on Academic Probation
of Academic Advising
of Academic Advising
spring 2009, NACADA members Shelly Gehrke and Jeanette Wong shared
their expertise in advising students on academic probation with
NACADA members via a two podcasts. Below find a transcript of
portions of those podcasts. A link to those podcasts will be provided
later this spring.
Which Students are defined as being on Academic Probation?
probation is a reality for all institutions, whether the institution
is a highly selective one, or one that supports an open access.
Each institution will need to define for itself what academic
probation looks like. Typically, a probationary status is determined
by a student’s Grade Point Average, and perhaps his or her progress
in the completion of specific requirements towards the desired
advisors need to remember that there is no single type of student or student population or characteristic that makes
a student destined for academic probation. No one is exempt from
the possibility. All students can be affected.
What factors put students at risk for probation?
are several differing factors that can place a student in jeopardy
of falling onto academic probation. There may be one individual factor that causes academic probation or a student
may be experiencing multiple factors all at once. And
the factors that we are going to discuss are not an exhaustive
list nor do they automatically result in academic probation for
common factor that places a student at risk for academic probation
is beingunderprepared. These students have deficits with
their academic abilities – reading, writing, critical thinking,
study habits and so on. And often these students will fault their
previous education for not fully preparing them for college-level
may also be considered underprepared because of their developmental
skills. Insufficient developmental skills related to areas such
as a student’s maturity, socialization, and acceptance of responsibility
also place a student at risk for academic probation.
the student who is underprepared, it is key that he identify and
acknowledge the deficiency. Such an awareness should encourage
the student to understand the extra work and effort that is may
be needed for the student’s success. Of course when working with
an academic advisor, the student can better recognize the areas
needing improvement and identify resources and strategies to help
the student overcome.
who do not acknowledge their underprepared status are often in
denial or they are blaming others for their deficits, taking the
position of victim. Unfortunately, these students can be a challenge
for advisors to identify early on and often do not get help they
need until they are on academic probation.
Beingoverextendedis another factor that can impact a student’s
academic standing. These students have a hard time with balancing
and prioritizing issues. They likely also have a hard time saying
“no” and managing their time in relation to their many commitments.
to students who are underprepared, the overextended student also
needs to acknowledge and identify the issue before really beginning
to make a plan for success. Working with an advisor or other support
resource, the student who is overextended can analyze his priorities
in relation to his time management. Depending on the student’s
specific situation, multiple resources may need to be consulted.
For example, the student who is struggling to balance a full-time
work load with a full-time course load may need to consult financial
aid to see what funding sources are available to help the student
reduce his work hours. Also during the analysis of priorities,
a student may need help to make tough decisions such as relinquishing
an officer position in a student organization or enrolling in
fewer course credits for the semester.
what I would consider the most difficult factor that
can impact a student’s academic status is related tonon-academic
issues. College does not occur in a vacuum and students are
forced to manage and balance multiple parts of life, including
the life inside and outside of the classroom. Sometimes that life
outside of the classroom begins to gain ground over the academic
piece and the student faces great challenges. Nonacademic issues
have no boundaries … but there are common themes such as mental
health, family problems, financial struggles, and work demands.
In many cases, the student is dealing with multiple nonacademic issues and the issues will become blurred and intertwined.
student’s academic success when dealing with nonacademic issues
is strongly impacted by his ability and skills to cope, work with
resources, and rebound. The assistance of an academic advisor
and other campus resources can be invaluable for this student;
though seeking out the support may be difficult. The advisor will
need to be persistent in helping the student realize and uncover
the nonacademics impacting the student and create a plan for success
which includes follow up with the recommended resources.
are other at-risk indicators for students. One common factor would
be students who arefirst generation, first year, or transfer
students.All of these types of students are experiencing
a major transition to a new academic environment that has very
specific policies and procedures to fulfill. While first generation
or first year students are at risk because they are unfamiliar
with the collegiate environment, transfer students could be specifically
venerable because they may be over confident in their abilities
to successfully function in a new academic culture. All of these
students would benefit from defining and identifying appropriate
special student population at risk for probation would be theStudent Scholars. Even the brightest students can be overconfident,
bored, or mismatched to a major or institution—and all of these
scenarios may land a student on academic probation. For these
students, a deliberate investigation of “fit” is important. If
a student’s class load, course selection or major is a good fit
for the student scholar, they will have an increased probability
of being successful.
