Course syllabi lay out the specifics of the class: quizzes, required readings, supplemental materials, etc. Failing to understand the syllabus is very much equivalent to failing the course. Yet there is one feature of nearly all syllabi that haunts students from the first day to finals week (and unfairly so): the attendance policy.
Professors often require students to attend lectures by apportioning attendance to the overall course grade. But why? Grades should be dependent on a student’s work—nothing more. And despite that commonsensical stance, attendance policies permeate college syllabi nonetheless. The common defenses to attendance policies are as follows:
Attendance policies teach responsibility for the workplace since employers require attendance. Students should be prepared for this reality.
But there is a distinction between college and work. In the workforce we must abide by the employer’s standards because we are selling our time and energy to the company. In the classroom, however, we are not choosing the professor, curriculum, or syllabus standards. We, as students, are spending hundreds and thousands of dollars for the class subject. In other words, the dynamics switch and it is no longer the students obligated to a superior, but the university obligated to the students—obligated to provide accredited classes that will equip its students with the skills needed for a career. What matters most in an employment situation is regular, consistent attendance. It doesn’t matter if you are a great barista at Starbucks, eventually the shift manager will drop you if you don’t show up. What matters most in a classroom setting is mastery of the subject/topic, nothing more. It shouldn’t matter if the student is absent or quiet in the back row, the grades they receive on their tests and essays should determine their comprehension of the course materials.
Also, the notion that college students must be taught or prepared to confront the reality of daily work schedule is preposterous. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, over 70% of undergraduate students are employed (part-time or full-time) while enrolled in their studies. Mandatory attendance policies are a solution to a non-issue as students are gaining real experience on how to operate responsibly in the workforce.
Moreover, students have been indoctrinated with strict time schedules since kindergarten. With approximately twelve years of rotated shifts in the public education system, college students are fully aware of what mandatory attendance is before enrolling in their first introductory writing course. Higher education should not be an extension of this. We are adults, and attendance should be the least of professors’ considerations.
More students attend class if attendance is imperative to their grade; students perform better in the course if they attend class.
Of course more students attend class if their grades suffer otherwise. Treating attendance like a graded assignment will elicit a stronger reaction from students because our grade now hinges on how many hours we sit in a chair.
I can attest that attending class is helpful in some classes because they are discussion-centered or because the professors expound on material otherwise unavailable. One of my past classes, Critical Theory in Literature, revolved around class discussions, and attending class was crucial to passing the quizzes. This does not condone the attendance policy for that class, though. My grade suffered when I missed a class discussion on Oscar Wilde or structuralism, but how is it fair to add additional penalties on top of that? Students do better when they understand the material; that is a cause-effect relationship. Sitting in class is correlation, not causation.
Students owe it to the professor to attend every class. That is the respectful thing to do.
We actually don’t. I mean no disrespect to professors. In fact, I envision becoming one in the future someday. But this notion that we owe professors our time doesn’t make a ton of sense. Think about it, why? We are paying the university for a satisfactory or exemplary academic experience, not the other way around. As for our professors, we choose them mostly by random since their syllabi and pedagogical styles are rarely (if ever) disclosed. We don’t know what we signed up and paid hundreds of dollars for until classes start, and then what? Drop the class?
We are expected to accept this unfair weight on our grades because … dogma. Granted, not every professor weighs attendance the same way: some grade chair-sitting as 5% of the course, some 15%. The point is that we are adults. We shouldn’t have to be academically penalized because our sitter cancelled last minute and we have to watch our kids. We shouldn’t have to be penalized full letter grades for not sitting in a chair if we’re acing all our assignments. It’s 2017: Let’s update our pedagogy.