Probation affects students’ academic behavior, says new GSU study

Photo Illustration by Azam Lalani | The Signal

A Georgia State study found that students who are placed on the dean’s list or academic probation are equally likely to experience behavioral or strategic changes in academics.

Nicholas Wright, the economist who conducted the study, said, “[I] examined the academic records of undergraduate students across all majors in the social sciences and the pure, applied and medical sciences. The result is an average impact across students enrolled in majors in these broad categories.”

Wright focused more on first semester students who did not typically have scholarships.

“The study uses data from a large publicly funded university in Jamaica. The dean’s list is the primary measure of public recognition at this institution.” Wright said. “There is no reason to expect the results not to apply to students receiving other forms of public recognition, such as the presidential list or other merit-based awards.”

Assistant Dean of Academic Success John Medlock provided insight on student success in correlation with academic probation.

“The primary purpose of academic warning is to identify students who need extra support and to work with them to get the help they need,” Medlock said.

In this sense, probation is not a punishment but rather just a wake-up call for the student.

Georgia State dean’s list student MacKea Bean said, “It’s a bit of both,” when addressing whether strategy or hard work is utilized more in classes.

Wright noticed in his study that students who were exposed to the academic probation policy were 9 percent more likely to switch their major.

Through this change, students use strategy to heighten their academic performance.

“It suggests students are continuously optimizing their behavior and the match between their skills and the major they are enrolled in. As such, academic probation provides new information to the student about their ability, and they must then decide how to best continue if they choose to continue,” Wright said.

The use of this strategy does not solely pertain to students on academic probation, according to Wright.

“I do find that both policies [probation and public praise] caused students to engage in strategic course-taking behavior. Students exposed to each policy are employing different strategies based on what they are trying to accomplish,” Wright said.

Medlock confirmed these findings concerning students’ strategies when placed on academic probation.

“Those who are having academic difficulties—particularly with specific required courses—often must ask themselves if their chosen major and/or career path is right for them. Changing majors is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if the student makes a change before taking a lot of classes and if the choice of a new major is well thought out,” Medlock said.

Wright said, “While there is no evidence that either policy [has] resulted in any long-run negative outcomes, the results suggests that the positive gains to student academic performance may not be solely driven by increased effort.”

The results of Wright’s study established its purpose as examining the extent to which college students are incentivized to change their behavior when they receive administrative feedback that either reprimands or rewards them for their past academic performance.

“These results do suggest that students are selecting courses that are easier to maintain their dean’s list status,” Wright said in the conclusion of the study.

The results indicate that a university administrator’s actions of reprimanding or rewarding students for their past academic performance may induce important behavioral changes by creating unique strategies to ensure academic success.