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Enough with college attendance policies

Forcing students to attend class does not allow them to sink or swim on their own

Photo illustration of a political science class.

Photo illustration of a political science class.

Every semester, I am handed syllabi that outline my future assignments, important dates to remember and basic requirements for passing the class. Most of them include some variation of an attendance policy.

The policies vary department to department, and some of them are more strictly enforced than others. For example, an economics class I took my freshman year suggested attendance more than required it, as opposed to my journalism classes, which deduct a percentage off of my final grade for every class I miss beyond two absences. In many classes I've taken, the deduction can be up to half a letter grade (5 percent).

I assume the desired effect of an attendance policy is to help students get the most out of their education and graduate prepared for their profession. It's not the university's job to ensure a student's success though; it's the individuals.

We aren't allowing students to discover what failure looks like. We're teaching them to attribute lack of success on their transcripts to attendance instead of taking responsibility for not studying or absorbing information. College attendance policies do not allow for students to sink or swim on their own.

In high school, attendance policies are necessary. High school is a time where our creativity is often stifled in an effort to pump us full of basic knowledge, so a lack of motivation is common. This is part of the reason why students are excited to graduate and go to college, where they have the ability to choose their paths and take classes that interest them.

If a student is at the point where they've had their pick of courses and they still aren't attending classes, it's their responsibility to to reevaluate whether college is right for them at all. It is not a university's job to force them to attend.

Faculty Associate at the Walter Cronkite School, Peter Madrid said students attendance is important so that they don't miss information.

"Those policies are in place for a certain reason. You miss a class period and chances are you've missed an assignment," Madrid said. 

"At this point, you're college students, you have to start learning to manage your time and a big part of that is attending your classes and making that a priority."

If a student is missing frequent class periods, it's safe to say they are missing significant amounts of material. This will translate in their test scores and inability to relay important information in class presentations or research papers. You can only fake knowledge for so long.

Many attendance policies, mine included, deduct additional percentage points from a student's final grade due to their number of absences. This concept is extraneous and ridiculous to me. There is absolutely no need for an additional deduction at the end of the semester, because the student's grade beforehand will give them enough insight into the detrimental effect missing class can have on their academic success.

In addition to that, some college attendance policies neglect to address family emergencies or unexpected hospitalizations. If a student misses class and returns with a doctor's note, those would be considered "excused" absences. Yet, while the term "excused" leads you to believe they're done and over with, they're still included in my final attendance count. If a family member passed away later in the semester and I had to leave town for a day or so to attend a funeral, each day that I am gone would result in a whole percentage deduction from my grade. 

Not only should "excused" absences be disregarded in the total completely, but under no circumstance should students receive deductions from final grades for them, or for any type of absence.

The overall message college attendance policies send to students is that a large portion of success is just showing up, and that isn't true outside of our lecture halls. In a professional atmosphere, coming to work and sitting on your laptop with your earphones threaded through your shirt so you can watch Netflix won't fly. 

Let students discover what squandering their money looks like. Allow them to feel the effects of failure. Success isn't decided by attendance, work is. Let's judge our students by that.

Reach the columnist at  or follow @_SavannahHaas on Twitter.

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