Before I was a strategic communication student, I was a neuroscience major. My professors were very intelligent, but they weren’t always able to explain every chemical equation in a way that was digestible.
I found study sessions in the library with my classmates — working out practice problems and learning from each other — to be more valuable than actual class time.
So I decided to attend class less and study the material with my peers during this time instead. Luckily, class attendance wasn’t mandatory, so I wasn’t penalized for finding my own way to learn.
While going to class clearly has value, it isn’t valuable enough to make attendance mandatory. Attendance should not be a determining factor in a student’s final grade, because it doesn’t always measure their understanding of the material.
“If you’re going to take attendance, then I think you should be required to prove you know how to teach so people have a reason to come to your class,” said Bill Newman, an economics professor who doesn’t have an enforced attendance policy.
Having a professor read out of the textbook or only work out practice problems for the entire class period may not be beneficial to all students. If students are to be required to show up to class, a professor should have to figure out a way to accommodate all learning styles.
Professors might assume that taking attendance will force students to show up, thus improving their academic performance. But that’s not always the case.
“Getting the grade and learning aren’t the same thing,” said Mark Leuchter, a religious studies professor who doesn’t have a strict attendance policy.
I agree with Leuchter, and I think attendance is not an accurate measure of what a student is learning.
A study from the University of Texas at San Antonio compared different attendance policies’ effects on students’ exam grades.
“While attendance itself may have beneficial effects for students in terms of academic outcome, an enforced attendance policy seems to have no overall beneficial effect,” the report reads.
The report found a relationship between class attendance and higher exam scores, but the only benefit an enforced attendance policy offers is more motivation for students to attend class.
“As long as the student gets their work done on time, why should their attendance affect their grade in the class,” said Rebecca Criswell, a sophomore art education major.
Newman said when he took attendance in his classes, he noticed that students who showed up didn’t earn the best grades.
“The person has to want to be there and has to want to learn,” Newman said.
Attendance clearly does not mean students are actually paying attention during class. A student may physically be in class, but they could be playing on their phone or computer or studying for another class at the same time — just waiting for their turn with the sign-in sheet.
“That’s not fair at all,” Criswell said. “Half the time students won’t even show up and teachers think they did and that they’re trying, but they aren’t.”
“[Attendance] doesn’t necessarily mean they know [the material] or not,” said Karina Krzyzanski, a freshman nursing major. “It’s just them being there.”
Being in class does not mean information is being retained. It’s also easy for students to get around the policy by signing each other into class.
Though he does not do it himself, Leuchter can understand why some professors enforce attendance. He said it promotes a larger class discussion and invites new communication experiences for students.
Some students find they want to be in class because they paid money to enroll in the course. But because students are the ones paying for the course, they should have the final say in whether they choose to attend.
“If you’re paying for a class it should be up to you,” Criswell said. “[Last year], I got really sick and it was unfair for teachers to be taking off points for absences even though I was handing in high-quality work.”
But not all classes are discussion based. Sometimes it’s not really necessary to come to every class to learn.
And for classes that are discussion based, I think it’s better to create discussion that makes people want to come to class than to require attendance for a grade.
There are so many important factors that go into a student’s academic performance, but attendance is not a valid way to predict that performance.
College students should be responsible enough to understand what learning techniques work best for them. And they should be able to make decisions about which classes to miss — without the threat of it negatively affecting their grade.