Report of the Yale College Withdrawal and Readmission Review Committee

April 2015

John Rogers, Chair

In the fall of 2014, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway appointed a committee to review the policies and procedures in Yale College regarding withdrawal and readmission.  The members of the committee were John Rogers, Professor of English, who served as Chair; Jasmina Besirevic-Regan, Dean of Trumbull College; Caroline G. Hendel, Senior Associate, Office of General Counsel; Sara Samuel, Yale College Class of 2015; Susan Sawyer, Senior Associate, Office of General Counsel; and Mark Schenker, Dean of Academic Affairs, Yale College.  

We met as a committee a total of 11 times, from December 2014 through April 2015.  During that period we attempted to assemble as much information as possible about the multi-faceted elements of our withdrawal and readmission processes.  As is well known, the policies at any institution concerning a student’s withdrawal from and return to school are tied to and in many ways constrained by policies outside the university, such as regulations concerning federal financial aid distribution, medical rights to privacy, immigration and naturalization, and even NCAA eligibility.  In order to inform ourselves about some of the external factors, particularly in regard to financial aid, behind current policies and the openings that might exist for future changes, we interviewed the University Registrar, Gabriel Olszewski, and the University Director of Financial Aid, Caesar Storlazzi.  The reasons behind Yale’s current policies of readmission are also complex.  Seeking to understand the current readmission policies, as well as to solicit input regarding future changes, we interviewed the Yale College Readmissions Committee, whose members include the chair, Pamela George, Joseph Gordon, Dr. Howard Blue, and Dr. Lorraine Siggins, Chief of Yale Mental Health and Counseling.  We solicited, further, in a large group meeting, the perspective of the residential college deans.  The committee chair also met with and sought the opinions of the masters of the residential colleges at a meeting of the Council of Masters.  Additionally, our committee reviewed and discussed the wide range of practices concerning withdrawal and readmission at our peer institutions.

It goes without saying that no one is more affected by the withdrawal and readmission policies than those students who withdraw (or who are considering withdrawing), those withdrawn students who seek to be reinstated in Yale College, and those reinstated students who find themselves back in Yale College anywhere from two terms to several years after the initial withdrawal.  For that reason, the committee devoted a significant amount of time to the consideration of the wide range of student perspectives on the subject.  We were fortunate to have access to the report issued by the Yale College Council in March, 2014, “Recommendations for Improvement to Withdrawal and Leave of Absence Policies.”  And we sought additional student opinions about both withdrawal and readmission by means of a survey we distributed to all currently enrolled students who have withdrawn from and then returned to Yale.  We gathered from the extensive responses to that survey a wealth of information about student experiences of and opinions about withdrawal and readmission.  We took seriously as well the content of the many editorials and articles about the student perspective on withdrawal and readmission that appeared over the course of the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 terms.  

Additionally, committee chair John Rogers met with the members of the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee, who shared their sense of the main student concerns touching withdrawal and readmission.  On February 25, 2015 Rogers and committee member Sara Samuel attended a town hall meeting of students and administrators concerning mental health and counseling, at which several students valuably detailed concerns about withdrawal and readmission practices as they pertain to students whose medical withdrawals involve mental health issues.  Rogers met with Michael Herbert ’16, president of the Yale College Council, as well as with several recently readmitted students who chose to express their responses to the review committee’s survey in person rather than in writing.  Through these many avenues by which reports of student experiences were expressed, we were able to familiarize ourselves with the surprisingly wide range of student opinion about what works well, and what needs to be changed, regarding withdrawal and readmissions in Yale College.  What follows is an articulation of the committee’s sense of some of the central concerns involving withdrawal and readmission, along with our recommendations for change.

A change in terminology

We have been struck by a misconception common among some students about the meaning of a temporary withdrawal from Yale College.  Because the current term for the process by which a student seeks to return to Yale after a withdrawal is readmission, many students are understandably concerned that a withdrawal brings with it a nullification of the student’s initial acceptance by Yale’s Office of Admissions.  In order to clarify the fact that students who withdraw from Yale College are in no way un-admitted to Yale, we propose a change in terminology: readmission should henceforth be called reinstatement (and what is currently referred to as “reinstatement” should be called “automatic reinstatement”).  The committee overseeing the return of withdrawn students to campus should be called the Reinstatement Committee.

