Nursing Student Academic Progress Dismissals

Nursing students don't expect to face dismissal from school despite being a good student. The threat of academic progress dismissal can catch a hardworking aspiring nurse by surprise and feel terribly unfair. You do what seems to you and others like everything right, and yet your nursing school warns you of impending academic progress dismissal. How can a solid nursing student who has timely and fully paid tuition, shown up for courses, and done what the professors asked, nonetheless get dismissed from the school? Dismissal should require at least some wrong, like failing multiple courses or sexually harassing classmates. Yet, the surprising thing is that you can suffer dismissal from nursing school without committing a serious wrong. You need only run afoul of your nursing school's academic progress policy.

The Challenge of Nursing Programs

Nursing programs are challenging. The knowledge base nurses must learn is precise and vast. Nursing students must also acquire and demonstrate fine technical and professional skills. Nursing is rewarding but not easy. The degree programs that qualify students for nursing careers are necessarily difficult. Nursing schools must challenge students to grow and learn if those schools are to graduate qualified, competent, and skilled nurses. Nursing students don't have an easy road.

Satisfactory Academic Progress

Colleges and universities having students who receive federal loans or aid, including nursing schools and other professional programs, all maintain satisfactory academic progress policies. Check your nursing school's policies, and you will find an elaborate and detailed policy identified by that phrase or the acronym SAP. Satisfactory academic progress policies are what they sound like. They require students to progress through the degree curriculum in a certain order and at a certain pace while meeting minimum grade standards. You don't get to complete your nursing program at your own pace, in your own order, and to your own quality standards. You must instead meet your nursing school's standard for the order, quantity, and quality of your academic work. Filling out the FAFSA (federal financial aid) form isn't the only time you'll need to show your financial aid eligibility. Your school's SAP policy shows that it remains committed to maintaining your financial aid eligibility.

SAP Standards

Nursing schools and other higher-education programs have many standards. Some standards have to do with academic integrity, like cheating and plagiarism. Other standards have to do with behavioral issues like sexual harassment or drunkenness. Those standards typically appear in Student Conduct Codes. Other standards have to do with professionalism, like not neglecting patients or breaching client confidences. Those standards appear in professional rules and professionalism codes. Academic progress policies like the one at the University of Washington, though, go to the core of the school's educational program. They don't define misconduct. Instead, satisfactory academic progress policies, whether for nursing students or other college students, tell students what academic courses they must complete, in what order, how quickly, and with what cumulative minimum grade point average. See, for example, the details of the University of Washington's SAP policy for undergraduates. SAP policies are the hidden engine of higher education. They ensure that students move onward or get out.

The Role of Satisfactory Academic Progress in Nursing School

Few entering nursing students fully appreciate just how precisely and technically nursing schools ensure an appropriate level of program challenge. Sure, the reading, labs, and other coursework are often hard. Exams can be mystifying or even frightening. Professors themselves can challenge nursing students in their course designs and delivery. Nursing students know that they need to pass courses to progress. Failing grades won't earn a nursing degree. But the core way that nursing schools ensure the necessary level of challenge is through their satisfactory academic progress (SAP) policies, like this SAP policy at the University of Washington School of Nursing. SAP policies dictate the quantity and quality of academic work a nursing student must complete to stay in school. For example, the top-rated Johns Hopkins School of Nursing maintains an SAP policy with these rigorous requirements:

  • minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.00 / 4.00
  • minimum cumulative completion rate equal to or exceeding 67% of attempted credits
  • students must complete the program within five years of matriculation

Academic Progress Sanctions

SAP policies at any level in any kind of higher-education program, like this one for the University of California at Davis, come with teeth. Students who fail to maintain satisfactory academic progress, as the school defines it, can suffer prompt dismissal, even students in a professional program like nursing. Don't be surprised: dismissal for unsatisfactory academic progress is a common occurrence on college and university campuses across the nation. Thousands of college and university students suffer academic progress dismissal after every term, every year. When you see retention and attrition statistics for colleges and universities, like this US News & World Report list on freshman retention rates, by far, the majority of dismissals involve unsatisfactory academic progress.

Reasons for Academic Attrition

As the US News list suggests, the reasons for student attrition may be many. Those reasons, just as applicable to nursing students as to other students, can include family problems, loneliness, academic struggles, or lack of money, just as the US News article lists. But no matter the specific reason, the policy under which colleges and universities dismiss most students is the satisfactory academic progress policy. When nursing or other students just don't show up term after term or show up and withdraw term after term, the SAP policy is the policy that gets them dismissed. Behavioral misconduct is far less often the dismissed student's problem. The problem is far more often unsatisfactory academic progress. Students in all programs, including nursing students, must move on through the educational program, or they'll otherwise get dismissed.

