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    June 2017

    New Guidance on Student Discipline Transcript Notations for Higher Education

    In June 2017, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) released guidance regarding the use of transcript notations to reflect student disciplinary actions, including discipline imposed for sexual misconduct. The goals of the guidance are to enhance transparency and standardize practices among institutions and promote consistency and fairness to all students involved in internal disciplinary procedures. 

    While AACRAO standards are voluntary, the organization has a large and broad professional membership that represents more than 2,500 public and private higher education institutions. It focuses on best practices in admissions, records management, and student services. As a result, recommendations in the guidance will likely be instructive to courts regarding how institutions should note disciplinary matters on student transcripts. This issue is particularly important when respondents who challenge the outcome of disciplinary proceedings seek nonmonetary relief that includes alterations of their transcripts.

    Key Recommendations

    The new guidance recommends that higher ed institutions:

    • Provide notification of serious misconduct. When a student has committed “serious behavioral misconduct,” institutions should notify any receiving institution, including transfer or graduate institutions. Serious behavioral misconduct includes any act that results in mandatory separation. Offenses that would likely trigger this notice obligation include all criminal offenses as defined by the Clery Act, such as sexual assault and domestic or dating violence.
    • Use appropriate notification methods. An academic transcript is one appropriate method. Others include a student conduct transcript, a dean’s certification letter, or a transcript insert
    • Understand when notification is unnecessary. Disciplinary actions that do not result in mandatory separation from an institution, such as disciplinary probation and warnings for “minor violations,” should not be disclosed to other institutions.
    • Know what to include in the notice. Institutions should use consistent, standardized language to describe sanctions or penalties for student misconduct: “expulsion” or “dismissal” to indicate a permanent separation from the institution and “suspension” to indicate a temporary separation (with the possibility of a future return). 

      When a student is expelled, dismissed, or suspended, a transcript notation should state:

      • Whether the violation was academic or disciplinary
      • The department responsible for the student’s separation, such as Office of Student Conduct
      • The effective date or, if applicable (i.e., for suspensions), the date or term ranges of the student’s separation
    • How to note an unresolved disciplinary matter. When a misconduct investigation or hearing is in progress or planned, the institution’s policies may prevent it from releasing an official transcript until the matter concludes. If not, an institution may put a “pending conduct” statement on a transcript.
    • If an institution allows a student to withdraw during an investigation, it may use a special transcript notation that should be updated as appropriate when the matter concludes. For example, the institution should replace the special notation with the standard suspension or expulsion notation if it finds the student in violation and suspends or expels the student. On the other hand, the institution should remove the special notation if it finds no violation.

    • When to place the notice on a transcript. Institutions should place transcript notations at the end of the semester or term in which the sanction occurs. If necessary, the institution should include further explanation and instructions on how to obtain additional information
    • Ensure comprehensive student conduct rules exist. Institutions should have comprehensive policies and processes that clearly document their codes of student conduct, infractions, institutional review panels, sanctions, due process (including appeals), and recording and disclosure practices, as well as specific language about the retention and removal of transcript notations.
    • Properly handle the receipt of transcripts with disciplinary notations. Institutions should have comprehensive and consistent admissions procedures in place for applicants with sanctions at other institutions. Moreover, institutions should not apply negative consequences to students whose transcripts show a disciplinary notation without seeking or considering further information.

    Applicable State Laws

    Institutions must comply with any state laws governing transcript notations for disciplinary violations. As of mid-2017, New York and Virginia require public institutions to use transcript notations for students who are expelled or suspended for misconduct, including sexual violence. Several other states, including California, Colorado, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Texas, have considered but not enacted similar requirements. Institutions should consult legal counsel regularly about pending or potential legislation in their states.


    Transcript Disciplinary Notations: Guidance to AACRAO Members, June 2017

    By Hillary Pettegrew, senior risk management counsel


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