How the system can fail college and university students

By Sabrina Almeida

It is common knowledge that college and university education is no cakewalk. Students have been warned about the workload and pressures of keeping up time and again. Yet there are some who choose to ignore this advice and fall through the cracks as a consequence. I know a few who have been put on academic probation, even been forced to withdraw from a particular faculty for a year on account of poor grades.tired-student
While one might be tempted to say “serves them right” there are ways to avoid this situation that a freshman might not know about. Only someone who’s been there and done that can perhaps tell you about them. Authorities might argue that it is well-documented but chancing upon them maybe akin to finding a needle in the proverbial haystack, unless you have a compass.
From recent conversations with other college and university students I learned that if you drop a course after poor mid-term performance you can avoid a failure or bad grade on your transcript. Another  informed me that if you get bad grades in a test or assignment you can produce a doctor’s note to say you were ill and once again avoid negative consequences.
Another sprinkling came from a professor friend who suggested that if a student feels he/she did poorly in an exam they should immediately contact their teacher and ask for an extra assignment to improve their grades.
I asked my son who is in university whether he was aware of this and was not at all surprised by his negative answer.
What is less talked about are the systemic challenges. With most students struggling to keep their heads up in the academic whirlpool, navigating the system is rarely on their radar. Yet ignorance and the smallest of missteps can cost you your academic career.
I recently met two international students who are now facing a situation they never saw coming—returning to their home countries without completing their degrees. Accused of cheating and fraud, and slapped with a three-year suspension their entire world has been turned upside down. With one month left for their student visas to expire they are running in circles trying to complete their last course, which they were expelled from.
Did they cheat? I don’t know! Only they do. Yet after hearing the course of events that followed in which they tried to salvage their degree I can’t help but feel bad for the predicament they are in.
If their innocence is to be believed, they are then victims of a system. Having come from a different country they are somewhat unschooled in how we do things here. By that I mean documenting all communications with authorities and ensuring proper process is followed. Harkening back to my son’s response to certain situations he’s not on top of it either. I wonder how many kids are.
My husband often comes home with stories of students who have successfully used every trick in the book to work the system. I’m sure they are few and far between. At the back of my mind I always wonder how they managed their course work if they spent so much time in administrative offices working some scheme or the other. But they are the smart ones! For it seems like that is the only to get things done.
I am reminded of the open-door policy most post-secondary institutions profess to have at open houses. Staff are portrayed as dedicated, caring and there to help. In reality, these are hard to find.
If you are looking to them for advice and guidance, I’d advise extreme caution. That’s why it’s so important to document all communication with them. It’s like being in a court of law someone said to me, and it truly is. Sometimes they are unaware of their own rules, yet students must know all of them.
I agree that students shouldn’t get into a situation because you could spend your whole life trying to get out of it. Perhaps the authorities have seen it all and must separate the chaff from the grain. Yet one can’t feel but feel for the students who unknowingly end up on their wrong side and might give up on post-secondary education simply because of it.

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