Adjusting to college life can be hard for any student, but it is especially tough for those from low-income and first-generation backgrounds. Only 11% of students who fit into both of those categories graduate within 6 years. The vast majority of these students, the remaining 89%, either leave or are dismissed.
Not much data exists about why students leave college or what happens once they do. For all students who are struggling to stay in college or find themselves on the edge of failure or dismissal, there is a safety net: academic probation.
How does a student end up on probation?
The process is different on every campus. In general, students are placed on a "probationary period" if their GPA drops below a minimum standard. For most colleges in Michigan that minimum is 2.0.
Students usually find out they're on probation by e-mail. They may not have even heard of academic probation before they're on it. It isn't talked about during orientation.
Academic probation usually lasts for a semester and students have to do things like meet with an academic advisor and connect with on-campus resources. Some colleges suspend students from engaging in campus activities during this time, like banning a student athlete from playing until their grades are back up. Because of this, probation can feel like a punishment.
If their grades don't improve, suspension is often the next step and then dismissal from the university.
According to Cathy Conway-Perrin, probation is not a punitive measure but a protective one. Conway-Perrin is the director of the University of Michigan's Academic Standards & Academic Opportunities Department.
There are 535 U of M students on probation right now, which is about 3% of the 17,000 student body. For the vast majority of these students on probation, Conway-Perrin says it’s not that they can’t handle the work load - there’s usually something else going on. Probation is intended to serve as a “wake up call” for these students with the hope they'll seek more support.
Does academic probation work?
Little data exists on actual student retention rates after the probationary period ends, but students who recover from being on probation are more likely to graduate.
Not all recover. Being placed on academic probation actually increases the likelihood that a student will choose to drop out. Men are more likely to go that route than women. Probation signifies that a student's performance isn't good enough, which can have huge emotional consequences. This is especially true for minority, first-generation, and low-income students who already feel like they don't belong in college.
Research also suggests performance standards like those imposed on students during academic probation could be used as a tool for universities to "weed out" students and intentionally deter them from coming back.
If you were ever on academic probation, we want to know if it helped you or hurt you. Let us know in the comment section below or by sending us a message on Facebook. You can also share your story here.