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Academic Suspension In College, A Parent Guide: Expert

Each year I hear from dozens of parents asking how to help their son or daughter when they’ve been placed on academic suspension. While there are no easy answers, it should be a red flag for parents that it’s time for intervention if they want their student to ultimately graduate from college. Being suspended for academic reasons signals that something has not been going as planned, that the student is not succeeding in their college coursework – and there are always reasons for this type of outcome. In this guide I’m hoping to walk parents through many important issues in order to help with their decision making progress, since academic suspension is a clear warning sign for parents that it is now time to intervene. Keep in mind that there is no universal system of college in the US, the rules they have are all similar but can be very different with regard to terminology and policies for a student’s academic status.

The Progressive Discipline of Academic Status

Colleges use various terms to describe a given student’s status with regard to their GPA. Students with a cumulative GPA above a 2.0 are normally considered to be in “good standing” by a college, however once this metric falls below a 2.0 average that’s when progressive levels of academic discipline can begin. The first level is academic probation (which some colleges call academic warning) which means that the student’s GPA has fallen below a 2.0 due to bad grades. With this status a student can remain on campus, attend classes as usual, and there isn’t a significant disruption to their life. Typically a college will allow two consecutive semesters of academic probation, but if a student does not raise their GPA, they may be placed on academic suspension. This is when a student must spend time away from their school, and upon their return they will have stipulations to meet that are set by the college. If they cannot meet these requirements, then they can be placed on academic dismissal, which means they are essentially removed from the student body and can no longer attend classes there.

Parent Responses Academic Suspension

Parents respond to this in different ways, but their initial reaction to hearing their student was placed on academic suspension is predictable. They may be shocked, surprised, or say they are at a loss about what to do. It is typically at the point of suspension where parents begin to re-think their approach and decisions they made about college. Far too many parents want to just give up and send their student to the military, make them go to work, or just blindly take time off with no clear plan. “Lyra” shares her experience about first encountering this with her son.

“Our son “Ethan” is in his junior yr of college at (a private school in Indiana) and was just suspended due to low marks. This past year he became frozen by the fear of picking a major which we feel might have to do with being unsure. We just found out he withdrew from his summer internship which sent him in a spiral and now he is at risk of not graduating at all. We are are shocked and sad but also scared because when we try to talk to him we can’t seem to help pull him out of this. We typically have a very good relationship and loving family but Ethan has always been closed off from his emotions and has a tough time communicating. He “doesn’t know” what he wants to do after graduation or “doesn’t know” what kind of job he wants or how to start. He is truly stuck and making everything worse on himself because he thinks he has to have life all figured out. We have tried to help him to break things down with his major and classes but he just gets upset with us. His self confidence is so low it hurts me as his mother. We want to help however we can.

Lyra”

The real question for parents, if their student is placed on suspension, is do you want them to one day have a college degree? It’s hard to imagine any student with an honest college aspiration being happy if they are suddenly be pushed in to trade school, the military, or another pathway by their parents. Most of the parents I hear from are merely frustrated in the moment, and when I talk it through with them it becomes clear that they don’t want their son or daughter to face later life without a college degree. If this is the case, then it is time for a comprehensive intervention effort must begin.

A second common response I see in parents, and students as well, is that they want to immediately appeal the suspension decision just to keep the student going at their school for the next term. Too often this is a trap, since wining the appeal means there will be “strings attached” with requirements to be met. For example, if the appeal is won and the student continues, many colleges will say that they must raise their GPA to above a 2.0 during that term or they will be permanently dismissed. Too many times I’ve seen a student merely want to stay with their friends on campus, so their sympathetic parents agree to the appeal, only to realize that the student’s GPA was so low that it was numerically impossible to raise it to above a 2.0 it in a single semester.

“Angie” shows this urge to quickly appeal, and rightly points out the need for intervention. But the timing suggests that she and her husband may fall in to this trap of wanting to appeal at the last minute so her son to continue his school, even if it means later having to leave.