Finally,students who make judgment mistakesare at risk for academic
probation. These errors include ones like:
in too many classes
- Not repeating
classes that previously earned D or F grades
deadlines to drop troublesome courses, or to resolve INC grades
classes without the appropriate prerequisites
courses solely based on a friend’s recommendation
- Not acknowledging
their learning styles: for instance, taking morning classes
when they are really not morning people, and
too long to connect with academic resources such as tutoring
students would be best served if they can be convinced to obtain
appropriate resource information and act on them in a timely fashion.
have highlighted some risk factors for students, but we should
remember that this is not an exhaustive list. All students come
to college with the potential to do very well, despite their individual
What are some typical probationary policies?
probation policies vary by institution but are frequently measured
by a student’s GPA, grade point average. Typically, an institution
places a student on academic probation when the cumulative GPA
falls below a certain point, for example below a 2.0 on a 4.0
scale. In addition, an institution may also place a student on
probation based on a term or semester GPA.
GPA is probably the primary tool to define academic probation,
but some institutions also look at a student’s progress towards
his or her degree. A student may have a healthy GPA, but continually
withdraw from classes in a major. In this case, the student is
not making progress towards fulfilling specific requirements.
Another scenario of an at risk student with a healthy GPA is when
a student habitually withdraws or takes incompletes in a significant
percentage of his or her semester classes.
Who are the stakeholders and what are their roles in supporting
a student on academic probation?
members of the academic community have an interest and responsibility
in fostering student success. A partnership needs to be formed
between the student, the advisor and the institution; and this
partnership should ideally embrace the strengths and needs of
each stakeholder. With those definitions, the partners can determine
their responsibilities and relationships to each other. An example
of this partnership could be described in a student who is doing
poorly in a math class. The student has the need for additional
tutoring, and the advisor would be an invaluable part of the solution
if he/she were able to provide the student with information about
available tutoring services. The institution’s part would be to
support a tutoring center with appropriate funding, personnel,
and space. To bring this example full circle, the student then
has a responsibility to understand these available resources and
his or her responses to them.
What can advisors do?
and foremost, the academic advisor needs to create an environment
where the student feels safe. It is helpful if an advisor can
demonstrate a certain level of empathy; but definitely the advisor
needs to be prepared to listen and understand without judgment.
If there is not already a relationship established between the
advisor and student, you want to nurture some connectedness. This
can help facilitate a trusting environment and positive rapport
which may facilitate future check-ins.
relationship between the student and advisor should be a partnership.
The advisor listens to the student and strives to understand the
student’s individual situation. When appropriate, the advisor
can provide anecdotal and experienced knowledge to help the student
understand that he is not the only one who has ever been on academic
advisor can also help the student to identify constructive actions
to proactively strive towards academic improvement and success.
With every exchange, the partnership should promote encouragement,
trust, and a sense of accountability and motivation.
working with students on academic probation can be challenging
sometimes, the advisor must always be cognizant of the student’s
possible embarrassment and feeling of shame. To prevent further
negative energy for the student, the advisor needs to understand
your own biases and stereotypes and prejudices. Advisors can not
only have a positive impact on a student but you can also have anegative affect!
helping the student on academic probation, advisors should also
be aware of the myth of self-reliance. We often meet with students
and provide game plans and resources in which the student is expected
to follow-through. Giving the student this helpful information,
we believe that the struggling student will take the initiative
to utilize the recommended referrals and strategies. However,
that is somewhat of a myth. A student who is on academic probation
is not necessarily the most self-reliant or self-sufficient student,
thus less likely to follow-through with recommendations and strategies.
Advisors working with students on academic probation need to be
aware of this myth. You will need to contact and follow-up with
the student to help ensure success.
only should we be savvy in understanding student behavior, but
we would be well served to recognize that each student situation
is individualized and that the solutions for each student should
not take a “cookie cutter” approach. Advisors need to understand
that a probationary status is the result of many interrelated
issues, and that identifying the causes of probation would be
helpful. With the student, these root causes can be explored as
possible areas to change, improve or eliminate. Possible causes
- Being overconfident
from previous educational experiences
- Being inexperienced
with navigating college’s demands—academic and otherwise
an inappropriate curriculum or major
poor or inadequate study skills
procrastination or time management issues
- Being overwhelmed
with various commitments
not to utilize campus resources
non academic issues such as personal, mental and physical health
problems, job or financial concerns
must also help the student to develop ownership of hisdecisions
and decision-making skills. The student needs to learn and
understand the consequences and repercussions of actions and decisions.
