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Students benefit from classes having mandatory attendance.

One of the things many students seem to find to be most frustrating about classes is the attendance policy some professors have in place. Professors frequently have policies that punish students for acquiring a certain number of unexcused absences, with some professors also rewarding students for frequent attendance. Many students see this as unfair and pointless, but there’s good reason professors penalize students for unexcused absences, especially in large classes or classes with unconventional styles and modes of instruction. 

Generally, students opposed to attendance policies take the position that absences hurt student grades even without such policies and that students should be able to decide how much they really care about a class and prioritize their attendance as such without being penalized. The trouble with this position is that it fails to take into account that most classes with strict attendance policies are large general education classes with 50 to 150 students, which makes attendance policies necessary because there’s no other accurate way to gauge individual participation in such large classes. 

Keeping track of attendance allows professors to grade students on participation in a way that benefits introverts as much as extroverts, since awarding or deducting points based on the frequency of student comments and participation in class would only benefit more extroverted students. This makes attendance a fairer way of gauging student effort, and the practice of rewarding students for effort adds a bit of a buffer between a student’s test scores and their final grade. If two students score the exact same on every test but one consistently comes to class while the other doesn’t, many professors believe the student who came to class deserves a few more points on their final grade for being actively involved. With midterms and finals already stressful for most students and with many people complaining that grades are dependent on too few factors, students shouldn’t be upset when professors try to give students other ways to gain a few points. 

Furthermore, grading students on attendance allows professors to experiment with unconventional teaching styles. By shifting the emphasis away from just performance, professors are able to teach students with nontraditional in-class discussions or demonstrations. Due to the nature of the class, attendance could be very important because it’d allow such a professor to make in-class activities a significantly more important part of the class, and the only way to measure student involvement would be to measure how frequently they came to class. In labs, science classes, seminars, technical classes or other unique models that differ from the traditional lecture-based university class, attendance is an important component of the student and professor experience. 

The idea that absences shouldn’t be punished because they only hurt the student is also fallacious. Professors spend time making lesson plans and planning their lectures, and when students fail to show up, it makes their job more difficult and time-consuming because they need to spend more time in office hours trying to explain things to students who couldn’t be bothered to show up to class in the first place. Most instructors would prefer to only have to explain things once and clarify as needed, but reiterating the same information to numerous students who didn’t listen the first time, is deeply frustrating. This also takes time away from students who did put in the effort to come to class but who may need help, advice or guidance from the professor on a project or paper, or who have additional questions regarding the class material. If these students are unable to have any time with their professors because students who didn’t care to attend class and learn last week’s basic information are taking up the professor’s time, then the students who put in the effort to come to class are also being hurt. 

Attendance policies are often not meant to hurt students, but rather, they’re intended to give students an incentive to come to class while also giving professors an additional factor upon which students can be graded. Showing up to most classes is a common courtesy and shouldn’t be something that sabotages student grades. Any points given out for attendance should be an easy grade boost, and any points deducted for numerous unexcused absences should be easy to avoid. Professors include the class attendance policy in their syllabi, and students are welcome to contact their professors to notify them of emergencies, which would justify an excused absence. The act of showing up to class isn’t something that merely concerns the individual but also the entire environment of the class and all the other individuals who make it up, including professors and other students who don’t appreciate when lazy students slow down the entire class. 

Sophia Cabana is a senior history and independent scholars double-major. Contact Sophia at cabanasl@dukes.jmu.edu