Is it time we end the attendance requirement at colleges?

  • Physically present, mentally absent

Lata Jain

Most schools expect students to attend all of their classes. After all, what would be the point in enrolling students to get an education and then figuring they didn’t need to actually show up? Specific attendance policies can vary from one college to another or even from one class to another. Some colleges might consider missing class to play in a sports game, take part in an academic competition or go on a field trip an official excuse and could therefore be more accepting of the reason. Professors might also be more understanding of absence due to illness and many of the decisions on what kinds of absences and how many are acceptable could be completely up to their discretion. Is it time we end the attendance requirement at colleges?

lata jain

Lata Jain

In many city colleges, students deemed to have ‘excessive absences’ could end up receiving a failing grade for the class. As another example, students who miss too many classes at several degree colleges could be removed from the course. Several degree college students who are removed from two or three of their classes within a single semester because of their poor attendance could even be asked to withdraw from the college.

Even not going to a single class means that students are robbing themselves of something extremely important – their education. Getting a degree is not a cheap endeavor, so it’s a waste of money to skip classes and not learn everything that you can. You’re at college to learn and that can be hard to do if you don’t actually go to class.

With all the ‘necessary’ and ‘relevant’ amendments and changes, many Universities came up with an innovative idea to compel students to attend lectures. I am not saying attending lectures is a burden but with this rule, it is made to seem that way. It is one of the crass ways to bully students into classes out of compulsion and not out of interest.

So a person would be attending lectures not because he is interested, not because he wants to learn something new but only because he wants to complete the quota of 75%of his attendance. In our country, one can vote when he is 18, which implies that he is capable of choosing a government for the country. He can decide on the future of the country. But when it comes to his education, the power of decision is snatched away from him.

Let the decision be in the hands of the students if he wants to attend class. If he does not, he will surely face consequences by failing in the particular subject. But this rule also suggests that no matter what, you have to be in class. Even if you are unwell or whatsoever. It’s high time the University got back on its dictatorship.

An additional aspect of mandatory attendance that must be taken into consideration is the possible distraction caused by students who show up to class only to earn points yet distract other students as they do everything under the sun except listen to the professor. For instance, it is not uncommon to go into a college lecture and see many students doing one of the following: sleeping, Face book chatting, online shopping, watching funny animal videos on YouTube, streaming live sporting events (boys) and pinning wedding dresses on Pin Interest (girls).

Nadia, student of Law at Osmania University says, she does not believe professors should allow students to get away with missing a large number of classes. However, she also thinks a policy that requires attendance to every class is too limiting. Instead, Nadia thinks professors should have mandatory attendance with a few absences allowed.

“I don’t think attendance should be mandatory unless a few ‘free days’ are provided, because I think by the university level, students have the right and responsibility to prioritize their own time,” Nadia said. “I think it would be unfair for a student to be penalized if they, for instance, chose to forgo a lecture in favor of working on a semester project.”

Nadia said most of her professors either don’t have an attendance policy or, if one is in place, students are allowed to miss a certain number of days in the semester without being penalized.

“I think this is preferable to a more strict attendance policy, as it allows students appropriate control of their own schedules,” she said.

While Sirish sidamshetty student of JNTU does not mind professors who have attendance requirements, he recognizes that not all of his peers share her opinion. He said he tries to regularly attend his classes to learn from the lectures, but he knows there are many students who do not share his learning style and would prefer to learn the material on their own.

Faculty and administration support attendance policies because they believe student’s grades will be higher even though the available research does not support this. Faculty, administration, and students sometimes have conflicting views on attendance policies. Attendance policies are generally left to the discretion of the instructor, supported by the administration. Ultimately, attendance is the responsibility of the student. Instructors want the students to attend, students want to attend but sometimes need motivation. Even though attendance increases when it is required, attendance in college classes should not be required because students must believe the class is valuable in order to attend, motivation influences achievement, and attendance does not always improve performance.

One study shows that attendance increases as much as 13% when it is required. In classes where attendance demonstrates knowledge, such as a foreign language or laboratory courses, it is appropriate to require attendance since it is a part of the grading structure. Mandatory attendance benefits those students not fully prepared for college or those at high risk of dropping out. Students with auditory or kinesthetic learning styles also perform better with required attendance.

A strong argument why mandatory attendance in college classes should not be required is that regular attendance does not ensure academic success. There have been numerous studies done on the effect absenteeism has on academic achievement. In one of the city college’s the attendance policy was enforced and as expected, attendance improved; however, they concluded that attendance did not affect grades. In another study, studies by Delhi University in 1976 analyzed student grades before enacting a mandatory attendance policy. There were fewer Bs, more Ds and Fs, but slightly more as after the attendance policy was enforced. Research scholars analyzed the grades but failed to include attendance data, making it impossible to relate attendance and grades. Research evidence on the relationship between the two is inconclusive. If studies cannot prove or disprove the relationship between grades and attendance why enforce the policy?

When I arrived at university I was keen and ready for study. As my personal statement put it, I was an ardent learner says Rhea a student of MBA.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered a glut of apathy among my fellow students. There were hard workers, of course — those who knew their Yale from their Keats, their Pope from their Poe. But all too often they were counterbalanced by “phantom students”, those who rarely showed up to class and — when they did, never say anything.

Towards the end of the autumn term, when turnout in seminars was dwindling, my department staged a debate about whether attendance should be compulsory. It was a talk which — in a fortunate circumvention of irony — was itself well-attended. There was overwhelming support for creating attendance guidelines, and the faculty ruled that students should turn up to at least 80% of seminars.

School is, of course, different to university, and for some people such disengagement is not a problem. Higher studies especially after 12th standard, they argue, is about independent learning, and students have the right to manage their time as they see fit — even if this means missing class. We are a college going nation wherein students are physically present but mentally absent.

The spotlight in education should be on attention, not on attendance. On work, not on an unrealistic framework. A fixed percentage of attendance as an eligibility requirement has long outlasted its relevance. It needs to be given a quiet burial. The sooner, the better.

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