Attendance policies hurt students

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Attendance policies hurt students

Opinion columnist Brenna Wolfe says that attendance policies can take a toll on students' physical and mental health.

Opinion columnist Brenna Wolfe says that attendance policies can take a toll on students' physical and mental health.


Opinion columnist Brenna Wolfe says that attendance policies can take a toll on students' physical and mental health.



Opinion columnist Brenna Wolfe says that attendance policies can take a toll on students' physical and mental health.

BRENNA WOLFE, Opinion Columnist

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To require attendance or not to require attendance. That is the question that every faculty member has to answer.

Some choose to have lenient policies that allow multiple absences. Others follow a strict policy of dropping letter grades or percentages for every absence or tardy.

In my opinion, attendance or participation policies are harmful and disadvantageous to students.  

According to the research of Karen St. Clair, the attendance of college students is linked to motivation, not attendance policies (Human Sciences Press, Inc.).

Furthermore, her data shows that required attendance does not guarantee high achievement in courses. St. Clair concluded that low achievement in a course is usually due to a number of factors and is not dependent on attendance.

That means that someone showing up to every class can still have low participation and low grades. Therefore, attendance does not mean good grades.

Besides the fact that attendance policies do not naturally bring good grades, it wastes time. Let’s say that it takes three minutes to do the attendance at the beginning of every class in a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class.

That adds up to be nine minutes of lost instruction a week and a total of 144 minutes lost by the end of the semester.

Almost two and half hours a semester is going to taking attendance. That is a waste of tuition money, waste of instruction time and waste of learning opportunities.

Attendance policies negatively impact students’ health and grades. Students with mental health problems or disorders are punished when they cannot attend class.

Some students fight a war every morning to just get out of bed, and they cannot win that struggle every single day.

Then, when they take a mental health day and don’t attend class, their grades are negatively impacted. Some students have anxiety that paralyzes them in a triggering situations, which includes classrooms.

Basically, the students that are trying to fight off their mental health problems are actually being punished for taking time to focus on themselves or avoiding a triggering situation.

UNI says that they care about mental health issues, but many UNI faculty’s attendance policies do not reflect an understanding of mental disorders and the impact on students. Students with these types of problems need access to resources, not a deduction in “participation points.”

Mental health is not the only type of student health that gets hurt with attendance policies — so does physical health. When there is an attendance policy in a course, many students feel required to attend class no matter what.

If they have a sinus infection and double-ear infection, students will still be in class to avoid lost points.

This is how sickness is spread around our campus and sick students remain sick. They don’t have any time to recover!

A lot of faculty suggest getting a doctor’s note in these situation, but that is hard to do. If a student wakes up feeling crappy or has a cold, they can try to go to the Student Health Center or to urgent care before their morning class, but students are often fighting off viruses with which doctors cannot help.

This means that a sick student who wants an excused absence needs to pay money to get a doctor’s note for a class (co-pays). Not only is this additional money out of pocket for a grade, but it is classist and out of reach for lower-income students or students without insurance.

That sick student can either go to class with their contagious disease (which most do) or they can stay home and lose points in their course.  

Speaking from experience, I will still attend class when there is an attendance policy even when I’m sick or not well. For people with uteruses on this campus, a week out of every month is hard to go to class.

Periods affect the whole body. Cramps, exhaustion, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, bloating, headaches and muscle pain are just some of the symptoms experienced.

For me, I am basically comatose on the first day of my period. I go to class feeling exhausted with intense cramps. My cramps are so bad that I often pass out from the pain and become nauseous.

Do you think I gain anything from being in class that day? No, I am not paying attention at all because my body is exhausted from bleeding.

Yet, there I am in class because of attendance policies. I’m one of the lucky ones because my cramps last one to two days. Other students have a week or more of intense pain.

Is it really beneficial or necessary to have sick, zombie-like, distracted students in classrooms?

Those are some of the ways that attendance policies hurt students. But don’t college students deserve respect in making their own decisions regarding their schedule?

We are adults who are paying big money in tuition; let us be responsible for our own education, including attendance. Treat us like adults and let us prioritize our time. S—t happens, stuff comes up and sometimes we cannot make it to class. Our attendance does not reflect our competency in the course.

Well, how can faculty get students to attend class without attendance policies? There are so many alternatives to strict attendance policies — get creative!

Michael Bugeja, a professor at Iowa State University, requires his students to email their excuse for class absences with the caveat that they must be completely honest.

Sometimes reshaping your syllabus or lecture style can receive an increase in attendance than a strict policy wouldn’t.

For example, students are more likely to attend if they know that exams will include items that have been discussed in class only.

St. Clair says that “classroom environments that engage students, emphasize the importance of students’ contributions and have content directly related to knowledge assessed will undoubtedly provide encouragement to students to attend regularly.”

Instead of punishing students who do not come to class, faculty could reward good attendance with extra credit points at the end of the semester. Maybe include extra credit questions on tests where the answers are given in-class only.

Using these policies will get better attendance from students than attendance policies.

Let us put our students’ health before grades. Attendance policies need to go!