“My husband and I need your help! We learned in the 11th hour that our son got suspended from his college. We were totally blindsided and are now figuring out how to help him get back on his feet and we need to understand how this happened. “Michael” my son is 20yrs old, in his second year of college. Today he received a call from his advisor telling him that he has been placed on academic suspension and can’t come back until next spring. He was placed on academic probation prior to this suspension. And he was already trying to remedy the issues with a major change on his own. We are a bit shocked and plan to appeal right away. We could use your advice and would love to speak with you to help us figure out the real reasons and target the proper interventions. We just don’t know where else to turn. I hope you can help us!!”

“Angie”

Winning an appeal after suspension is the easy part, it’s earning the grades so that students can stay at the school which is crucial. Parents should never allow their student to automatically appeal a suspension decision since it may put them in a worse position if they are not ultimately successful. There is a point where damage to a GPA becomes insurmountable, and there is no magic technique for success under any circumstance. For example, if a college says the only way to raise a cumulative GPA is to get a 4.0 while repeating 21 credits of tough engineering classes in a single semester, the odds of the student being successful with this is low no matter how much help they have. True higher education intervention is focused on reaching graduation, which might not include their current college. Also, the problems that caused the bad grades and low GPA cannot be left unaddressed, since college problems tend to repeat even at a new school. Intervention must target these as well, or risk the same thing happening even if the student does find their way back to the four-year system.

The Details Of Academic Suspension

Other rules that colleges set for suspension must be observed while the student spends time away from their school, and these can vary greatly. Academic suspension is a period of mandatory time away from classes, and colleges see using suspension as a type of administrative “intervention” on their part. The idea in their minds is that students will take time to consider their circumstances, reflect to take their studies more seriously, or even gain skills elsewhere. The time length of suspension can range from a single semester at some schools to a full calendar year at others, so there is no standard rule. In most cases a student must apply or petition to return, so reinstatement is not automatic, and many colleges have a formal reinstatement process complete with it’s own committee, application packet, and even an interview to allow the college to judge if the student is ready to return. In other words, there’s no guarantee that a student will be reinstated, so what the student does with their time off and says in their petition will affect their being eligible to return.

During their time on suspension students can do many things: They can work, travel, or really anything they want. But parents need to orient their student to the fact that what they do now will affect their ability to return after suspension, which can seem so far off to them. A college won’t care if a student went abroad, worked a job, or had exciting adventures. What they do care about is that the student has spent time addressing the problems that caused the bad grades and enhancing their ability to now be successful if they are allowed to return. For students returning from academic suspension, colleges will want to know that the student has been doing things like building skills, addressing their weaknesses, establishing supports for return, or even taking classes. Some colleges may even specify to take classes at a different school and earn good grades to show they are ready to return. However, despite saying this, some will not allow a student to transfer any credits taken back to them to apply toward graduation while on suspension. For suspended students, colleges are often less concerned about moving forward with credits and more concerned with the student’s ability to be successful if they are allowed to return.

Improving A Student’s GPA During Suspension

Since academic suspension is a result of a student’s cumulative GPA falling too low, the only way to permanently end their suspension status is for the student to raise this number to earn back “good standing” again. However, a GPA is specific to a college system, so the only way to affect this is by taking courses at that particular school. During a suspension, the only way to raise their home school GPA is if the student is allowed to take classes in some way in that college system, either through online classes or at a branch campus of that system. But because an academic suspension is usually from the college as a whole, students may not be able to take courses at a branch campus or online. If they do take classes elsewhere, their grades would not impact their home school GPA, even if they can transfer credits. In other words, it is impossible to make any gains on their low home school GPA during academic suspension by taking courses elsewhere. The general rule for college is that course credits transfer but grade points do not, so even a perfect 4.0 term at another college will not affect a low home school GPA.

Return After Suspension

Returning after suspension is a critical juncture for students, and they should have professional support when they are trying to get back on track after having academic performance problems. If a student wishes to return to their home school after a suspension, they will have to meet any requirements set by the colleges. For example, that first term back is often probationary when they return, making it a critical last chance at that their school. If a student cannot raise their GPA to a satisfactory level, the next step is academic dismissal, so it becomes imperative that parents set the student up for success. Other requirements when returning after suspension might be that the student must meet with an Advisor, take a success class, or even petition again for the next term. Some colleges may refer a student to their “retention” program, which unfortunately students say amounts to a handful of meetings with an administrator during their term. Parents need to be clear that “retention” does not mean “intervention” in higher education, they are two separate things, and students typically say such programs didn’t do anything to help them with their course work.

