By Abby Zofchak
In my last post, I looked at why students miss class and whether we feel like we have an attendance problem at Denison. I found that we all agree on why students miss class, yet we have not reached a consensus on how pervasive skipping class is. Moreover, there are a variety of institutional structures in place that work to prevent students from skipping class such as attendance policies, participation grades, and daily reading reflection papers or quizzes (see Note 1). What makes this an even more interesting case is that Denison is a residential campus, meaning almost all of its students live on campus throughout their entire time here. With the size of Denison’s campus, most students are at most 10-15 minutes away from the academic quad at all times. Are all of these mechanisms enough to encourage students not to skip class?
In a survey given just before the 2016 elections, students were asked to report how many classes they have missed for each of the courses they were taking that semester. Most (89%) reported missing 0-2 classes per course, which does not seem detrimental to a student’s success (see Figure 1). However, there was still some variance – 5% of students in the sample marked that they missed somewhere between 4-12 classes. These numbers are only for the first half of the semester, so those very few students who reported missing 12 classes have already missed about 3 weeks of class.
| Figure 1 – Number of Classes Missed by Students by the End of October, 2016
With so many structures in place that work to get students to class, why are some students missing so much class? Perhaps it has nothing to do with course-level factors, but rather it has to do with factors specific to the student (see Note 2). Figure 2 shows the relationships between student-level factors and the average number of classes missed. Where students live certainly seems to be related with how much they miss class. It is no surprise that students who have to climb stairs from South Quad miss more class than students who coast downhill from West Quad. Moreover, there might be something related to who lives on those quads. West quad is where most of the freshman students live, while there are mostly juniors and seniors on South Quad. Freshman students are missing fewer classes than seniors.
Another factor at the student level that is related to the average amount of class missed is involvement (Zofchak 2016). Students often complain about how busy they are and how they have no time for anything. These results show that it might be hurting their class attendance. Students who are more involved are missing more class than students who are not involved at all. But the biggest difference was between students who think going to class is important and those very few (2%) who do not. Students who do not value going to class missed an average of 5-6 classes, while those who value it missed about 1 class.
| Figure 2: Student-Level Factors and Attendance
So there are generally two different types of students dealing with attendance issues: those who do not care about going to class and those who have high levels of involvement. It seems like students at the high and low ends of achievement might be sliding into imbalance as they progress throughout their time at Denison. However, I am most concerned about the students who do not think going to class is important. Although both types of students tend to miss more class on average than their peers, the students who do not care about going to class miss class much more. Moreover, students who do not care about going to class have a lower average GPA (2.8), which shows how this is linked to academic success (see Note 3).
For the most part, attendance does not look like a major campus wide problem for Denison. That is to be expected, but it is always salutary for the data to verify our hunches. However, there are still students who struggle with getting to class and this is not related to course-level policies. Instead, the value of attendance policies is that they allow faculty to watch over students, hold them accountable for their behavior, and generally look out for those who are struggling. But, the driving forces behind absences have more to do with who the student is and what they are going through than with attendance policies and course structure.
Abby Zofchak is an a capella singer who decided to take a break from swaying on stage so she could use her political science skills to better understand the mysterious “Denison bubble.”
1. To provide a better idea of what these institutional structures look like, here are some quick statistics on attendance policies, participation grades, and daily incentives: 80% of faculty reported that they have an attendance policy in their syllabus; 48% of faculty stated that they have some sort of daily incentive in their courses; and 75% said that they give participation grades to students in their courses.
2. I looked at the presence of an attendance policy, incentives to come to class, participation grade, and if the faculty member intervenes when students miss a certain number of classes. The results show that there is not much going on at the course level that is related to individual-level attendance. When each of these factors related to the course are present, students average about one class missed.