How Do Students End Up Facing SAP Probation or Dismissal?

Students suffer unfair, incorrect, unjust, or otherwise unnecessary SAP warnings, probations, and dismissal for a host of reasons. Some of those reasons involve the professor's unreliable performance, while other reasons involve the mistaken, sloppy, or unfair work of administrators. But personal circumstances can also affect a student's grades or progress, as every student well knows. If you face SAP warnings, probation, or dismissal because of personal circumstances, know that you are not alone. Common causes of unsatisfactory academic progress, including causes for which your school may offer special relief, are:

  • Student illness or injury disabling the student from studies
  • Poor student mental health reducing cognitive performance
  • Illness or injury of the student's dependent family member or other relationship issues requiring the student to reduce or suspend studies
  • Homelessness, other housing issues, or transportation issues affecting the student's ability to get to school rested and prepared to study
  • Military call up or military training interrupting the student's course schedule leading to terms off, incomplete courses, and reduced or failing grades
  • Employment transfer, reassignment, promotion, or travel, reducing the student's time and availability for class attendance and course studies
  • Theft, identity theft, robbery, unemployment, bankruptcy, or other financial issues reducing the student's study resources

What Can I Do If My SAP Probation or Dismissal Is Correct?

Don't panic. Help may be on the way, even if the school has properly calculated your grade-point average, percentage of courses completed, and time enrolled, and your SAP probation or dismissal is technically correct. For some students, the SAP warning, probation, or dismissal will, on its face, be correct. Some students don't have a grade to correct and can't show that the school made a mistake applying the policy or construed a vague policy unfairly against the student. In that case, the student may still have an SAP appeal based on extenuating circumstances. The federal satisfactory academic progress regulation 34 CFR 668.34 specifically authorizes colleges and universities to relieve a student from SAP dismissal if the student can show extenuating circumstances. You may have grounds to appeal your SAP dismissal. Retain academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm academic administrative team to help you evaluate and pursue your SAP appeal. Don't give up without a fight. Retain a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney for a winning fight.

What Extenuating Circumstances Qualify for SAP Relief?

Regulation 34 CFR 668.34 gives as examples of extenuating circumstances “[t]he death of a relative, an injury or illness of the student, or other special circumstances.” But the regulation's list is not exclusive. By its own terms, the regulation authorizes schools to permit the student to show other special circumstances. Colleges and universities offering SAP appeals follow the regulation's language. One of the University of Tennessee's campuses, for instance, permits an SAP appeal for any student who can show “mitigating circumstances,” instructing the student to “[e]xplain any unusual circumstances that led to your financial aid suspension.” So, the short answer is that any special circumstances may qualify for SAP relief. Your challenge is convincing your school that your special circumstances fit within the school's very broad standard. To meet that challenge, retain national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento to assist you. Experience teaches. Attorney Lento knows what makes a winning SAP appeal.

What Does an SAP Appeal Require?

An SAP appeal complying with your school's procedures will require specific documentation, analysis, and argumentation. Appeal procedures vary from school to school but routinely require a detailed, even compelling submission, complete with the records that will prove the submission's reliability. Successful SAP appeals also require an academic plan, sometimes called a graduation plan, showing how the student intends to recover. Don't wing it. Don't do the bare minimum. Ensure that you complete all SAP appeal requirements. The University of Tennessee SAP policy mentioned above, for example, requires these steps to complete an SAP appeal:

  • The student must submit a signed statement indicating the appeal's rationale, together with the completed official appeal form
  • The signed statements should include an explanation of the unusual circumstances leading to sap suspension, including the dates involved and how the unusual circumstances affected academic performance
  • The signed statement should also explain how and why the student's situation is now different, in as much detail as possible
  • The signed statement should also include school services that mitigate the student's unusual circumstance, including disabilities services, student-success services, advisor services, counseling services, and career services, together with documentation of those services
  • Other relevant documentation including medical records, police reports, obituaries, or legal records
  • A graduation plan articulating how the student plans to restore satisfactory academic progress leading to completion of all coursework and graduation

Will My School Permit Me to Hire an Attorney to Help Me?

Yes. Don't worry about your school interfering with your right to an attorney's assistance. When the task is an SAP appeal, the work has to do with analyzing your situation, formulating the appeal arguments, writing a compelling statement meeting the criteria, articulating an achievable recovery plan, and documenting everything. These actions an attorney can do for you independent of the school's interference. For instance, for SAP appeals, schools do not generally permit or require in-person hearings, where the school might refuse to permit your attorney to attend. You may and should retain a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney to assist you with your SAP appeal. To make a correct, comprehensive, and compelling submission, retain academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm academic administrative team to pursue and perfect your SAP appeal. You have enough riding on your college or university education and the career you plan to follow to get the SAP appeal help you need.

