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Wasted Ink: Attendance Policies

Encompassed within every thought-out syllabus is, without fail, an attendance policy. There are varying approaches to attendance taken. Typically, these methods are based on campus academic culture, class size, and perhaps arguably the subject itself. No matter what combinations of these factors are considered, an attendance policy is, to be frank, juvenile at best and paternalistic at worse. Arguments can be made on why they matter and how they can be beneficial in teaching students key principles of the professional world; however, these assessments do nothing to outweigh the stark reality that this form of policy works on the wrong form of motivation and does little to inspire willingness in the classroom of an institution of higher education.

The first and foremost obvious reason for an attendance policy is the idea it instills a sense of responsibility for one’s actions. Don’t show up to class? You do not receive participation credit, and thus your overall grade goes down. While this is fair in seminars and courses that rely on discussion, this necessity is not present in lectures. There is no good reason a student should have to sit through an hour plus lecture if they feel it does not benefit them academically. As paying consumers, it should be in a student’s right to refuse to attend a lecture if it does not add to the richness of their degree pursuits. Naturally, if the lecture is something the student believes will enhance their understanding, they will attend. If they do not, it should be clear in the final grades what was the true value of the class time. A draconian policy should not be needed to emphasize the significance of class time.

There is plenty of value to be found in attending class rather than relying upon texts or online sources, but the recognition of this should come internally rather than externally. The cohesion and support that comes from fellow classmates who actually want to be in class is invaluable. Likewise, being surrounded by individuals who want nothing else but to not be present can be as equally demoralizing. This demoralization may also stem from not being able to gain the same benefit from the lecture due to a different learning style preference.

Attendance policies intuitively do not make sense when applied to institutions of higher education given that, ideally, the classes are contributing to the learning processes. This should be incentive enough for those concerned with academia or even those who want a decent GPA to show on future job applications. While an attendance policy of some form may reflect the accountability of the corporate world, they can often crossover to being austere more often than not. Attendance policies draw upon the wrong motivations, are insensitive to circumstances, and fail to further create a positive work environment. In the same way many condemn the concept of participation awards, should we not view attendance policies the same way? They are the most trivial measures that can be taken and generally, as an average, say more about the course itself than the students taking it.