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A Black male student sits at a desk with peers sitting next to and beside him

Improving and maintaining student attendance can be a struggle for some professors, but changing classroom policies or procedures can help.

Carlos Barquero Perez/iStock/Getty Images

Academics are the cornerstone of the college experience, but students can be uninterested in their courses. Student attendance is a problem as old as higher education itself, and faculty members consistently face dilemmas in how to get learners into the classroom.

Professors looking to improve student attendance in their courses should consider the following methods.

  1. Teach students why attendance matters.

Survey: Who’s Skipping Class?

Over 30 percent of in-person community college students skipped class sometimes, and 4 percent skipped classes often or very often in the past academic year, according to data from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement.

Compared to their in-person peers, only 12 percent of online-only community college students skipped class sometimes, and 1 percent skipped class often or very often.

Some institutions look to get ahead of students’ poor attendance problems by taking a campuswide approach—offering resources around class attendance.

Northern Illinois University has a webpage dedicated to class attendance, providing student testimony, YouTube videos, service links and a list of reasons of why class attendance is important.

In a recent opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed, teaching professor Justin Shaffer from Colorado School of Mines shared his plans to divulge the cost of class time, based on tuition rates, to remind students that they’re paying for instruction and they should value their investment.

  1. Offer points for in-class assignments.

In-class assignments can be a great way to gauge how students are responding to the learning material and also to incentivize class-session attendance. Research also shows students who participate in their courses perform better in academics.

Not all in-class assignments have to look the same, but they can be tailored to what best serves the students in question. Pop quizzes about homework or preclass reading assignments can keep students on their toes and promote completion of outside coursework. A daily discussion question can facilitate classroom conversations about learned topics and offer teaching opportunities based on students’ comments.

  1. Emphasize relationships.

Following remote instruction, many students are looking to connect with their peers and recover from a lack of social interaction that took place in their high school or college careers. Professors can lean into this desire for community by making peer engagement a core aspect of their courses, subsequently encouraging attendance.

During the pandemic, students who engaged in peer interaction in online classes—think-pair-share activities, small group work, preassigned groups for outside course work and working together on exams—earned higher scores than their peers who did not. Faculty members can use similar activities in their courses, in person or online.

A student may also be more likely to attend class if they know their peers are counting on them, so building group work into the curriculum can create relationships and incentivize attendance.

Faculty members can encourage relationships between themselves and their students by learning their names initially and checking in on the class frequently. Students may be more likely to show up and engage in a supportive class environment.

  1. Make attendance mandatory.

Mandatory attendance policies remove the question of whether students can be successful if they don’t attend courses. While attendance policies have been controversial, particularly in light of the pandemic and its effect on people’s health, some professors argue that students dislike optional attendance policies.

To track who is present, some faculty members marry in-class assignments to mandatory attendance, requiring students to complete an assignment to prove they were there. Others have employed digital solutions like apps to identify when a student checks in to the course.

Do you have an academic success tip that might help others encourage student success? Tell us about it.

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