Are Attendance Policies Necessary?

Hana Zherka ’22, Guest Columnist

When you graduate high school and begin college, you are often thrown into the deep end of responsibility. Some of it can be nice, maybe you decide you’d like to stay over at your friend’s until 1:00 a.m., or else decide to get high on a Wednesday afternoon. Some can just be annoying: you’re expected to do your own laundry, clean your own dishes, sometimes cook your own food. The point is, maybe you make some reckless mistakes. Maybe you have ice cream for dinner one too many times. But you learn from your mistakes. Often, it really is only mistakes from which you can learn. With this personal freedom also comes academic responsibility. You’ve graduated high school, and hopefully picked up a good work ethic and study skills on the way. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here. So, why do professors feel that they must limit this freedom with attendance policies?

Look, the general guideline of logic is that, if you go to class, you do better. This is intuitive and has been backed up by scientific studies, according to Anna Lukkarinen in the publishing Relationship between Class Attendance and Student Performance. But there were some students in the study, however, who did well despite having low attendance. The problem is, the Dunning-Kreuger effect. The effect says that people who are incompetent often overestimate their skill. In this way, many students may think that they are the exception to the rule, that they can not attend class and do well. So, then you have hordes of students not going to class, and then failing their midterm exams, not allowing them time to catch back up. The answer to this, however, are weekly mini-quizzes to check student’s progress for both the professor and the student. 

Professors also might fear that if attendance is not mandatory, their classes will be empty. But—hear me out – this is a good thing. If students aren’t coming to your class, it might be time to rethink your course. If students do not come to class, they don’t feel engaged in the material or challenged by it. They think that they can simply read the textbook and pass the tests. If this is true, as is indicated by a lack of attendance, then what are you getting paid for? In this way, as well, students can let the students vote with their attendance.

In addition, making students show up to class doesn’t make them engage in the material. If a student doesn’t want to be there, they will find away, mentally or physically. They might do work for another class, or a Sudoku puzzle, or simply space out and not pay attention. If this is the case, no one is benefitting from their presence. If the students who want to be there and are engaging in the material are in class, it makes for a much richer class environment. 

That all being said, I do also understand the merits of mandatory attendance. Often classes may be discussion-based, so the only way to actually experience the class is to be there. In addition, theoretically, education is not just about whether students can pass a test or not, it’s about the experience and other intangible things. A professor doesn’t just want students to know the answers to a test, they want them to be well-versed in the subject. At the end of the day, it’s a very utilitarian argument. There are simply more students that a mandatory attendance policy helps than those who either won’t go to class and succeed or do go to class and fail. 

But I still don’t want to go to Spanish 102 every day when I’ve already taken four years of it. And the kid who has already talked about “the state” in three other political science classes doesn’t want to have to go to that same class for that fourth time. And, even more importantly, I want the freedom and autonomy to choose.