Students should want to come to class because of the quality of the lecture, not because of an arbitrary attendance policy.
We’ve all been there: the syllabus says that any more than two absences will result in a penalty of however many points or even a dropped letter grade. Sometimes the penalties are enumerated, and sometimes they’re left as a vague threat, and sometimes there’s no number of excused absences on the syllabus, just a note on the importance of coming to class.
That’s fair and fine. Nothing is worse than presenting to an empty classroom, and professors deserve our respect. But the course content itself doesn’t always warrant my undivided, dedicated attention every single class.
Simply put, if I can get an A in a class while regularly missing lectures, my attendance was clearly not strongly correlated with my understanding of the material. That’s not to say that I, and students like me, don’t put in the work outside of class to get good grades. It’s just that I can learn the material on my own.
My grade shouldn’t suffer because I found it more efficient to do the coursework on my own time. If a professor wants me to be in class, the class should be worth coming to. There should be real stakes in missing the lecture that amount to something more than just the professor not liking it.
I’ve had several courses in which I tried my best to attend every session. Skipping was reserved for disasters like migraines or flat tires, things that honestly barred me from making it to the class. Otherwise, I would be in that seat every single day, taking notes and listening intently to my professor and peers. But those lectures were dynamic. There was information that couldn’t be extracted from the texts we read alone. It didn’t matter how engaging or boring the class was because I knew that the professor was offering insights into the subject that would help me succeed.
Some classes, however fun and interesting, are still superfluous. I can get the same education from doing the readings and the assignments. Missing the lecture maximizes my schedule. I have work, clubs, chores to do and errands to run. Why should I go to an hour-long class when I can catch up on the material in 30 minutes and do my laundry at the same time?
Instead of penalizing students for trying to be as efficient as possible, professors should rethink their absence policies, at least for courses that they feel necessitate attendance.
Professors should take attendance each period. Classes that average below an acceptable range should be evaluated. Why are students not coming? What does the class really offer in person that the reading doesn’t? Are the essays and tests too easy to accurately reflect the coursework and the class sessions? If there’s a mismatch in there, then professors can adjust their approach as needed.
Obviously, some courses will always need strict attendance policies. Languages, for instance, are about practice — but language classes are not usually the ones that students feel comfortable skipping anyway.
Seminar classes that rely heavily on student participation also require a high attendance rate. However, if students are skipping frequently in discussion-based classes, it’s still worth evaluating why that is happening. Are the students respectful? Do they stay on topic? I know I and several of my peers often complain that students often use these spaces to talk about their personal experiences rather than what I actually came to class to discuss.
Professors should be open to feedback and willing to steer a conversation back to its main point when the discussion is no longer useful. Small adjustments like this would already improve the quality of the course and thus boost attendance rates.
It’s frustrating to be in a class for the sole reason that I need to attend to maintain my GPA. I imagine it’s also frustrating for professors to look at their students and see blank faces and empty seats. But the problem isn’t usually student laziness. TU is full of smart, capable young adults. The colleges should respect that and offer courses worth our time instead of punishing us for making the rational choice and skipping out on wasted time.