According to the U.S. Department of Education, 43% of full-time undergraduate students are employed. Many students work a full-time job and take a full course load to pay their tuition and graduate on time.
But some of those students end up getting left behind due to their jobs or personal emergencies taking up studying time; that is what happened to Kevin Hazrati.
Hazrati is a senior psychology major at Georgia State, and he’s in a situation most students do their absolute best to avoid: he’s on academic exclusion.
Hazrati began his journey at Georgia State in 2015 as a computer science major but realized that was not the path he wanted to take. After changing his major, he took a few semesters off here and there, as life’s challenges got in the way of pursuing his degree, and by the start of 2020’s spring semester, Hazrati wound up on academic probation.
But students lucky enough to not pay their way through college, or those who can successfully balance work and school, sometimes see students like Hazrati as someone who maybe just didn’t work hard enough.
“It’s hard to put yourself in the situation of someone who’s this far behind,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced many unique roadblocks and hurdles for students like Hazrati. “COVID anxiety,” financial and housing insecurity and family deaths on top of maintaining good grades affected many students’ mental health and academic performance.
Academic exclusion at Georgia State means that a student placed on academic probation did not raise their cumulative GPA above the 2.0 minimum during that semester. It is the most restrictive educational discipline level at Georgia State. Students on academic exclusion cannot enroll in classes and must appeal their case to re-enroll.
The pandemic also posed an issue for students on scholastic discipline due to closed offices, creating a disadvantage to only access assistance virtually.
Hazrati submitted his first appeal to the Office of the Provost soon after finding out he was on academic exclusion; they denied his appeal. He explained that he included the difficulties of online learning and the effects the pandemic had on his personal life, but that alone was not enough.
“I submitted my first appeal, [and] I thought it’d be sufficient enough to talk about how it’s kind of been hard for everyone lately with COVID and everything like that,” he said.
Now, Hazrati awaits the decision on his second appeal, and this appeal will make or break his academic career at Georgia State.
The process of re-enrolling at Georgia State after being on academic exclusion is called academic renewal, and it’s a strenuous process. When a student is on academic exclusion and the university denies a student’s appeal, that student cannot re-enroll at Georgia State for at least five years. If that student becomes eligible for academic renewal and wants to return to Georgia State, they cannot attend another university within those five years.
Hazrati’s second appeal is a more personal one. He said that Georgia State wants the details of his personal life and how those events affected his academia. After submitting an account of his declining mental health, struggles with financial insecurity and grieving his grandparents’ deaths, all he can do is wait.
“I just spoke to some past counselors I’ve had,” he said. “So I was thinking maybe some documentation of depression and anxiety, and those [were] possibly interfering with my course work. But aside from that, I can’t do much else.”
Hazrati considered all of his choices before appealing his exclusion, but unfortunately, to continue at Georgia State, there weren’t any other options.
“Before anything else, I spoke with an advisor towards the end of the fall  semester just trying to understand my options,” he said. “And they just said, ‘An exclusion appeal is the next option, and there’s this option of an emergency withdrawal,’ but I found that that’s extremely hard to actually have happen.”
To obtain an emergency withdrawal, a student must experience an extreme, non-academic emergency that hindered them from voluntarily withdrawing from their classes. A detailed statement with proof of the crisis, when and where it happened and how it affected their coursework is mandatory.
The appeal process is one that Hazrati feels he navigated on his own. He mentioned it was difficult to get someone on the phone at the University Advisement Center who could guide him in the right direction. After trying to secure an appointment with an exploratory advisor to discuss the appeals, the advisement office canceled his appointment.
“I made an appointment saying, ‘I need to speak with an exploratory advisor and follow up about my second appeal,’” he said. “Then I got an email saying, ‘The appointment is not needed; here’s the appeal form for the second appeal,’ and that was it. I just didn’t know exactly what to do after that.”
Hazrati took to resources on the internet to help him complete his appeals, using the information available on the Dean of Students and the Office of the Provost’s websites and social media sites like Reddit.
Georgia State did not make any exceptions or revisions to its academic exclusion or appeal policies to accommodate the pandemic or its effects on students. Aside from not being able to talk the process out with anyone in person, the policies equate the struggles students face during the pandemic to the struggles they faced pre-pandemic.
“It’s the same, but only harder because usually, you’d be going in to speak to people,” Hazrati said. “Now, it’s all digital, so I guess it’s even less personal. With the pandemic, you‘d think there’d be some kind of lenience.”
While Hazrati awaits the decision of his second appeal, he thinks about what his plan will be if it gets denied.
“Right now, I’m … just trying to figure out if I have any other options,” he said. “Also, I could take whatever credits I have and just transfer to another school, but … I think I want to go work somewhere for a while and clear my head about school.”
Hazrati found that the stipulations of academic exclusion, the process of appealing it, and figuring out what to do next are stressful and emotionally taxing. He wants other students in any form of academic discipline to reach out and find resources early; it’s something he wishes he did.
“[T]he whole academic disciplinary system, there’s a problem with it and the stigma that it gives, [and] the lack of anyone reaching out as you’re a struggling student,” he said. “I just think the only time I’ve been pushed to reach out myself is at this point, and it’s almost too late.”