What Happens If the School Restores My Good Standing?

Time to get back to your studies. If your academic administrative attorney helps you correct a grade, correct your grade-point average, win an SAP appeal based on extenuating circumstances, or otherwise negotiates special relief for you, you should be able to promptly resume your coursework. That's when shaping an achievable recovery and graduation plan with your academic administrative attorney's help and the school's approval becomes so important. You now need to make the grades and complete the coursework necessary to graduate in good standing and on time. Make sure that you've gotten the professional help you need not only from your academic administrative attorney but also from your school and others, whether academic-support professionals, counselors, medical professionals, social workers, or others. And then roll up your sleeves and do the very best academic work and the greatest amount of academic work you are capable of doing. That's what school is all about.

How Does the Percentage of Credits Completed Work?

Satisfactory academic progress isn't solely about grades, addressing the quality of student work. Satisfactory academic progress requirements also address student persistence, meaning whether the student is keeping at the work. Schools use an SAP percentage of credits completed requirement to measure whether the student is persisting through difficult studies. Colleges and universities sometimes call the percentage of credits completed a quantitative measure because it addresses whether students complete a sufficient number of the credits for which they enroll. Two-thirds, or sixty-seven percent, is a common percentage of credits completed requirement for undergraduate coursework. The University of Kentucky, for instance, applies that two-thirds standard to its undergraduates in its SAP policy. While the actual calculation can be tricky, the basic formula is that the student must complete two out of every three credits the student has attempted overall. Two thirds is a bright-line measure, generally telling the school whether the student is persevering suitably or not.

What Affects My Percentage of Credits Completed?

Many students fly through college, never withdrawing from any course or taking any incompletes. Those students face no trouble whatsoever with the SAP percentage of credits completed requirement. Other students, though, face multiple withdrawals or incompletes. Students run afoul of their school's SAP percentage of credits completed requirement by withdrawing from courses for which they enrolled or taking an incomplete or “I” grade for courses in which they are enrolled. Students can have good reasons to withdraw from a course, including illness, death in the family, military call-up, and the like. Students can have similar reasons for taking an incomplete grade at the end of the term rather than turning in the required work or taking the final exam. But when students withdraw or take an incomplete grade in course after course, the pattern may indicate the student's inappropriate manipulation of enrollment, like avoiding hard professors or courses, or the student's inability or unwillingness to persist and push hard enough to meet due academic challenges. Be careful taking multiple withdrawals or incompletes. You may have every good reason to do so. But it could cause SAP probation or dismissal. And if it does cause SAP dismissal, follow your school's SAP appeal procedures with the help of national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento.

How Does the SAP Time Limit Work?

The maximum time limit standard in satisfactory academic progress policies can be the most difficult to understand and apply. Colleges and universities could make it simple by, for instance, saying that every undergraduate student in a four-year program must graduate within five or six years. But instead, schools typically measure the maximum time limit based on the number of credits required to graduate. The University of Kentucky policy just cited provides an example. There, undergraduate students must take no longer than 150 percent of the length of the education program measured in credit hours. Thus, a student would have 180 attempted credit hours within which to complete a 120-credit-hour degree program. The effect of such policies is generally to extend what students think of as a four-year degree to a maximum of six years to complete. But the strict application of the policy may provide for a longer or shorter time, depending on the student's program and circumstances. Don't stumble over confusing time limits requirements. Retain academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm academic administrative team to help you resolve any such dispute with your school. You may also have extenuating circumstances to take a longer time to complete your degree.

Who Should I Hire to Help Me?

Many students realize they need help when facing SAP issues threatening their education. The question often isn't whether to get professional help but instead whom to hire. Schools may offer advice and assistance. You may better understand the school's SAP requirements after consulting with school officials. But if you disagree with your school about your SAP probation or dismissal, or you need special relief, those school officials aren't likely to advocate for you in the manner you need. Their first interest is the school's interest, not your interest. You need an independent professional without those conflicts of interest. You need an aggressive and effective attorney to represent you, and not just any attorney but instead an attorney with substantial academic administrative skill and experience. Your best move is to retain a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney who knows college and university satisfactory academic progress policies, standards, and appeals.

Retain a Premier Academic Administrative Attorney

Academic progression issues can be intractable and disabling if you don't have the aggressive and effective representation of a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney. If you face academic progression issues, your best move is to promptly retain premier national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's academic administrative team to pursue all SAP appeals and other alternative and special relief. Trust attorney Lento who has helped hundreds of college and university students successfully overcome academic progression and other challenges to preserve and complete their education. Call 888-535-3686 or go online now for the academic administrative attorney help you need.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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