Attendance Policies in Higher Ed

I have been curious about the phenomenon of students who skip class or find out the number of allowed absences and plan (from the beginning of the semester) when and how they are going to use those days recreationally. When I think of the reasons that I can remember missing class, I think of a recent time that I missed class for my honeymoon and a time that I missed class because of illness that would not have been able to be managed in a classroom. Some schools impose attendance policies to ensure that students attend class regularly.

I do not know the statistics of how attendance policies impact the number of class absences per student, nor do I know the resulting impact on student grades in comparison to classes that do not have attendance policies. A 2018 article by Dey indicates that student class attendance does indeed impact test scores, and that certain subgroups of students may benefit more from class attendance than others. The idea that some students may be more impacted by attending class than others had not previously occurred to me.

Of course, there are obvious natural benefits to class attendance, such as being present for information presented in class. This would explain the connection between class attendance and increased test scores. The fact that some students benefit more than others from attending class also makes logical sense considering that some students may be more in need of the information presented in class than others who may have already been exposed to the information elsewhere or have a stronger background in the topic being covered. I would also think that the benefits of attending class regularly would be sufficient motivation for students to attend class even without an attendance policy that requires students to be at the majority of the class sessions. If a student has signed up for a class, the desire to have the best opportunity to learn the information presented (or at the very least have the best chance at a favorable grade in the class) seems to be sufficient motivation to attend the class as often as possible. Unfortunately, this does not seem to prove true in actuality. Overall, I am in favor of students attending class, though I am also still somewhat skeptical about class attendance requirements. I would be very interested to hear others’ opinions on this topic.


Dey, I. (2018). Class attendance and academic performance: A subgroup analysis. International Review of Economics Education, 28, 29-40.

4 Replies to “Attendance Policies in Higher Ed”

  1. From my experience as both a teacher and student, an instructor needs to incentivize students to come. In undergrad, I remember passively sitting in giant lectures, whose presentations the professors would later post online, and I’d think ‘Why am I here?’ And when a professor did have their TAs take attendance, that was just annoying because, while I still held similar sentiments about my lack of need to physically be there, I felt the professor was growing defensive about students not showing up to their classes. But shouldn’t professors be questioning their pedagogical approaches if they can’t interest their students in staying engaged with their lessons?

    Now, in classrooms that require active participation, the story’s different. I’m moving; I’m completing tasks; I’m speaking; I’m listening and responding to my peers (etc. etc.)…and I’m finding that I’m extracting far more knowledge from those environments.

    As a teacher, I see the same in my students. Being a discussion-based class, my students need to be there, writing, speaking, listening and reacting. If they’re not present, they’re not supporting the learning community and, of course, they’re not learning. So, with that said, while I don’t have an attendance grade, per se, I do have grades that cover discussion-participation and in-class-assignment participation. So, basically, they’re graded on not just attendance, but mental presence and contribution. I just don’t necessarily label it as such.

  2. In the freshmen year of my Undergrad, our overall grade was based on certain percentage of effort grade and the rest knowledge grade. Attendance was counted as one of the element of the effort grade, which makes sense. Even if the student is not doing so well in class for whatever reason, attendance and participation might be an indicator of the student’s efforts. Also the instructors would get to better know the students if the attendance is regular. It also builds social interaction rather than something like take course online or learning materials on our own. Thus, I’d side with mandating attendance in a more relaxed way (like add it to effort grade).

  3. I have experienced similar situation as mentioned by Chandani. In my country, Saudi Arabia, most of the professors emphasis on attendance by setting high grades for attendance. And it would count toward the effort grades. Additionally, many professors back home would assume that if a student attended every class and was sitting in the front seats of a class, is a behavior of a very good student and he would be tolerated with that student and be very flexible with him regarding assignments submission and other stuff. So, it became a myth in my country among the students that if a student just sit in the front seats and attended every class, he would not fail that class no matter how he did in assignments or exams.
    So, sometimes the professors’ attitude toward attendance may influence the students’ behaviors. Professors in my country view attendance as a sign of students’ respect to the professors. Therefore, professors tend to assign high grades for attendance. Thus, many students understood the professors view toward attendance and started to attend every class just to let the professors think that they are good students. This is only one aspect of the attendance policies and I believe that other cultures might have similar situation to the situation I presented about my country and I hope if others can share with us the attendance polices in their higher ed system.

  4. Like you, I am in favor of students attending class, but I don’t think there should be strict attendance policies. In the class I TA, we have some in-class assignments that students complete and we basically give the students a 100% on the assignment if they did it. However, we don’t have assignments for every class period and the assignments aren’t worth a bunch of points. Overall, I think that it’s a pretty good system because it gives the students an incentive to come to class, but it also make sure that students have to participate in the class instead of just getting a grade for being present. Furthermore, since each in-class assignments isn’t worth a bunch of points, if students have to miss class because they’re sick or some other reason, then their grades won’t be hurt.

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