Leaves of absence and withdrawals

As is the case at nearly all institutions, there is a significant difference in Yale College between a “leave of absence” and a “withdrawal.”  At Yale, a student in academic good standing who wishes to interrupt his or her studies may currently petition the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing for no more than one or two terms of leave of absence, so long as that petition is received by the tenth day of the term.  A student who leaves Yale after the tenth day must withdraw from Yale College, and that withdrawal falls under one of the following categories: personal, financial, medical, academic, or disciplinary.  It is undeniable that a leave of absence from Yale carries with it certain advantages a withdrawal does not.  Unlike students who withdraw, students on a leave of absence are able to retain their Yale identification cards as well as their library and email privileges.  Students who petition for a leave of absence by the tenth day of the term, and whose petition is granted, receive a rebate of any tuition already paid.  Additionally, they do not have that term counted as one of the total of eight terms of enrollment they are normally granted.  

In light of the advantages attached to a leave of absence for students wishing to interrupt their studies, we propose increasing the length of time at the beginning of each term during which a student can elect to take a leave of absence.  The period during which a student may elect to take a leave of absence, which currently concludes on the tenth calendar day of the term, should be extended to the last day of the course selection period.  A student who elects to take a leave of absence during this period, expanded now an additional five days in the fall and six days in the spring, should receive a full rebate of tuition and prorated refund of room and board, as is the case now with students who elect a leave on or prior to the tenth day of the term.  The logistical and financial advantage of this expansion of the period in which a student can petition for a leave of absence is clear.  No less significant perhaps would be the additional time that a student, in consultation with the residential college dean, has to make what is often the difficult but very important determination to take time away from Yale.

Although the regulations concerning a leave of absence are articulated fully in the Yale College Programs of Study (“YCPS” or “Blue Book”), many students who are considering taking time off from their studies at Yale are unfamiliar with the leave policy and its strict deadline.  Because of the advantages to the student of a leave of absence, we propose increasing student awareness of the leave of absence window at the beginning of each term.  Yale College should take responsibility for making certain that the leave of absence policy is publicized clearly and effectively to all students and their parents, and every effort should be made to communicate as clearly as possible the logistical and financial consequences of leaves of absence as opposed to withdrawals.  Official announcements, for example, could encourage all students considering a leave of absence to consult with their residential college deans as soon as possible at the beginning of the term.  

One simple and significant way to improve the current situation would be to clarify the language in the YCPS or Blue Book that describes leaves, withdrawals, and reinstatement.  We strongly recommend, in addition to this clarification of the language in the Blue Book, the creation of a Yale College website that presents students and their families with clear information about these matters, directing them where appropriate to related resources.  One resource available on this website should be downloadable materials for application for reinstatement.

Integrating the processes of withdrawal and reinstatement 

One striking fact we gleaned from the survey of recently reinstated students involved the uncertainty and confusion that some withdrawn students feel about the status of their withdrawal and the upcoming process of reinstatement.  Because the process of withdrawal is largely administered at the level of the residential college while the process of reinstatement is overseen by Yale College, some students experience a disconnect between two practices that many students, understandably, feel should be experienced as related components of a single process.  To assure that students who withdraw experience a more continuous connection between the time of withdrawal and the time of reinstatement, we suggest four changes to the current practice.  

First, the Chair of the Reinstatement Committee should be informed automatically of all withdrawals from Yale College, a step that could be implemented simply by copying the Chair of the Reinstatement Committee on the letter of withdrawal generated by the residential college dean.  The Chair of the Reinstatement Committee could then initiate contact with the student at an earlier point in the period of withdrawal, and the student might be likelier to experience the time of withdrawal as one more clearly preparatory for reinstatement.  

Second, and relatedly, the Chair of the Reinstatement Committee should inform each of the residential college deans of all relevant student applications for reinstatement.  In cases in which withdrawn students are not in regular contact with their residential college deans, the dean may in some instances learn of a student’s application for reinstatement at a very late stage in the process.  If routinely informed of a student’s interest in reinstatement, a dean could much more effectively counsel the student through the reinstatement process, and could potentially help foster a student’s sense of a connection with the college in particular and Yale in general.  

