Andrea Harris, Probation/Dismissal/Reinstatement Issues Interest Group Chair
It is no secret that our nation is in the middle of a very real economic crisis. One need not look far to read about layoffs, bailouts, and stimulus efforts. Topping the list of affected fields are the automotive industry, banking, and retail operations of all sizes. What about higher education? Around the country, college administrators are taking pay cuts and recommending program or staff changes.
As universities and colleges continue to post endowment losses and discuss selling prized art collections, many administrators anticipate less-than-optimal enrollment numbers. In an effort to stave off further staff and faculty reductions, our communities are rethinking recruitment and retention tactics. How many students do 'we' typically lose before the fifth week? How many pre-matriculated new students decide not to show up at the last second? Those who work at private institutions might wonder how many full-pay students will no longer be able to afford hefty tuition payments.
At just about every college, advisors and administrators who work with probation, dismissal and reinstatement (PDR) issues are on the forefront of retention discussions. Of course! At the end of every term, these individuals connect with students who were dismissed for a less than satisfactory academic progress. That same group might also review the readmission petitions of students who are contesting the original dismissal decision or who have demonstrated their abilities elsewhere and want to come back.
Those of us who work in the PDR trenches probably know how many students our institutions dismiss every term. Whether the net number is 14, 140, or many more, each student we dismiss has a corresponding dollar sign, which in these economically troubled times is a serious and clearly-articulated concern. How can PDR advisors walk the line between meeting their colleges' very real needs and best serving this student population?
Many probation policies are not so black-and-white as to be totally automated; thus, human oversight is often required. Regardless of an institution's policies, someone needs to review special cases (if not all cases) and certainly to review appeals. That means that PDR colleagues might have some sway over the outcome of individual cases. With pressure to keep the number of pre-enrolled students high to offset any lower new student numbers, PDR advisors might find it easier to err on the side of optimism in some potential dismissal cases.
Given the sometimes ample gray areas in our respective policies (exceptions for extenuating circumstances or 'Friends of the Board' cases), it would be possible (and understood in this economic climate) for the PDR to group allow a dismissible student an extra term. In so doing, the student would receive the benefit of the doubt and an extra chance to improve, and the institution could count on the student's continued enrollment and revenue.
In this way, implementation of PDR policies can sometimes be subjective. Maybe 'Brittany' did poorly in two major classes but she has subsequently changed her major. It is possible that 'Aaron,' who has consistent sub-par work, is really close to a 2.0 and maybe should have one more chance. As colleges continue to look at projected revenues there could be pressure on all areas to increase retention. Clearly, if PDR policies are open to interpretation, PDR decision makers might be tempted to take a more optimistic approach. The student would be pleased and the institution would be one student closer its enrollment goals. Everybody's happy, right?
Anyone who has met with PDR students pleading their cases for reinstatement has heard "I know I can do better," "There were problems at home," and "I changed my major." Also, some students tend to confuse what they want with what they need. Does a private college student who has lost her financial aid due to probation really 'need' to come back for another expensive semester when she could attend a community college and complete some of the same classes? Maybe not.
As advisors working with students facing serious academic difficulty, should our focus be on helping the student find success at our institution, or at another school that may be a better fit? I suggest that we help students find the program that will best help them succeed. I also suggest that we encourage students to take the time needed to attend to their personal obstacles and return when they are better able to focus on studies. PDR advisors must recommend the paths that are the best for our students, regardless of the current campus economic situation.
One of the hardest parts of PDR advising is telling a student that he should not return to this school. To some extent, that is subjective call. However, when a degree audit shows that, in order to graduate, a third year student with a 1.98 cumulative GPA needs three more years of classes in which he must earn at least 'B's,' then it is better to tell him to consider other schools. By the time many of these students reach the dismissal point, they have lost financial aid and are paying for costs out-of-pocket or through high-interest private loans.
As our collegiate communities contemplate revenue shortfalls and endowment shrinkages, many of our students are facing financial concerns. Regardless of external situations, it is incumbent that PDR advisors remember that the student is the heart of the educational enterprise. Students (and our senior administrators) entrust us with their care. They should expect that our advice is transparent and particular to them and their circumstances. This is not at odds with institutional expectations for student service. When we serve our students thoughtfully and with integrity, we also reinforce the integrity of the institution we represent.
Senior Director, Student Administrative Services
Cite this article using APA style as: Harris, A. (2009, June). Remembering that the student is the heart of the educational enterprise. Academic Advising Today, 32(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]