Kept From The Classroom: When Your Health Impacts Your Education

When a student has to withdraw from classes because of an emergency or illness, policies on campus require several forms and documents be provided to ensure appropriate arrangements are made at an administrative level.

Infographic made on Canva by Olivia Schouten - News Editor
Infographic made on Canva by Olivia Schouten – News Editor

Depending on how far along in the semester a California Lutheran University student needs to withdraw, they may be responsible for up to 100 percent of their tuition for the incomplete credits.

After that date, the only way to withdraw from classes is through a medical exemption approved by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Melinda Roper and processed through the Registrar’s office.

The tuition withdrawal policy has a separate time frame than the academic calendar. If a student must withdraw from campus within the first two weeks of classes, they will receive an 80 percent refund of their tuition and maintain responsibility of the remaining 20 percent. A withdrawal during the third or fourth week results in a 40 percent refund of tuition and student responsibility for the remaining 60 percent. After the sixth week of classes, students are responsible for 100 percent of their tuition and room and board fees to the university.

If a student has taken out personal or federal loans to attend school, withdrawal may have further implications for loan remittance and repayment options.

Sarah Girgis, a Cal Lutheran ‘18 alumna who now works as a campaign manager for U.S. consumer print marketing at HP Inc., was gone from school for a year after being diagnosed with a rare form of soft-tissue and osteosarcoma cancer.

Although Girgis did not have to leave classes mid-semester, she ran into the problem that she would be expected to start paying off loans after being out of school for more than six months. Not to mention, her family had expenses—from medical bills to buying a new mattress after marrow transplants that left Girgis laying on her dog’s bed, the softest spot in the house.

Girgis said her adviser Ryan Medders, a communication professor, and mentor Molly George, a criminology and criminal justice professor, began seeking out other options.

“Molly George talked to everyone…of course Cal Lu was like, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you,’” Girgis said. “Except, I could be a part-time student.”

Girgis set up a research project that she could work on while receiving treatment, examining her own experiences and “the sociology of being sick.” These credits kept her from having to begin paying loans, but resulted in higher tuition costs since her scholarships would no longer apply as a part-time student.

Girgis said in regards to her scholarships, the financial aid office would give “no forgiveness or acknowledgment” of her condition, but she realizes that they need to be “extremely impartial” with student’s cases.

“Praise Jesus, we did a GoFundMe, and it went viral,” said Girgis, who explained that between savings meant for traveling after graduation, donations and the help of a family friend, her tuition and a substantial portion of medical expenses were covered.

Because she went part-time, Girgis also graduated on time in four years.

The academic calendar allows students to withdraw from a class up until approximately the tenth week of the semester and receive a ‘W’ that does not affect their GPA, but shows up on transcripts.

In an email interview regarding the medical withdrawal process, Roper wrote, “Students are asked to complete a brief medical withdrawal request form and to provide a statement detailing the reason for the request.  Finally, medical documentation and a statement from a treating physician in support of the request is also required.”

Roper noted that medical withdrawals may be denied without sufficient documentation of the medical issue, but students have other options for withdrawing through the Registrar’s office.

If a student registers for a class but does not complete any withdrawal procedures with Roper or Registrar and does not complete the course, they receive a ‘UW’, which is an uncompleted withdrawal and reads as an ‘F’ on their transcripts. In addition to the decrease in GPA, there are more severe financial implications for withdrawing late in the semester.

Angela Naginey, Cal Lutheran’s senior director of student success, said that students are able to use medical withdrawal procedures for a wide variety of health-related circumstances.

“The most important thing is that students take the time needed to take care of themselves,” Naginey said.

Naginey, who also serves on the Campus Awareness Referral and Education (CARE) team, said students may not realize how the medical exemption may be applied and that the definition of ‘medical’ can be very broad. If a student needs urgent physical or psychological care, they may qualify for medical leave, but students who have a death in the family or need to take time off to care for a relative may also seek medical leave at any point if it becomes necessary.

“I always tell students that we’re not going anywhere…When you’re ready [to return], I’m your contact,” Naginey said.

Students intending to return to the university after their leave receive communication provided to all students and, in special circumstances, additional outreach. Students may take up to one semester without having to reapply for admittance to Cal Lutheran. After the second semester, former students are required to fill out a one-page re-admittance application to get their credits in order.

Girgis said it was important that she had people on her side who helped her throughout the process of managing her classes and finances while she was battling cancer and undergoing chemotherapy.

“Medical leave on college campuses is completely misunderstood overall,” Girgis said. “It is so amazing I had faculty I was close to that were advocates for me.”

By Dakota Allen
Editor in Chief

Katherine Lippert