In order to return after academic suspension, students will typically have to complete a reinstatement process that can include an application, essay, and a statement describing to the college about how they spent their time away. Most colleges will want to know about any grades earned, return supports arranged, and the student’s plan of action to be successful if allowed to return. This is typically an area where students can be very off track and will need direct support since they don’t know what the college is expecting. Many student write a reinstatement essay that simply says they’ll “try harder,” “take school more seriously,” or otherwise beg to not be kept on suspension. What they can’t see is that a college is looking for an effective plan, one that brings a likelihood of success, and not just hear a remorseful student begging to return. Parents need to note that, for the student’s own sake, that enacting an effective plan – not just writing one – is critical so that they can actually succeed during this very last chance. If the focus is on just saying the right things for the college so the student can return, it will virtually guarantee that the student repeats the bad grades and moves toward dismissal. So this is time for action and intervention and not merely words, or the student may end up having to leave their school.

If A Student Can’t Overcome Academic Suspension

If the student returns after academic suspension and is unsuccessful in their classes, or cannot raise their GPA to a level acceptable to the college, it normally results in the student being removed from the college overall. Academic dismissal is a permanent status at a college where a student is no longer a member of their student body, and they cannot take classes in any form, whether on campus, online, or in other formats. Some colleges will consider a student later in life for adult attendance, but it may be up to 10 years before a student is even allowed to re-apply. While dismissal usually comes after academic probation and suspension, there are some instances where it can come abruptly.

“Randy” describes this exact situation with his daughter:

“Hi. Our 18 yo daughter just received an email that she was dismissed from college as a freshman. This comes as a shock as she was not put on academic probation, and had been told by her advisor that as long as she passed her courses, she would be ok. She passed two (barely) and was shocked to see she failed a third and fourth. We complained about her roommate situation and the dean of her house (dorm) was not helpful, and clearly does not like our daughter. We could really use some help figuring out what to do. Our daughter is devastated by this and was really looking forward to school next semester. There is an appeals process and we can get her psychiatrist to write a letter (she has an emergency appt on Monday), but would love your advice too. Please be in touch! Thank you.

Randy”

Students can quickly skip over academic probation or suspension to something worse if they do poorly enough even in one semester. For example, some colleges have a policy that if a student’s semester GPA falls below a 1.0 for any given term the student will be immediately dismissed. This is true even if the student has a cumulative GPA that is a 4.0, so in some cases a single bad semester can lead a student to having to leave their college. Regrettably, I’ve spoken with parents who did not fully grasp or accept the seriousness of the problems until their student was suspended or had to leave their school, so please take any signs of problems as a red flag to intervene.

Be advised that colleges never feel it’s OK to conceal the fact that a student attended elsewhere or was force to leave then just applied as a freshman candidate to a their school. Schools have become progressively more serious about issues like academic dishonesty of any kind, including in applications, and a student can be later expelled if it is discovered they hid prior attendance in their application. Believe me, it is far more effective and sustainable to have a clear plan of success and professional intervention supports in place than it is to conceal the truth and just hope the student succeeds on the “second try.” I’ve worked with many students who have found their way to graduation after dismissal, so there is always a path forward.

In Summary

Academic suspension is a result of a student earning bad grades, and normally happens if a student cannot successfully overcome academic probation at their school. There are many nuances that can come with suspension, like needing to re-apply and make a case for why they should be allowed to return. Being suspended is a key juncture where parents need to intervene, and hopefully seek professional help to address the problems that led to bad grades. If not, the situation can become much worse, with a student then being forced later to leave their college. Only qualified professional intervention that specializes in these situations will bring the desired result, since leaving the student to correct the situation themselves usually does not result in a good outcome.

Are you a parent and need help with your son or daughter in college? Jeff will be happy to talk with you to see if he can help.

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All names have been changed in this guide to protect reader privacy.