Third, withdrawn students should be reminded that they have continued access to their residential college deans: they should be encouraged to stay in regular contact with the dean both during the period of withdrawal and the period following reinstatement.  The sense of alienation experienced by some withdrawn students, noted above, could be diminished if students were sent a clear, unequivocal message that they are entitled to maintain a relationship with the dean during the period of withdrawal.  

Fourth, students who have withdrawn from Yale College for personal, academic, or medical reasons should be permitted to petition the Yale University Library System for certain online library privileges.

Additional measures with respect to withdrawal

At any time during the year, a student may withdraw from Yale College for personal reasons.  Currently, students who elect to take a personal withdrawal are obliged to spend two terms away from Yale, not including the term in which the withdrawal occurred.  Many students have singled out this two-term rule as both unnecessary and unintentionally punitive.  We propose that students who withdraw for personal reasons, and who are deemed to have exceptional circumstances (such as a terminally ill parent or comparable emergency), be granted an exemption from the usual requirements of reinstatement.  Such students should be allowed to petition the Chair of the Reinstatement Committee in this regard.

We have learned also that there is a good deal of confusion among students concerning the amount of time they have between notification of their withdrawal from Yale College and their departure from the Yale campus.  We propose a clarification of the time such students have to leave campus, which is no more than 72 hours.  Like the rest of the information concerning withdrawals from Yale College, this policy should be made clear both in the YCPS and the newly created website offering information about leaves of absence, withdrawals, and reinstatement.

We also learned from student responses to our survey, as well as from the YCC report on withdrawal, that there exists a very real concern among students who have withdrawn for personal, academic, medical, or financial reasons that their withdrawals from Yale College might be construed by outsiders studying their transcripts as disciplinary in nature.  It is true that, in the current system, in every case of withdrawal, the only entry on the transcript is the word “Withdrawn” along with the date of withdrawal; there is no designation of a reason for the withdrawal (there is the exception of cases of expulsion, which are clearly marked as expulsion on a student’s transcript).  We strongly recommend maintaining the current practice of not specifying the reason for withdrawal in cases of personal, academic, medical, or financial withdrawal.  But in order to destigmatize withdrawal and more clearly differentiate the majority of withdrawals from disciplinary withdrawals, we recommend further that student transcripts, in the case of a student suspended for disciplinary reasons, note that the reason for the withdrawal was disciplinary.  

Students have as well expressed confusion about the policy concerning Yale identification cards and email accounts at the time of withdrawal.  Presently, some students have cards and accounts that are turned off instantly upon withdrawal, while others report that their accounts are active many months after withdrawal.  In the name of equity, and in order to prevent this confusion, we propose that the University Registrar ensure that when students are withdrawn, their Yale ID cards are deactivated within 72 hours from the official date of withdrawal and that their Yale email accounts are suspended after fourteen days.  These practices should all be specified clearly on the new website, providing students with adequate notice of the pending changes.

Reducing the negative financial impact of medical withdrawals

As noted above, a leave of absence entails a full rebate of tuition and prorated refund of room and board.  Such is not the case, however, in instances of withdrawal.  Like nearly all schools that accept federal financial aid subsidies, Yale requires a student who withdraws to forfeit part or all of the tuition already paid for the term of withdrawal (the amount of tuition forfeited is tied to the date of withdrawal).   It should be noted that the same policy is in effect even at institutions, such as Harvard, that employ the term “leave of absence” to apply to cases of the interruption of studies that would go by the name of “withdrawal” at Yale; Harvard, for example, just as Yale presently does, requires a specified forfeiture of tuition when a student leaves school after the tenth day of the term.  

For these reasons, withdrawals can entail significant financial setbacks for students and their families.  One very simple way in which Yale could lessen the financial impact assumed by a family in the case of a medical withdrawal from Yale College would be to publicize much more clearly and effectively an important and consequential benefit already available to Yale students and their parents or guardians.  At the cost of about $350 per year, Yale Tuition Insurance, administered by A. W. G. Dewar, provides up to a 90% refund of tuition, room, and board in the case of medical withdrawals. Dewar requires that such insurance be purchased before the first day of the term, a fact that should also be communicated clearly to students and parents.

