College academic probation: an empirical test of whether the "wake-up call" is working

In recent years, colleges and university across the U.S. have taken strong measures to combat the issue of student departure. Yet, the number of students who depart from institutions of higher learning continues to grow. This poses a serious public policy issue as student departure carries with it several unintended socioeconomic consequences, such as a having a less-educated workforce, revenue loss to the institution, and a fruitless investment to the tax-payer for not seeing the payoff of a college graduate. The cannon of higher education research attributes student departure to a number of individual student characteristics and socioeconomic factors, and most recently has shed light to the institutional policies and barriers that contribute to student departure. The field however has widely ignored the influence of academic probation on student departure. Academic probation is a commonly used institutional policy that categorizes students who do not meet the institution’s academic standard as being on academic probation, during a given semester. The general belief is that academic probation serves as a “wake-up call”, intended to encourage and motivate students. For some students however, this “wake-up call” can feel more like a signal that they do not belong at the institution and trigger their departure. Therefore, this thesis aims to contribute to the limited academic research on academic probation, and more specifically on how academic probation influences student academic performance and student departure. Using longitudinal student data sourced from California State University, Sacramento, for the years 2014-2018, I employ multiple Ordinary Least Squares and Logistic regression models to isolate the effect of academic probation. Moreover, I control for several socioeconomic and institutional factors that have shown to influence student departure. I also restrict data observations to students with a grade-point average (GPA) between 1.90 and 2.09, in a given semester. This allows for two comparison groups, those who earn a GPA that is slightly above the academic probation threshold (2.0) and slightly below. This study does not find statistical significance between academic probation and students’ grade-point average in the following semester after receiving academic probation. Furthermore, this study does find statistical significance between academic probation and student departure. Students who land on academic probation are almost twice as likely to leave the university in the following semester after landing on academic probation, than their peers in the control group who do not. Given these findings, I recommend colleges and universities examine how academic probation impacts their student departure rate and plan accordingly. Retention efforts aimed at students on academic probation, for instance, can help these students persist and ultimately reduce student departure.

Thesis (M.P.P.A., Public Policy and Administration)--California State University, Sacramento, 2020.