Attendance Matters!

Why Students Should Show Up to Class Regularly

Posted Sep 12, 2016

A long, long time ago in an academic world that now seems far, far away, I never took attendance in my classes. I didn’t really need to do so. Most students came routinely and life for them did not seem so hectic.

Fast-forward a few decades: Students perceive their lives to be very busy and attending class is only one—ONE—part of the “College Experience.” To be sure, many students always come to class, but there is another group for whom attendance is more sporadic. As a result, I and many other faculty members now take roll in each and every class. We do so to reward regular attendees (perhaps, too, to track class participation) and, regrettably, to send warnings or even to penalize those students who attend less frequently.

Why attend class? Well, as a student, you are a part of that class’s community—you have a responsibility to share your ideas on readings and to contribute. If you are not there regularly, you are not an active participant. Other students have to pick up your slack, as it were.

Second, if you are not there and not contributing, you are not learning as effectively as you might. More to the point, those who do attend each class should receive some reward (e.g., a higher participation grade) for being responsible members of the class “community.”

Third, consider a very practical matter: The economics of missing a class, the actual cost of doing so. By missing a class, you are “spending” money you will never get back and you are getting nothing for it (well, you may be sleeping or doing something you deem to be more important at that moment than being a part of the class, but the “cost” is now “sunk”). If you are paying your way through school, then that lost money is on you. If someone else (Mom and Dad come to mind), then you are essentially throwing away their money—or at least not getting your (their) “money’s worth.”

Now, I am not saying you can’t miss a class for a serious reason—illness, fatigue, some pressing engagement, or some other legitimate reason. Of course you can miss—just don’t make it a habit. When I was a student, I did not like having to ask a professor for permission to miss a class—it was infantilizing and I was an adult. So, when I became a professor, I vowed not to ask my students why they missed—if they missed a class or two, I assumed it must be for a good reason—their reason(s)—and told them not to tell me (in other words, as adults, we get to make choices). I still follow this reasoning, but I encourage them to attend most classes. As Woody Allen once observed, “80 percent of life is showing up.” Why not do it?

What can faculty members do to encourage attendance? Obviously, making a class interesting is a good way to begin. Reducing the amount of lecturing in favor or discussion—real intellectual exchange about the course topics—is another good thing to do. Making the assignments clear from the start of the term along with their due dates (via a detailed syllabus) is a good start. Choosing engaging books or other readings (journal articles, novels, nonfiction) is also a good idea. It’s not rocket science (unless, of course, that’s the class topic). Students should want to be in class—and effective instructors create an environment that promotes the desire to be there.