Failure to Progress

The Graduation Goal. Most students go to college or university expecting to graduate. True, some students enjoy college and intellectual life so much that they take as many courses, pursue so many degrees, and take as much time as possible in the process. But even in those cases of the proverbial perpetual student, studies have a necessary endpoint. Colleges and universities generally won't permit a student to take innumerable courses and earn vast numbers of credits without directing their studies toward a conclusion. The University of Central Florida, for example, imposes a surcharge on excess credit hours beyond the number necessary to earn a degree. Florida Statute Section 1009.286 requires the state's public universities to do so. The taxpayers who fund higher education want some bang for their buck. The federal and state governments that distribute those tax revenues impose satisfactory academic progress requirements on students to ensure their responsible use of educational resources. Respect these interests if you face progress notices and demands from your school.

Federal Authority. As in so many fields today, a federal mandate lurks behind the requirement that students make satisfactory academic progress. Schools must impose and implement satisfactory academic progress requirements to keep the federal funding pipeline flowing. As the Federal Student Aid Office advertises, students cannot qualify for federally backed student loans without meeting their school's progress requirements. The federal government isn't going to grant loans to students who don't appear ready to progress through the educational program and into the workforce to pay back their loans. Section 484 of the federal Higher Education Act requires students to demonstrate progress to be eligible for Title IV federal aid: “In order to receive any grant, loan, or work assistance under this title, a student must … be maintaining satisfactory progress in the course of study the student is pursuing….” The federal regulation 34 CFR 668.34 details what a college or university must do to carry out that requirement. If you face progress warnings or demands from your school, appreciate that school officials must follow their policies to ensure continued federal funding.

Academic Progress Qualitative Standards. For these and other good reasons, colleges and universities maintain satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policies with which students must generally comply. Those SAP policies set several standards, each designed to ensure graduation with minimum competence in a reasonable time. Your school's minimum grade point average is one of those SAP policies. For instance, the University of Alabama requires minimum grade point averages of 3.00 / 4.00 for graduate studies, 2.33 for law graduate studies, and a range from 1.50 to 2.00 for undergraduate studies as students progress toward the degree. Students cannot graduate with a grade point average lower than the minimum. A degree certifies to the graduate and the graduate's employers, lenders, and others that the graduate has the knowledge, skills, and ethics that the degree implies. Appreciate why your school sends warnings, notices, and demands about grade point average as a part of its academic progress requirements.

Academic Progress Quantitative Standards. Academic progress policies also have quantitative, not just qualitative, standards. Your college or university requires that you attempt a minimum number of credits each term, earn a certain number of credits each year, and complete the degree within a maximum number of years. The University of Alabama, for another example, requires students to successfully complete sixty-seven percent of all credit hours attempted, including repeated, incomplete, and dropped courses and course withdrawals. The same policy imposes a maximum time to complete the degree of no more than 150 percent of the normal timeframe required for that degree. Thus, for instance, a student would ordinarily have six years within which to complete a four-year baccalaureate degree. If your school is pressing you to speed up and complete studies to meet its academic progress quantitative requirements, appreciate the school's regulatory and funding reasons. Don't fight the policy. Instead, strategize and get help to adjust and comply.

Academic Progress Process. Academic progress at school isn't a hide-and-seek game, hit-or-miss proposition, or catch-as-catch-can matter. Colleges and universities instead maintain systematic satisfactory academic progress processes. Those processes begin with annual, semi-annual, or every-term review of each student's academic progress. Your school knows whether your academic transcript shows your satisfactory progress or not because under 34 CFR 668.34, it must have in place a systematic review. At some schools, students who only barely comply may receive the school's warning and offer of resources or support. But at all schools, students who are not making adequate progress meeting the school's SAP policy and are out of compliance receive the school's notice. The notice may put the student on SAP warning or probationary status if the student's grades are high enough and earned credits are enough for the student to recover and meet the minimum requirements. The University of Georgia's SAP policy, for example, provides a clear explanation of its SAP process, including SAP reviews, notices, and warnings. Learn your school's SAP process if you receive an SAP warning or notice.

Academic Progress Dismissals. Satisfactory academic progress is serious business. The student who doesn't meet academic progress requirements faces dismissal from the academic program and expulsion from the school. Colleges and universities everywhere regularly dismiss students whose academic performance just isn't making the grade. If the student's transcript indicates that the student cannot reasonably recover from the grade or credit deficiency, or if the student has already exhausted SAP probation, then the notice will reflect that the school has dismissed the student.