Reinstatement after withdrawal

There is no question that Yale College is committed to the reinstatement of all students who have withdrawn.  In fact, the vast majority of students who apply for reinstatement are reinstated.  But the process of reinstatement is not therefore inconsequential or needless.  Life as a student in such an exciting but high-octane academic and social environment can be full of innumerable sources of pressure and stress.  It is not an environment to which all students can easily return after a withdrawal, especially if that withdrawal involved difficult or painful circumstances.  The reinstatement process, which typically involves a student’s successful completion of two outside college courses, exists to allow students to demonstrate to the College and, perhaps more important, to themselves, their ability to resume the demanding life of a Yale student.  Experience has long shown that students who seek reinstatement only after a confident demonstration of their preparedness to resume their busy academic and social lives at Yale are much more likely to succeed upon their return to campus.  

As important as the reinstatement process is, it is also a source of great frustration for many students who have undergone or who are undergoing the process.  There were students who voiced in their responses to our survey a sense that reinstatement after a withdrawal should be automatic, and that anything like an application process felt unnecessarily punitive.  We certainly understand how, in the sometimes very difficult experience of withdrawal from school, such feelings could emerge.  But we were moved as well by the students who expressed gratitude for the requirement that they not return to Yale until they were likely to feel comfortable again in the institution’s unique academic and social environment. Careful consideration led us to affirm many of the principles underlying the current reinstatement process.

That is not to say that the process as currently configured is perfect.  We were fully sympathetic to the many student complaints concerning both the financial burden of reinstatement and the awkward timing of the reinstatement process, which presently occurs in the days leading up to the beginning of each term.  We propose here a number of reforms, which we feel lessen considerably the burden of the cost and the logistical awkwardness of the current readmission process.

Proposed changes to the process of reinstatement

There are currently two deadlines in the reinstatement process, one deadline by which students must request application materials and another for the actual submission of the application.  We propose eliminating the first deadline, as application materials for reinstatement should be made readily available on the proposed Yale College website for leaves, withdrawals, and reinstatement.  As noted below, there will still be a deadline by which the application must be submitted to the Reinstatement Committee.  We propose, too, eliminating the current $50 readmission application fee.

We also propose a significant change to the timing of the reinstatement process, which currently unfolds very close to the beginning of the term. The new deadlines for the submission of the reinstatement application should be July 1, for fall-term reinstatement, and November 1, for spring-term reinstatement.  It is understood that the final reinstatement decision would be contingent on the student’s successful completion of any course requirements, the evidence for which may not be available until late August or early January.  This significant change in the timing of the application process has many advantages.  It promises to reduce much of the student and family anxiety currently surrounding a process that is not fully concluded, in the present system, until just before the beginning of the term.  It allows too for a more organized and efficient plan for housing the reinstated student in the residential college, benefiting both the returning student and his or her suitemates.  

Coincident with the change in the application deadline, we propose two significant changes to the requirement of the applicant’s interviews with the members of the Reinstatement Committee.  First, the interviews should be moved up to July and November, for fall and spring terms, respectively.  Second, the interviews, though preferably conducted in person, may be conducted by video teleconference when circumstances warrant.  The changes proposed here would surely lessen the financial burden felt by those students who live far from New Haven but who in the present system have had to pay not only for costly flights but for lodging in New Haven during the period that precedes the opening of the dorm rooms.

We also propose a change of the role of the residential college dean in the proceedings of the Reinstatement Committee. Currently, each residential college dean is given a vote when the Committee discusses the applicants in his or her college.  Out of an interest to preserve the advisory nature of the relation between the residential college dean and the applicant, we propose that the Reinstatement Committee should include as voting members only a Yale Health official, the Chair of Reinstatement, and a dean from the Yale College Dean’s Office.  What is currently now considered the reinstatement interview with the residential college dean should be replaced by an advisory meeting with the residential college dean, a meeting that would take place typically before mid-June or after mid-August, for fall-term reinstatement, and in November, in cases of spring-term reinstatement.  Preferably conducted in person, this advisory meeting could also be conducted, when warranted by circumstances, by video teleconference.  The Reinstatement Chair should consult with the residential college dean about the student both before and after the reinstatement process.  

