A few things happened recently that made it seem necessary to write a blog post on attending class.
- A student was dropped from class because she skipped too many times before the mid-term. The reason? She didn’t like the class and felt she knew everything well enough that all she needed to do was take the tests.
- A student was dropped from class because he missed more than the allowed number of absences. The reason? He was sick, his uncle died, and then went on vacation with his family.
Let me start by confessing my own biases when it comes to attendance. As a professor and the daughter of a school teacher, I kind of, sort of, really think that attending class is important. Very important. I skipped one class in college and I felt tremendously guilty about it, so guilty that I never did it again as an undergraduate. However, I know that the students I teach sometimes come to my institution with a different mindset.
This mindset is also compounded by the myths they hear from others about how professors don’t care whether you attend or not. It seems obvious to say that attendance is a predictor of success in a class, but students need to know that the myth that one can just show up for tests is, well, a myth.
Add the mistaken belief that professors “don’t care” about attendance to the occasional oversleeping or belief they have to be interested to attend and your student can find themselves in trouble pretty quickly. Even if you don’t think your student needs a reminder to attend every class they can, I am suggesting that you talk to them, especially if they are first-year students, about the costs of missing classes.
- Instill in your student the importance of showing up even when they don’t feel like it. You may want to calculate how much each day of a course costs to show them that they are wasting money ($134.64 a day per class for my own kid). Or you may frame the discussion in learning the soft skills of the workforce: An employee who shows up to work regularly is more likely to be a valued employee.
- Guide your student in making wise choices about whether or not to attend if they are sick. I am not advocating that a student with the flu must drag themselves to class. I am referring to times when students “don’t feel like it” because of some vague symptom that is more likely that the are not interested in the course or want to hang out with friends.
- Remind your student to review the syllabus and speak with professors if there is a need to be absent. A common mistake I see students make is they email professors that they will be out and then assume that their email message is their “get out of jail free” card. While it is a good idea to let the professor know about the absence, your student should not assume that they will get an excused absence. Another common mistake students make is not keeping up with their absences and with the course attendance policy.
- Refrain from making family vacation or travel plans for your student during the semester. While it may be difficult to imagine a family vacation without your college student, please think twice before committing them to a plane ticket to Aruba during their finals week (true story)! Most professors are not going to rearrange their schedule to give a cruise-going college student an important mid-term exam. Always check the academic calendar and avoid scheduling trips during times that your student will be enrolled.
- Review requirements for financial aid and special programs. While a scholarship may not require that a student attend all class sessions, it can very well require that a student complete a certain number of credit hours in a year. A student who is dropped from classes because of non-attendance can find it difficult if not impossible to meet those credit hour requirements. If your student is enrolled in a special program, such as honors, getting dropped for non-attendance may put that membership into jeopardy.
What are the consequences of not attending regularly? They can vary, for sure, but there is a cost. The college student in the first example put her very generous scholarship on the line because she was dropped from a class. Needless to say, she was very stressed at the thought of losing it. The second student was already on probation and now has made it even more difficult to improve his GPA within this semester. For sure, both of them have learned a valuable–and maybe costly–lesson about the importance of attendance.