Graduate Student Accountability

High Expectations

Colleges and universities expect more, and sometimes much more, from their graduate students than they do from their undergraduates. High expectations are a good thing. When professors, staff, administrators, and student peers expect more from you, you tend to respond in kind. You go to graduate school to grow, mature, and develop. You should want and welcome high expectations. Many students report that their graduate school experience accelerated the rate of their learning as if on steroids. Looking back on their undergraduate programs, graduate students can often see that those programs were more about shaping behavior than demanding and expecting it. Schools almost expect undergraduates to have issues. On the other hand, schools do not expect graduate students to have the same issues. Graduate schools expect you to behave maturely while performing at an academically high level, no more handholding in graduate school.

The Reasons for High Expectations

Graduate schools have good reasons for setting high expectations for their students. When you are in graduate school, you are one relatively small step away from entering the real world of skilled work or even, depending on your graduate program, professional practice. After graduation, you just need a job and maybe a license to get started. Employers hire candidates with graduate degrees to do skilled work while exhibiting sound fitness and good character. Employers and their patients, clients, and customers need sure and steady performance from employees whose graduate degrees qualify them for that skilled work. The work that those employees do can be critical to others' health and welfare. Doctors, nurses, dentists, mental health professionals, pharmacists, lawyers, accountants, engineers, social workers, and others who work using their graduate degrees can cause serious harm right up to death, disability, financial bankruptcy, and property destruction if their graduate school hasn't set and maintained high expectations for their performance.

How Graduate Schools Set High Expectations

In graduate school, high expectations are not merely an attitude that professors, staff, and administrators project toward students. Graduate school employees do in practice project high student expectations. You'll see their disappointment and feel their disapproval when you're not meeting those expectations. But graduate schools do more than simply project vague expectations. They also define high standards in policies that often have strict objective measures. Graduate schools don't just raise the bar psychologically. They also raise the bar academically, behaviorally, and professionally. Graduate schools have their own academic requirements, their own behavioral requirements, and their own professionalism requirements, all generally higher than similar requirements for undergraduates. You can read the high expectations right in those written policies.

The Accountability of High Expectations

High graduate school standards and strict objective measures for them establish clear graduate student accountability. Graduate school is no more playing around. Undergraduates may get away with a certain amount of shenanigans. Graduate students generally do not. Graduate students who don't meet the graduate school's written high standards by proving that they have met the associated objective measures face consequences. Graduate students will hear about it when their academic work or personal and professional behavior doesn't meet the graduate school's high standards defined against objective measures. Graduate schools have a public responsibility and responsibility to employers to hold graduate students accountable to their high standards.

The Risk of High Expectations

While high expectations for graduate students are both a necessary thing and a good thing, and students should welcome accountability, high expectations come with the substantial risk that a graduate student doesn't meet them. High expectations mean not meeting them more often than not meeting low expectations. What worked as an undergraduate, or what your undergraduate program tolerated or ignored, often won't work in graduate school. The same thing is true for graduate school that is true in the military, business, or the workplace: the higher you go, the greater the chance for failure. One study of STEM and business master's degree programs found that between ten percent and twenty-five percent of graduate students fail to finish, depending on the program. Some graduate students don't meet the high academic, behavioral, or professional standards, or the school mistakenly believes that they've failed to meet the measures. And those students won't generally graduate. The risk of high expectations is not meeting them. Graduate students have struggles.

The Consequences of Missing Expectations

The consequences of graduate student failures and misconduct aren't generally more handholding. The consequences when a graduate student doesn't meet the graduate school's high standards can be more swift and severe than any consequences the student's undergraduate school may have threatened. It's not that graduate schools define different sanctions. The potential sanctions for academic failures, academic misconduct, behavioral breaches, and unprofessional conduct are generally the same between an undergraduate program and a graduate program. Those sanctions include warnings, reprimands, no credit for assignments, no credit for a course, remedial education or training, probation, suspension, dismissal, and degree revocation. The difference, though, is in the professors and administrators making the sanction decisions. Graduate school professors know the strict performance that the workplace will require of their graduates. And they don't want to disappoint alumni and employers with unskilled and unfit graduates. Graduate schools may more readily suspend and dismiss students than an undergraduate program would. Your dismissal could be your consequence for not meeting expectations. Graduate schools hold students accountable.

