Attendance Policies are Stupid, and Worse, Unethical

Attendance policies are stupid. I know your first thought when you read that is, well of course a student doesn’t like going to class, who actually likes going to class? Well, I do. I like going to class. 

As my college career comes to a close and I approach graduation, I reflect on all the professors I have had. The strict ones and the passive ones, the good teachers and the bad teachers, the easy classes and the hard classes. I have had professors that demand that even online we attend weekly zoom calls, have our bedroom lights on, be sat at a desk, as if this class were a job. And I had classes where the whole semester I never saw the professors face one time. 

I have found that the most common factor that makes me not enjoy a class is a strict attendance policy. I think that the students should intrinsically want to go to class because unlike highschool, we hand pick our classes in an area of study we want to learn about, and that we are literally paying for. 

College students attend college because they want a professional and or highly educated expert, to teach about a topic, and more importantly teach us something that we can’t learn from just reading a textbook or looking at powerpoint slides. I don’t need a professor to necessarily lecture me on something I can teach myself with a book. What I look for in a class, and what many of my peers look for, is personal experience, real life examples, and a professor who can take super difficult concepts like calculus and break then down into understandable parts. 

That brings me back to attendance policies. When you take something that someone wants to do intrinsically, and try to make someone do it for an extrinsic reason, that person is going to want to do it less. 

Not only do a lot of classes at NDSU have mandatory attendance policies, you can be really heavily penalized for missing even just a few classes. You can drop entire letter grades if you miss more than a handful of classes even if you are doing all the work, turning in all your homework, and performing well on exams. 

If a student is reaching all the necessary benchmarks to show that they are learning all the material, then why does attendance still matter? Why would you need to make it mandatory?

Now, there is a lot of research showing that students who attend class regularly have better grades, which makes sense. If you attend lectures, then you will be better prepared for the exam, shocker. However, life happens. Cars break down, flights get delayed, students get stuck, and as we know in North Dakota, weather happens! If you can’t miss more than two classes, then that doesn’t really reflect how life can just happen to you. 

Furthermore, these policies leave you at the mercy of your professor’s best judgment. A blizzard and black ice may be a reason for one professor to cancel class, but another professor may have class that day still, so you will have to brave dangerous conditions for class, even though other professors have deemed it unsafe, or risk failing. 

What may be an emergency, or high priority, like a doctor’s appointment (and your health should always come first) may be perceived as trivial to a professor and you will once again be docked and penalized for having a health problem and not being able to make it to class.

In theory, these policies are supposed to help students succeed by encouraging them to attend class. In reality, they harm students’ grades when real things happen and we can’t make it in. 

Another common argument I hear from professors is, having you attend class every day prepares you for the workforce where you need to be there everyday. To which I would respond, yes but I would never want to work somewhere that isn’t flexible when it comes to health appointments, and you’re only allowed two sick days every five months. Every work place I have ever been employed at knows that life happens and sometimes you can’t make it in. 

Lastly, I would argue that overly strict attendance policies are a violation of students rights to practice self-determination in prioritizing whether then need to spend time getting caught up on homework to actually do well in the class. I’ll give an example.

If I was taking a psychology class and I knew the lecture that day was going to be on behaviorism, I may decide that I don’t want to attend that lecture because I work in human behavior and have experience in that field. I may decide that my time is better spent doing homework, turning in late assignments and doing other things that will help boost my grades. 

However, with an attendance policy in place, I would be forced to attend the lecture anyways and  be made to sit in the class to learn the basics about a concept I already know and be unable to do the things that would actually help improve my academic performance, like homework. 

We aren’t kindergartners, and we as adults should be able to make our schedules, especially college schedules, fit our needs to best assist in our learning. With strict attendance policies in place, I think students are prevented from doing so. 

Do some students benefit from attendance policies? Sure. Are all attendance policies bad? No, not all. Some classes you just need to be in person for like painting classes. However, as a student, I despise them and find they are often overused, if not abused.

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