Though the advisor can guide the student through a list of majors
and possible goals and identify strategies and resources, it is
the student who must make the decisions and take action to move
forward. The advisor can help a student recognize talents and
strengths but the student must make his own goals. It can be tempting
for an advisor to hand-hold and coddle a student who is really
struggling but it is more beneficial if the advisor can teach
the student to make decisions and accept personal ownership of
advisor can go even further along side the student on academic
probation by promoting student action. As the student develops
an awareness and ownership of consequences and outcomes to his
or her decisions, we could work to help students identify factors
that are controllable and uncontrollable, and to help them understand
their best learning and communication styles. At this point in
the partnership, the advisor might consider specific intrusive
actions such as contracts, mandatory meetings, adherence to specific
timelines and required skills development courses. These actions
would help guide the student’s development into a successful,
are crucial in functioning as the link between the student and
the university; and we facilitate a relationship between the individual
and the institution. The student has specific needs, and the academy
has resources to provide for needs. The advisor functions as a
means of connecting the two.
we’ve identified several things an independent advisor can actively
do to help a student on academic probation, the advisor also needs
to thinkinstitutionallyand identify what others
can do. We want to support the student through a holistic approach,
thus campus-wide policies and procedures should be periodically
reviewed and unnecessary hurdles should be rectified.
departments and programs should also be frequently assessed to
identify possible barriers or gaps. The questions need to be asked:
Is there a campus-wide culture that promotes student success and
provides support for students on academic probation? Or are there
stereotypes and prejudices that students on academic probation
endure? It is not just the academic advisor who helps the student
on probation, it is the entire campus environment that is needed
to help these student’s succeed.
What are some institutional programs that are supportive of the
student on academic probation?
infrastructure of university support is so important to the success
of the student on academic probation. This support is shown through
resources such as offices of student success, study skills centers,
career services, counseling resources and so forth. The infrastructure
should support an institution’s efforts to balance retention and
resources, provide intrusive programs and practices, communicate
effectively with the students regarding their responsibilities,
and provide means by which assessment can be deliberately measured.
various academic policies that an institution develops are also
a means of support to the student. While on probation, policies
that deal with unit load, required GPAs, and specific class registrations
are very helpful. In addition, it might be worth implementing
policies that deal with warnings of possible probation, and on
the other end, devising policies that allow students to have ways
to “catch up” on the units that they have lost during a probationary
period. If procedures can be put into place for this, then the
student will not only improve his/her GPA but be on track to make
appropriate academic progress towards graduation.
there should also be institutional curricula related toAcademic
Skillsfor the student on probation. This programming can
be offered as a specific credit-bearing course or with no credit such as a seminar class. Workshops and discussion
groups should be offered periodically with curricula covering
the basics such as study skills, time management, test anxiety,
stress relief and how to prepare for mid-terms and final exams.
on the policies at your institution, the courses or workshops
could be required but if that is not possible, then
definitely they should be strongly recommended. As much as possible,
the programs and classes should be flexible so that they can address
a student’s specific situation. The more effective programs will
also understand the individual student’s motivation.
it may be difficult to measure or assess but the institutional
structure must be a supportive and positive campus atmosphere
and culture. The campus environment needs to provide an ease of
entering and moving within the infrastructure, through a network
of supportive personnel in complementary offices. The student
on academic probation is usually hyper-sensitive to judgment and
criticism. Additional hurdles and negative innuendos can have
a significant impact on the student’s morale and persistence.
With this consideration, personnel biases need to be identified
What are your final thoughts for advisors working with students
both mentioned many times that students are individuals. Each
one comes to us with a unique set of circumstances. As advisors,
we should understand the various emotions and feelings that the
student is experiencing—and we should be prepared for the likelihood
that the student will be feeling embarrassed, disappointed, vulnerable
and judged. In addition to all of these mixed emotions, the student
will be cognizant of being behind, and the advisor should work
to help students find options to understand and maximize their
future resources of time and money in the achievement of their
dreams. Our roles are to be holistic, and not just focused on
the recovery of the student’s academic status. Being truthful
about and strategizing with a student is the best way we can partner
with him or her.
this partnership, the advisor needs to remember that the student
is more than just a subject of her job. This student
is a human being needing guidance and support. Advisors must be cognizant of any perceived judgment or stereotyping that
the student may internalize. The student on academic probation
is already self-conscious and possibly embarrassed. We don’t want
the advising experience to have a negative impact because the
student does not feel safe and supported.
student on academic probation will respond best when working with
an advisor who treats him as an individual in a caring, judgment-free
environment that encourages a trusting partnership.