Types of Graduate Student Issues

When a graduate student has a problem with graduate school, the problem generally falls in one of four different areas: higher academic standards, stricter academic integrity norms, stricter behavioral norms, or greater professionalism requirements.

Higher Academic Standards. Undergraduate schools tend to require students to maintain a 2.00-grade point average over the course of their studies, although the schools may permit a lower 1.50 or 1.75-grade point average in the first term or first year. Those policies mean averaging a “C” grade to earn the undergraduate degree. Graduate schools, though, typically require a 3.00-grade point average, one full point higher than graduate schools. Those policies mean averaging a “B” grade to earn the graduate degree. That's a big difference in expectations and accountability. Graduate students can face significant issues with disputed grades, unsatisfactory academic progress, and academic dismissal.

Greater Academic Integrity. Undergraduate and graduate programs tend to have the same or similar prohibitions against cheating, plagiarism, self-plagiarism, collusion or unauthorized collaboration, and other academic misconduct rules. But graduate programs are far more likely to treat seriously and punish an instance of academic misconduct harshly. And employers and professional licensing boards are also far more likely to reject candidates whose graduate school record includes academic misconduct. Graduate students can face significant issues with cheating, plagiarism, or other academic misconduct charges, whether warranted or not.

Stricter Behavioral Norms. Undergraduate and graduate programs also tend to have the same or similar behavioral norms. Both levels will have policies against drug or alcohol abuse, disorderly conduct, trespass, theft, vandalism, and crimes of violence or dishonesty. But once again, graduate schools are far more likely to treat behavioral transgressions seriously and punish graduate students harshly, just as employers and licensing boards won't accept graduate school behavioral misconduct. Undergraduate programs can be a bit of a playground, and everyone knows it. Graduate programs expect mature personal behavior, meaning graduate students can face significant charges of behavioral misconduct, whether warranted or not.

Greater Professionalism. The biggest difference between undergraduate programs and graduate programs in accountability and expectations, though, is in the area of professionalism. Professionalism involves the norms, customs, rules, and expectations peculiar to the specialty field that the graduate student is about to enter. Undergraduate students may not yet have chosen a field. They are often not yet studying or working in any clinical setting. But graduate students do engage in clinical studies and work. Graduate students must be professional because they are already interacting with professionals or even serving in internships and clinics that require and demand professionalism. Graduate students can face significant charges of unprofessional conduct, whether warranted or not.

How to Respond to Graduate Student Issues

While graduate students face higher expectations, and the consequences of not meeting those expectations can be severe, graduate students can still respond effectively to threatened failure, including false, unfair, or exaggerated misconduct charges. Graduate schools offer administrative procedures for appealing grades, challenging academic dismissal, and contesting behavioral and professionalism charges. Those procedures typically require the school to inform the graduate student of the specific deficiency and policy it violated and to have a hearing or other fair opportunity to contest the school's claim. You can respond effectively to graduate school challenges.

Your best move when facing potential adverse consequences of any kind at your graduate school, including the prospect of suspension or dismissal for not meeting the school's academic, behavioral, or professionalism standards, is to retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. You need expert attorney help to evaluate your rights and responsibilities at the school and to guide you forward. Attorney Lento has successfully helped hundreds of graduates students nationwide, including masters and doctoral-level students in all kinds of programs, to preserve and complete their education against school claims and charges. You have sacrificed a great deal to reach this level, and your graduate education is worth completing. Graduate schools unfortunately do not make it easy, however, and overcoming challenges at the graduate level requires having the necessary team in your corner. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation with Attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm or use the online service.

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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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