New medical withdrawal policy could save time and money for students


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Lindsey Settle

While there has always been a standard withdrawal policy for students who need to drop out of their classes for personal reasons, there was no medical withdrawal policy in place until Aug. 1, 2017.

The medical withdrawal policy allows for students to withdraw from classes if a physical or mental health concern starts to interfere with their academic success. According to Assistant Dean and Director of Student Assistance Kipp Van Dyke, a majority of the reasons students take a medical withdrawal are mental health, stress and anxiety related.

The new medical withdrawal policy is not aimed at stopping students from taking a withdrawal or even lowering the number of withdrawals, but rather identifying concerning patterns of students taking multiple withdrawals, connecting students to available resources and addressing the issue of whether or not a student can be successful after returning from a withdrawal.

Director of Undergraduate Programs and an advising voice to the medical withdrawal policy committee Diann Burright said the policy came to fruition because of a number of factors, including students and families assuming there was already a medical withdrawal policy in place.

Another reason was students taking multiple withdrawals with no progress of healing.

“They weren’t addressing their health issues and they would reoccur,” Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke also included the financial impact of withdrawing, and how dropping out of classes can affect financial aid.

“What was happening was there was some students who kept having the same struggle…that caused a lot of money,” Van Dyke said. 

For the fall semester of 2017, 425 students, or 1.2 percent, of the total student population, withdrew for a standard, medical or out-of-term reason.

This semester’s drop deadline to drop without extenuating circumstances was Mar. 23.

There is no separate medical withdrawal form from the standard form to fill out. To designate that you are dropping classes for a medical reason, students simply check a box on the standard withdrawal form.

What makes the medical withdrawal form separate from the standard form is that students who check the medical withdrawal form box will receive an in-person meeting with a student assistance staff member prior to their return.

In reality, students have the choice on whether to turn the form in as a regular withdrawal form or as a medical withdrawal form.

“In theory you can say ‘I’m not going to tell my doctor or my advisor,’ and you wouldn’t check the box then and you wouldn’t get the check on the way back in,” said Van Dyke.

However, a student becomes less likely to receive support on their return to classes if they do not use the medical withdrawal policy.

There are three periods of time when you can drop within the semester. Period One spans the first five days of the fall or spring semester, Period Two continues through weeks two through ten and Period Three goes from week 11 to 15.

An outside of semester withdrawal is called an out-of-term withdrawal and requires the most amount of evidence to be considered a medical withdrawal.

Out of term withdrawal is held to a higher standard, as is dropping with extenuating circumstances compared to dropping before the deadline.

If students turn in the medical withdrawal form post withdrawal deadline or during Period Three, they must provide documentation. Prior to the deadline no documentation is required. Documentation could simply be a written note from a doctor.

A medical withdraw is relevant prior to the drop deadline even if you provide no evidence, because students will still receive a check in on their return to classes.

Prior to returning to classes, a student must complete a meeting where they provide evidence that shows their wellbeing and readiness to succeed.

Students with minor medical issues, such as a healed broken wrist, can easily be checked off as ready to go, while other students needing further aid will be assisted with finding accommodations and resources to make their transition back to Iowa State as easy as possible.

“It’s not that it’s a high bar. It’s just that there is a door to walk through on the way back. A check-in point is really a good way to say it,” said Burright.

There are many available services at Iowa State that can provide students with support, and the check-in point connects students to those services.

Director of Student Enrollment, Advising and Career Services Jane Jacobson said that “putting that extra step on the return was intended to make sure that students are well connected with the support that’s available at the university. Students may not understand or appreciate what our disability services office can do for them. They may not fully appreciate what student counseling or student health can do.”

A student could be potentially denied a request to drop with extenuating circumstances or out-of-term withdrawal.

A possible example of a student not being allowed to take classes right away after taking a medical withdrawal would be that they fill out a medical withdrawal form in the last few weeks of the spring semester and want to take summer classes following that semester. With only a few weeks until summer classes begin, that student could potentially be unable to show the university that their situation has changed and are ready to be successful.

“A student could take it as, in a situation like that, it could feel limiting,” said Van Dyke.

However, appeals are possible and a committee seriously reviews the weight of their decision.

A date has been set for this summer for the committee to reevaluate whether the policy is working.

“What we thought was a good way to solve issues five, 10 years ago needs to be refreshed,” said Jacobson.

Students can access the withdrawal form on the office of the registrar’s website.