As we enter a new school year, I'm wondering if the is any evidence to support or contradict the idea that putting a poor-performing students on academic probation improves their performance. Does anyone know of any such evidence?

I can imagine that schools are naturally concerned about eliminating students whose tuition keeps the doors open and my school does not have any formal rules on academic probation. I'm thinking of proposing some, but only if there is evidence that it will actually improve performance. If it demotivates students (for example creating a stigma which is a very serious issue here in Asia) and bounces students who might otherwise just pass then it does not seem so appealing.

  • I can imagine that the answer might be very culture-specific, so it might be worth mentioning which country you're asking about: Asia has very different cultures within it.
    – 410 gone
    Aug 6, 2013 at 9:42
  • @EnergyNumbers Confucian Asia in particular but I'm eager to hear any information about this for any part of Asia or any part of the world.
    – earthling
    Aug 6, 2013 at 10:22
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    Do note that academic probation servers at least two purposes; to entice the student to perform better, as you suggest, but also to ensure that the program attracts and maintains only high-performing students.
    – eykanal
    Aug 6, 2013 at 12:43
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    Yes, that's correct. Weaker students are simply not welcome.
    – JeffE
    Aug 6, 2013 at 20:44
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    @JeffE: It might be worth explaining why: weaker students can slow down the class, and drain faculty of their available time.
    – J.R.
    Aug 6, 2013 at 21:23

3 Answers 3


This is only a part answer

University of California Berkeley applies a probation when the cumulative GPA goes below 2.0 and are within grounds for dismissal. But, they give a semester and advise the student to:

The College of Letters and Science encourages students who have been placed on term probation to seek advising at the Office of Undergraduate Advising for help with schedule planning and to discuss any issues that may have caused poor results in the first place. Although this web site may be helpful to you, it is primarily designed to assist probationary students whose cumulative grade point average has fallen below a 2.0.

An example from Australia, Brisbane's Griffith University, it seems that a similar constraint may be applied:

The minimum standard for academic performance is a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.0 for undergraduate students and at least 3.5 for postgraduate students. Students who meet this GPA standard are said to be in ‘good academic standing’. If a student’s GPA is below this level their performance is ‘unsatisfactory’. The first time a student’s performance is below the required standard, the student is placed on probation for the next semester. The second time a student’s performance is below the required standard, the student will normally be excluded.

In the Princeton article "The Effects of Academic Probation on College Success: Lending Students a Hand or Kicking Them While They Are Down?" (Fletcher and Tokmouline, 2010), found that often there is an improvement, but then their

findings also suggest that this short term boost in performance fades out over time and students who are on academic probation following their first semesters of college do not have higher rates of persistence or graduation.

They also found that an overall model (indeed a definitive answer) is hard to come by due to inconsistency of heterogeneous effects, particularly

pre-determined student characteristics as well as high school of origin.

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    Thanks for the link showing results of probation. This is the kind of material I was looking for.
    – earthling
    Sep 6, 2013 at 2:44

I'm wondering if the is any evidence to support or contradict the idea that putting a poor-performing students on academic probation improves their performance

Whose idea is this? I quick look at what US universities think academic probation means does not suggest that its purpose is to improve performance.

At University of Tennessee Knoxville

Probation serves as a serious warning that your academic performance needs improvement, alerting you that you are in jeopardy of Academic Dismissal.

At Harvard Academic Probation is defined as

a serious warning to a student whose academic performance for the term is unsatisfactory. Academic probation is a formal action of the Administrative Board and becomes part of the student’s official record.

It seems that in general "academic probation" is an administrative state between "good standing" and "academic dismissal". The purpose is to warn the student if they do not improve that they will be dismissed.

A potentially relevant question might be are things like the Success Plan of University of Tennessee Knoxville successful. This, however, is a really broad question. Each University is going to have a different "success plan" and implement it differently. You might also wish to consider how to build and implement a successful success plan.

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    The idea is that it is a serious warning which should wake up students...And is not just an administrative step, since if the students take the warning seriously, they are not dismissed.
    – Nick S
    Aug 22, 2013 at 12:45
  • I'm a little confused. You say there is no evidence that the goal is to improve performance then you get two pieces of evidence that show students enter probation because of poor performance (implying they get out by improving their performance). Am I misreading this (note: I've not slept much recently so it is possible).
    – earthling
    Aug 22, 2013 at 12:53
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    @earthling the interpretation I think is that probation is an administrative step that happens before dismissal can. So in this view it is nothing more than giving fair warning to the student that they are not performing well. This is independent of whether the department is interested in keeping that student or not. Things like probation are part of the bureaucratic tradition in the US at all levels. Aug 22, 2013 at 14:03
  • @earthling my read of the guidance is that the goal is not to help students get out of probation by improving performance, but rather as a step towards dismissal. If they see it as a wake up call and improve performance, great, if not, then they are dismissed.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 22, 2013 at 14:39
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    I think this is your personal reading @DanielE.Shub. I've always been under the impression that academic probation is a warning to encourage you to do better, not a notification that we're working on kicking you out. (Use of the royal 'we' to mean the university)
    – Frank B
    Aug 22, 2013 at 17:39

I saw it more as "a notification that we're working on kicking you out". In my first term of college, I failed a calculus 1 class (passed 3 others, but that F pulled my gpa down to a 1.6). and was therefore placed on academic probation. My advisor then forced me to register in the second semester into 2 classes for which my failed calculus 1 class was a prereq (calculus 2 and physics), virtually ensuring that I would fail. I signed an agreement to enroll in the class, added the class, dropped it 15 minutes, and then enrolled in several easy classes in order to boost my gpa. I actually got over a 3.0 my second semester because the classes were so much easier, but I no doubt would have received F's in both the calc 2 class and the physics class had I taken them. After my second semester, I transferred out in good standing, went to the local community college for a year, and transferred to another university. Had I followed my advisor's advice, I almost certainly would have experienced academic dismissal. My take is that they were trying to get people to flunk out.

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    Hooray for passive-aggressive advisors. If they wanted to kick you out, they should have just kicked you out; otherwise, it's their damn job to help you succeed. Kudos for ignoring them.
    – JeffE
    Apr 20, 2014 at 18:48

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