Editorial: Attendance policies outmoded, deficient as a means of promoting student engagement


GVL Archives

At Grand Valley State University – and colleges around the U.S. – the remaining weeks after spring break mark the end of winter semesters. During that period, it’s sometimes a struggle for students to feel highly motivated to attend classes and complete their work. The weather is nice, summer is on the horizon and for some, graduation is approaching. 

This time of year is especially difficult for students to find the impulse and incentive to attend classes. GVSU even sent an email out to the student population encouraging them to attend class. Attendance policies can also force students to show up to class. 

Implementing attendance policies has also been a topic of discussion among students and professors. Some students argue that they shouldn’t exist. Students pay for their own education and have the agency to make decisions that will impact their learning. Some think professors shouldn’t dictate whether a student passes a class if they fail to attend some class periods. 

This issue has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For people across the world, a small illness like a cough or sore throat are now taken more seriously. Having the ability to work remotely while feeling ill has benefited those who’re sick – even if it’s a minor illness. Students that take classes with an attendance policy don’t have that type of luxury. 

Staying home while being sick is a socially-conscious decision – especially at GVSU where mask mandates are becoming more relaxed. However, students might have to make a more self-centered decision to attend class so their grade doesn’t suffer. 

Attendance policies become a bigger issue in more major situations – death in the family, emergencies and other issues that make attending class problematic. Life stresses for college students – affording rent and groceries on a small budget, time management with classes, internships and part-time jobs and impending life decisions – are only heightened when attendance policies are strictly enforced. 

Regardless of course material, one of the main skills college students learn is time management. In several situations, students may have to decide which projects to turn in before another, what classes to attend and when not to socialize. Attendance policies aleve some of the mental workload, making those time management decisions for the student, but also undermine the student’s own abilities to develop those skills. 

As a whole, it may be beneficial to students to dismiss class attendance policies. Professors do have the right to expect students to attend class, because their coursework might suffer as a result of absenteeism. However, that decision should be made at an individual level. 

Naturally, students understand that if they don’t attend class, they’ll miss a lecture. An attendance policy is used to incentivize students to attend class. But students are adults and understand (or should understand) the effects of skipping classes. They don’t need professors, syllabi or administrators to dictate the importance of attending classes.