Academic Progress Dismissals in Nursing Programs

Nursing schools have attrition. Even the top-ranked Johns Hopkins School of Nursing loses students. One recent article indicates that twenty percent of nursing students, or one in five, fail to complete a degree, while some schools have attrition as high as fifty percent. Nursing schools dismiss some students for misconduct, things like cheating or drug abuse. Nursing schools dismiss far more students for failure to meet satisfactory academic progress policies. When, for whatever reason, a nursing student fails to complete enough courses quickly enough or fails to maintain a minimum qualifying grade point average, the nursing school will dismiss that student under its SAP policy.

Reasons for Unsatisfactory Academic Progress in Nursing

The reasons why nursing students, specifically, get dismissed for unsatisfactory academic progress are many, much like the struggles that students face in other programs. The nursing student's illness, injury, or disability may be a cause, perhaps even more commonly in nursing programs than in some other programs, given the clinical demands of nursing. The death or illness of a close family member could be the cause. Financial reversals or loss of job, housing, or transportation could contribute, as may a pregnancy, birth of a child, divorce, or change in a spouse's job. Nursing students may control some causes but not others. Life goes on. Finishing a nursing program in the midst of significant life changes could be incredibly challenging.

Sometimes, the Student Is Not the Problem

When a nursing student faces an SAP issue, school employees and officials can have a negative, knee-jerk reaction that blames the student. Listen to nursing program professors, deans, and other administrators, and you'll sometimes hear that the student facing an SAP issue is lazy, unprepared, a procrastinator, or a poor listener. Some nursing students do have attitude problems, but often, the student is not the problem. In many instances, nursing students face SAP issues that have more to do with the nursing program's complex structure, adjustments to the school and clinical environment, and unmet needs for instructional clarity and resources, than with any specific student problem.

Sometimes, the School Is the Problem

For example, one recent summary of National Survey of Student Engagement data indicates that colleges and universities generally, very likely including nursing programs, do less than students expect and much less than students need to adjust to the program's expectations. The expectations are high but instructional resources low. Nursing students may work hard initially but have little to show for it because they don't yet know the nursing program's effective study practices. Poorly designed instruction without clear and achievable learning objectives can add to student frustration. The just-cited summary indicates that new students expect to study long hours with substantial institutional academic support but then don't find that support at their institution. Working hard doesn't make the difference it should. Sometimes, the institution is the problem or at least could be the solution.

Reasons Matter

When applying their SAP policies and notifying students of their SAP probation or dismissal, nursing schools can feel heartless. But the reasons why a nursing student cannot complete enough nursing courses quickly enough, with a minimum required course load and high enough grades, actually do matter to the school. Federal regulations at 34 CFR §668.34 require nursing school SAP policies to define student appeal and reinstatement rights for special circumstances. Your injury or illness, or the death or sudden disability of a child, spouse, or other family member in need of your help, can qualify you for relief from your nursing school's SAP policy. See, for example, the appeal right in the SAP policy at Columbia University School of Nursing. Don't lose hope. You may be able to complete your nursing degree and enter nursing as you planned and desired, despite your challenging circumstances.

Take Action

You must, however, take concerted action to save your nursing education and career. You cannot simply stand idly by while expecting the school to give you special relief from its SAP policy. Your school must show the federal government and its accrediting agency that it is applying its SAP policy consistently. You must appeal your SAP probation or dismissal and, in doing so, both argue and prove your compelling circumstance for relief from the school's SAP policy. You have to make your case for relief. Your nursing school won't do it for you.

Get Help

For a successful SAP appeal or request for reinstatement, you should get expert academic attorney help. SAP appeals and requests for reinstatement take research, analysis, argumentation, and documentation skills. You are training to be a nurse, not a lawyer. Lawyers, not nurses, have the training to make and prove compelling arguments for relief from policies that schools base on federal law, rule, and regulation. And you need not just any lawyer. You need an academic administrative lawyer with the commitment, knowledge, skills, and experience of national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento.

Your Plan Is the Thing

The reason that you need the help of an academic administrative lawyer is that your appeal or request for reinstatement must not only document your special excuse but also show your plan to regain satisfactory academic progress. Federal regulations and your school's SAP policy will require that your school grant your appeal or request for reinstatement only if you can show an achievable and sound plan. Your plan to regain satisfactory academic progress is the key to your success. You will very likely need the advice, counsel, and representation of a skilled and experienced academic attorney to help you draft and advocate that plan.

If you face SAP warning, probation, or dismissal at your nursing school, then retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to help you evaluate your SAP issue, rights, and options. Your nursing school owes you the chance. Your nursing education and career are worth the effort. Attorney Lento has helped hundreds of nursing students nationwide avoid dismissal from their educational programs. Call the Lento Law Firm now at 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation with Attorney Lento or the Firm's 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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