College and the obsession with attendance

Heydi Ortiz, Managing Editor

College students pay thousands of dollars to attend colleges and universities in hopes of obtaining a degree but students fill the seats of overcrowded lecture halls and turn their attention to the person standing front and center of the room: the professor, who tells them attendance is mandatory and will either make or break their grades. 

What’s the obsession with attendance and how far how are colleges willing to go to protect a student’s success– when it comes to showing up to class on time, if even at all? 

According to an article from the Washington Post, colleges will go as far as surveilling their students as “Short-range phone sensors and campus-wide WiFi networks are empowering colleges across the United States to track hundreds of thousands of students more precisely than ever before. Dozens of schools now use such technology to monitor students’ academic performance, analyze their conduct or assess their mental health.”   

The article also touched on a professor from Syracuse University who uses an app called “SpotterEDU.” The app allows the professor to see when students skip class and alerts the professor, who can later contact his students to see where they’ve been and apparently it’s encouraged all 340 students to fill up the lecture room.

According to a 2017 study, “Academic performance is an essential factor in the success of the post-education period with respect to employment.” The study found that the effect of attendance on educational performance was a complicated pattern which showed that attendance was a good measure for predicting the failing rate of a student. It also showed that the effect was less when it came to high attendance levels and performance rates. 

Vice President of Data Analytics at UNF, Jay Coleman, believes the same; college attendance plays a key role in preparing students for a world outside of college. 

“I do think as faculty, helping students develop the habits and patterns that are going to help them be successful on the job or in their careers is something we should do and occasionally that might mean ‘I need to require you to attend or at least reward you for attending as opposed to not attending,’” said Coleman.

His opinion on surveilling as a way to keep up with students’ attendance?

“One of the things that I get nervous about, even sitting on the data that we have is, I don’t want to come across as Big Brother. I want to be able to advise administrators, students and faculty on best practices and what the data is seemingly telling us. But, monitoring students essentially 24/7 is something I don’t–I get very, very nervous when that subject is even approached,” said Coleman. “It’s one thing to say, if you were sitting in class to click something on your phone or something that the professor has you click to see if you or at least your phone is in attendance. That’s one thing. But trying to monitor where you are outside of class or instead of class gets a little too–without some sort of understanding or buy-in from the student.”

College’s obsession with mandatory attendance may at first glance seem like an unnecessary requirement to students but Coleman argues students should attend the classes they pay for.

“You’re paying for a service or a product or however you want to look at it. It’d be kinda like paying for a movie ticket and not going or paying to go to a football game and then reading the scores in a paper as opposed to going to experience the game,” said Coleman.

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