Attendance policies remain varied
October 26, 2006
Class attendance policies have always been a topic of debate, generating contrasting opinions amongst students, staff and faculty.
Some say faculty should omit attendance policies for classes, while others say they are necessary to the learning experience of students.
The campus attendance policy cited in the UW-River Falls undergraduate catalog states it is the student’s responsibility to attend every class and meet the course’s requirements.
Some faculty members and departments implement their own rules into their courses, making attendance a requirement. The policies generally include calculating attendance into a student’s final grade and limiting the number of missed classes.
Several studies have been done to see how students’ grades are affected by attendance, and a strong correlation has been found between the two.
An article written by professor Richard C. Schiming at the University of Minnesota-Mankato summarized recent studies about the role of class attendance on class performance.
The results revealed that while some students did well in classes without regular attendance, some did not. It was concluded that attendance significantly affects students’ grades and performance in class.
A few years ago, the health and human performance department agreed to a rule for all lifetime activity general education requirement courses. The policy states that students may miss one class without penalty, and five points are deducted for each day missed after that.
For other departments, faculty members are free to make their own policies as long as they are stated in the syllabi.
Professor and history and philosophy department Chair Betty Bergland said her department does not have a universal attendance policy, but she and most of the faculty members expect regular attendance.
“I believe that attendance is important to the progress and understanding in the courses,” Bergland said. “Consequently, I do take attendance and include this in grading students.”
Political Science professor Neil Kraus has had an attendance requirement for his classes for several years.
“I used to have a participation policy without attendance, but I thought it made more sense to put the two together and give students an incentive to come to class regularly and participate,” Kraus said. “Occasionally someone would miss a lot of class, and then would show up and participate a lot. It wasn’t fair to everyone else who came regularly, and I don’t think those two groups should be evaluated the same way.”
Kraus said he has seen positive results from implementing the requirement.
“It helps me learn students’ names faster, and it makes it easier at the end of the semester to decide what a student’s grade is,” Kraus said. “I believe to be an informed student, you need to be [in class] regularly.”
While studies show class attendance significantly affects a student’s grade, some students, staff and faculty have a different opinion on attendance policies.
They believe attendance policies should not be implemented for several reasons. One is that a professor should make students want to come to class.
“Professors should encourage students to attend class not by making it a requirement, but by making attending class worthwhile for a student,” student Jessica Vetter said.
Stephen Olsen, professor and marketing communications department chair, has a similar opinion.
“My personal stance is if I can’t make a class interesting and worthwhile enough for students to attend, I am probably in the wrong profession,” Olsen said.
Plant and earth science professor Terry Ferriss said she does her best to make her class worthwhile.
“In my classes, students must show up for exams, quizzes and field trips, however, what they do otherwise is up to them,” Ferriss said. “But I do include enough additional information beyond the textbook that most find it helpful to come to class.”
Another common reason people believe professors should not have attendance policies is because the students are paying to go to school, and they should have the option to decide on their own.
“In general, I think it is clear that students who regularly attend class do much better on exams and other evaluated assignments than those for whom attendance is seen as optional,” Olsen said. “But it’s the student’s nickel. They only hurt themselves by not attending.”
Since students are paying for college, they should not be forced to go to class, Vetter said. “They should be able to decide on their own if they want to attend classes.”
Agricultural economics professor David Trechter said students who chose to not attend class give up services they pay for.
“Students or their parents are paying for the privilege of being at UWRF, and if a student chooses to not attend class, they are simply choosing to forego the services that those tuition dollars purchase,” Trechter said.
Journalism Chair Colleen Callahan and Provost Charlie Hurt said students are adults and should be responsible for their own decisions.
“If this were K-12, I would require attendance, but college students are adults and responsible for their own decisions,” Callahan said.
Hurt said the University needs to give students the opportunity to be responsible.
“Part of the educational experience is to figure out how to experience responsibility as an adult,” Hurt said.
He said he prefers an attendance policy that doesn’t have huge consequences.
“My preference is that this campus doesn’t have an attendance policy that penalizes students for lack of attendance,” Hurt said.
A few students said some professors’ attendance policies are too strict.
“It seems a lot of classes require you to come to class regardless of any reason, and you lose points if you miss,” student Jon Hellinga said.
Students said sometimes they have to miss class because they have other homework, are not feeling well or don’t have a reason to go because the notes or assignments are available on the Desire2Learn Web site or in the Courses folder.
Sometimes there is a time-management conflict, and students have to choose to go to class or do homework, Vetter said.
“Most students are taking at least 15 credits a semester, working part-time or full-time jobs, and have to make time for homework for every class plus take care of themselves,” Vetter said. “As long as a student is getting assignments done and completing all coursework, it should be fine to not attend class.”
Although some professors don’t have attendance policies, they still take notice of students’ attendance patterns.
“I don’t take attendance, nor do I give points for perfect attendance,” Ogden Rogers, professor and social work department chair, said. “I do note patterns of absence, however.”
Although faculty are free to implement their own attendance policies, if students and faculty want to have a universal attendance policy it would have to go through the Faculty Senate, said Dean of Student Development and Campus Diversity Blake Fry. Faculty Senate Chair Wes Chapin said if brought up, it would be a topic that would definitely be discussed and decided by the Senate.
“If such a proposal was introduced,” Chapin said, “The Chancellor would also have to be involved, given his role in the governance processes, and I imagine that students would want to have opportunities to have their voices heard.”
Unlike UWRF, UW-Platteville and UW-Green Bay have campus attendance policies.
Platteville’s policy states, “...instructors are expected to keep records of attendance in their classes.” Green Bay’s attendance rule gives instructors permission to drop students who only attend classes the first week but not after.