A new policy taking effect this fall will make it easier for University of Wisconsin System students to suspend their coursework without academic or financial penalty under certain medical circumstances.

System President Tommy Thompson approved the Medical Withdrawal Policy in January in recognition of the extraordinary circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic along with the behavioral health challenges facing students. The policy, recommended by the Student Behavioral Health workgroup established by former President Ray Cross in 2019, will apply to all 13 UW System universities. Currently, three universities have medical withdrawal policies.

“This policy is another way the UW System seeks to serve its students,” Thompson said. “We understand that sometimes there is no other option than withdrawal and that unforeseen circumstances can emerge at any time.”

The new policy will improve transparency and consistency for students, increase retention and graduation, and position the UW System for post-pandemic realities.

Signed by President Thompson last month, the policy is triggered when students experience a serious or unexpected physical or behavioral health condition, the death of an immediate family member, or the need to care for a family member who has experienced a serious or unexpected physical or behavioral health condition. It will apply after the 100 percent refund period and documentation of the extenuating circumstances will be required.

The standard 100 percent refund period on all UW campuses ends two weeks into the term for full-semester classes, and students can receive a 50 percent refund for withdrawal within the next two weeks. The new policy outlines a more flexible refund schedule when a student’s circumstances meet the medical withdrawal criteria. Eligible students will be able to receive a pro-rated refund up to the end of the semester dependent upon the date of the withdrawal during the semester. A process for a student’s return to campus, and a process for handling transcript adjustments are also outlined in the new policy.

Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis and the process will be managed by a centralized office at each campus that can provide guidance, support, and referrals to students.

The policy will undergo a review in January 2024.

It is the latest in a series of steps by the UW System to address the behavioral health needs of students. Other steps include implementation of the SilverCloud digital mental health platform, cultural competency training for mental health and medical providers on UW campuses, and hiring of a Student Behavioral Health Coordinator in the Office of Student Success.

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