The Impact of Academic Progress Dismissal. Dismissal, of course, has substantial impacts. Primarily, the dismissed student doesn't get to complete the degree and instead loses the investment of time, tuition, and effort. Academic progress dismissal can be especially damaging to an educational career because of its implication that the dismissed student just didn't have the capability to complete the program. Misconduct dismissals are different, where the student can demonstrate recovery from the addiction or other issue that led to the dismissal. Academic dismissals instead go to the core of the student's ability to do as the student wishes. And don't underestimate the collateral effects of an impending or actual academic progress dismissal. Treat academic progress warnings and notices very seriously because dismissal may have any or all of these other negative impacts:

  • inability to transfer or take credits to another school
  • inability to gain admission to another program or school
  • termination and acceleration of student loans
  • loss of tuition reimbursement commitments from employers
  • lost university or school-related employment
  • loss of university housing, medical care, and other privileges
  • lost internship, job, and career opportunities
  • loss of family, friend, mentor, and network support

Academic Progress Appeals. Fortunately, many students facing academic progress probation or dismissal can do something about it. The same federal regulations that require schools to impose satisfactory academic requirements encourage schools to offer academic progress appeals. The University of Georgia has a representative SAP appeal policy. Just because you get a notice that you have failed to meet your school's academic progress requirements doesn't mean that the school's notice is correct. Even if the notice is correct, you may have grounds for relief from the requirement. As one financial aid organization details, the grounds for a student's falling into academic progress peril should make a difference to the school's application of its SAP standards and to the success of the student's SAP appeal. Waivers of certain quantitative or qualitative requirements, restructuring of financial aid packages, leaves of absence, and fresh starts may all be appropriate appeal outcomes, depending on the appeal grounds.

Appeal Contents. An appeal of an academic progress probation or dismissal, though, isn't that simple. If you face an academic progress appeal, you should seriously consider getting the help of a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney. The University of Georgia's SAP appeal policy is a good example. It requires that a student complete the school's appeal form, both setting forth and documenting the compelling appeal grounds mitigating the academic progress violation. But that's not all. SAP appeal policies, like the one at the University of Georgia, also require that the appeal “explain[] how the situation has been resolved or stabilized[] thereby enabling the student to now be academically successful….” An effective appeal doesn't just make excuses. It instead shows a recovery plan that is fair, sensible, and achievable. And, as the University of Georgia policy also shows, the appeal must also provide documentation showing that the student's challenges causing the progress deficiency have been resolved or stabilized. Meeting those appeal requirements isn't easy.

Appeal Outcomes. An SAP appeal isn't simply a matter of getting another chance. Some second chances simply set the student up for failure. An effective SAP appeal instead produces several necessary outcomes. Yes, it provides policy relief, giving the student another chance to regain compliance. But an effective outcome also demonstrates the achievable steps to regain compliance–a meaningful second chance with reasonable and clear benchmarks toward compliance. An effective appeal outcome may also recruit for the student the study, disability, testing, tutoring, or other resources the student needs to turn around the student's academic performance. These things can all be elements of a suitable academic plan that becomes part of the favorable appeal ruling. In short, a good appeal sets the student up for success, not failure.

Academic Plan Example. Colleges and universities are not always so good at offering suitable academic plans for students to regain academic progress compliance. School plans tend to provide benchmarks, not accommodations and resources. The University of Georgia's SAP appeal policy provides a good example of academic plan benchmarks. That policy does not, on the other hand, include accommodations and resources that effective plans should include. The University of Georgia's SAP appeal policy states about academic plans:

Depending on the individual student situation, an academic plan may be as simple as a mathematical calculation… specifying the percentage of coursework the student must now successfully complete, the minimum grade point average the student must earn each semester and the maximum number of hours in which the student may enroll in specified semesters. Conversely, it may be a more complex course-by-course plan that includes the minimum required grades and maximum hours in which the student can enroll each semester. In these cases [the school] will instruct the student to meet with his or her [school] academic advisor to formulate a structured plan which clearly sets forth the courses in which the student must enroll, and the minimum GPA or grades he or she must earn each term. The student will then provide a copy of the formal academic plan to OSFA for consideration.

Appeal Assistance. The complexity and uncertainty of SAP appeals, and the power of a good SAP appeal outcome, mean that you should have expert academic administrative attorney representation. You need skilled, independent, and experienced professional help for the best chance to gain the SAP relief that will lead to your success. Attorneys have the training not only in advocacy and argumentation and in following rules and procedures, but also in documenting the facts and circumstances in ways that promptly gain the confidence of appeal decision-makers. But you need more than just any attorney. You need an attorney who knows the peculiar customs and conventions of academic administrators and who has skill and experience in academic administrative procedures. Colleges and universities have their own administrative procedures, hierarchies, and culture. A general practitioner attorney or even a trial attorney doesn't generally know those different procedures, personnel, and expectations. Only experienced academic administrative attorneys know the sensible and achievable options that students facing academic progress dismissal may truly have to salvage their valuable education.

Academic Administrative Attorney Available. You have available to you a premier academic administrative attorney, no matter where your college or university is located, and no matter what academic program in which you are enrolled. National academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of students at countless colleges and universities nationwide with academic progress appeals and other academic issues. Attorney Lento has not only the skill and experience but also the heart and commitment to successfully represent students facing academic progress dismissal or other college or university dismissal. Put a wise, sensitive, and effective fighter squarely in your corner. Retain national academic defense attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm to aggressively and effectively represent you. Call 888.535.3686 or go online to tell attorney Lento about your case.

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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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