Another long-standing complaint about the reinstatement process concerns the expense of the two courses that applicants are required to complete.  Some students complete that requirement by enrolling in Yale Summer Session.  It has long been possible, though not well-publicized, for students on financial aid at the time of withdrawal to receive a need-based tuition scholarship from Yale Summer Session.  We believe strongly that Yale College should make clear that students who withdraw for personal, academic, or medical reasons, and who are eligible for financial aid, be given clear information about the Summer Session’s need-based scholarships.

Many students take the courses required for reinstatement at colleges or universities near their homes during the period of withdrawal.  Unfortunately, there is no mechanism by which Yale financial aid could be extended directly to outside institutions.  We can envision a process that works nonetheless to reduce the tuition expense incurred by some students who, preparing for reinstatement, elect to take college courses outside of Yale.  We propose that students on financial aid who have successfully completed the course requirements for readmission in the summer prior to reinstatement be forgiven their Student Income Contribution (SIC), currently assessed at $3,050.  Such students should be permitted to apply for this consideration from Yale’s Student Financial Services.

Some students require, upon reinstatement in Yale College, a ninth term in order to complete their Yale degrees.  Currently, for reasons stemming from Federal Financial Aid policies, a “ninth-term penalty” is assessed, by which some students enrolling for a ninth term are expected to produce an additional Student Income Contribution (SIC), currently valued, as noted above, at $3,050.  We propose that Student Financial Services forgive that additional $3,050 expectation, replacing the SIC with a grant funded by the university.

Finally, we want to express our support for maintaining two of the current reinstatement practices that are generous by most institutional standards.  We propose continuing the current practice of not limiting the number of times a student may withdraw for medical reasons or the number of times a student may apply for reinstatement after a medical withdrawal.  We also propose continuing the current practice of not limiting the number of years in which a student can be withdrawn before reinstatement.

Life after reinstatement

In addition to student complaints about withdrawal and the application process for reinstatement, we heard many reinstated students voice their experiences of awkwardness that accompanied their return to enrollment in Yale College.  We suggest that the Chair of the Reinstatement Committee work with the Yale College Dean’s Office to implement practices that would help reinstated students adjust to life back at Yale.  Another concern about life after reinstatement involved the time it took to reactivate the ID cards and Yale email accounts of reinstated students.  We feel strongly that those cards and email accounts should be reactivated within 24 hours of a student’s reinstatement.  

Conclusion

The changes proposed above should improve the experience of many students undergoing the processes of withdrawal and readmission.  The reforms we advocate in this report should clarify for students considering a leave of absence, a withdrawal, or readmission the range of options before them.  They should eliminate some of the anxiety and logistical complexity faced by students and their families during the reinstatement process.  And, finally, several of the changes we propose promise to reduce the costs associated with withdrawal and reinstatement.  Those proposals helping to reduce student expenses include the extension of the period during which a student may elect to take a leave of absence, the elimination of the reinstatement application fee, the increase in awareness of scholarship funds to cover tuition at Yale Summer Sessions, the university-funded waiver of the Student Income Contribution for students who have completed the outside courses required for reinstatement, the university-funded waiver of the SIC for students who are required to enroll in Yale College for a ninth term, the change of deadlines for the reinstatement process, and the opportunity when circumstances warrant to request to interview with the Reinstatement Committee by video teleconference.  

It is of course not our assumption that a reform of the processes of withdrawal and reinstatement will eliminate all the difficulties students experience when they leave Yale during the term or when they return to Yale after a period of absence.  Students who withdraw from Yale College during a semester often do so in complicated, even painful, circumstances. It is our hope, however, that the changes proposed in this report will make what can be a difficult process clearer and less burdensome for the students involved. 

John Rogers, Chair

Jasmina Besirevic-Regan

Caroline G. Hendel

Sara Samuel

Susan Sawyer

Mark Schenker