Law Office of Michelle Ball College,Community Colleges,CSU,discipline,policy,student rights College Difficulties? Check the College Policies First

College Difficulties? Check the College Policies First


Last Updated on March 26, 2021 by Michelle Ball

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

What is one of the first steps a student should take when faced with a problem at a college or university, such as a discipline matter or internship difficulty? The student should first check the written POLICIES of that college.

Complex Policies May Help A Student When Not Followed

Checking the college policies may sound like a simplistic answer, and it may be, but it is effective.  An important question when evaluating a private or public college matter is “What do their policies say?”  This is because colleges generally must follow their own written rules.

College polices can be quite large, and may be reflected in the formal policies, as well as catalogs, contracts, the school website, and in course-specific handbooks. If you think about how big university websites may be (see UC Davis site as an example), it can be seen that applicable college policies can be vast. Because of this, not all college staff may know or apply them properly.

When college or university staff fail to follow the policies, this can help a student as they can then show the college is not providing the services they promised in exchange for the student’s tuition.

A failure to follow their own policies may be used against a college to lessen a proposed punishment or even to reverse an action taken by the college.

Policies Bind Colleges


State and federal laws define mandatory items required of colleges, yet there are large areas which are left entirely up to the college to develop. Once created, the college staff must follow their own policies.

Students rely on college representations and it would be unfair to students for a college to create a rule, a student to rely on it, and the college to fail to implement it, wouldn’t it?

For example, there may be no law regarding the procedures of internal hearings, student appeals, or the right of an attorney to attend a college discipline hearing.  So, these matters may be up to the college to determine. The college created policies then bind them.


Advantages For Students

I have been involved in multiple matters where colleges had written policies which were not followed, and this failure gave the student the leverage to resolve a seemingly unresolvable matter.

For example, a student may be expelled from a university, but it could be found afterward the college broke their own hearing policies. This may be enough to get an expulsion reversed on appeal or via contact with college legal counsel.

Breaches of policy by a university can provide convincing arguments for a student, such as lack of a fair hearing, breach of due process mandates, or excessive punishment. These may be key to resolving even the most difficult matters. 

A check of the college and university policies can help a student see just what the college promised, and also what they failed to do.

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