Excessive Absence from Class

On November 14, 2005, Lisa Wesson of Niagara University in New York asked list members for information on how they handle students with excessive absences from classes and how to convey the importance of attending class to students. Many replied with information on their institution’s attendance policy while a number explained personal and institutional approaches. Suggestions range from having students discuss attendance on Blackboard (Barry Gregory, Lynn University) or establishing an attendance policy from day one and taking attendance at each class meeting (Mahara Sinclaire, Langara Unviersity), to more elaborate programs such as the Student Success Initiative at the Unversity of South Carolina (Chrissy Coley) and Coastal Carolina’s Helping Students Succeed program (Charlie Sena). Several responses included suggestions of activities to be used as a part of a University 101-type class, and Joe Cuseo (Marymount College) provided several written resources on the topic, and an article by Sarah Richie and David Hargrove at the University of Mississippi in the Journal of College Student Retention (Vol 6, No 4 * 2004-05) was suggested as another valuable resource.

Lisa Wesson (read FYE post or send email) lwasson@NIAGARA.EDU
Barry Gregory (read FYE post or send email) BGregory@LYNN.EDU
Kimber Palmer (read FYE post or send email) kpalmer@TAMIU.EDU
Laurie Schmier (read FYE post or send email) lschmier@VALDOSTA.EDU
Mahara Sinclaire (read FYE post or send email) msinclaire@LANGARA.BC.CA
Chrissy Coley (read FYE post or send email) ccoley@GWM.SC.EDU
Laurie Hazard (read FYE post or send email) lhazard@BRYANT.EDU
Charlie Sena (read FYE post or send email) csena1@COASTAL.EDU
Nicolette Campos (read FYE post or send email) Ncampos@METHODIST.EDU
Phil Davis (read FYE post or send email) pdavis@MUN.CA
Annie Watson (read FYE post or send email) awatson@CSUNIV.EDU
Steve Strang (read FYE post or send email) smstrang@MIT.EDU
Tara Marandos (read FYE post or send email) Marandos@DWC.EDU
Joe Cuseo (read FYE post or send email) JOE CUSEO

November 14, 2005 11:58AM
Excessive Absences From Classes

Hello to all!

I serve as the Academic Counselor in our HEOP Program at Niagara University. I am very interested in hearing from all of you how you deal with students who have excessive absences from classes. What is done at your colleges and universities with this type of a student? Also, are there any ideas that you might have that will really hit home with students the importance of being in class and being an active participant in it? I appreciate any information on this topic that you can share.

Thank you,

Lisa A. Wasson

Academic Counselor, Niagara University Opportunity Program (NUOP)
P.O. Box 1916
Niagara University
New York 14109
Phone: (716) 286-8064
Fax: (716) 286-7377

November 14, 2005 4:41PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

This week I have asked students in my FYE class to use the discussion board on Blackboard to answer the question: What are the advantages/disadvantages of attending class and to review and respond to at least two of their classmates. Maybe by discussing and reviewing peer responses to the pros and cons, students can discover their own intrinsic motivation to attend class.

Barry Gregory
Lynn University
Boca Raton , Florida

November 14, 2005 3:46PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

Certainly not me. Unless faculty knows they are not effective, or teaches something they don't believe is important, then I would imagine not many others would question the importance of class attendance.

Kimber J. Palmer, J.D.
Texas A&M International University
Laredo , TX 78041

November 14, 2005 2:50PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

I wonder how many of us ask, "Why does a student have to attend classes and who determines what is or is not excessive-other than an administrative bean-counter."

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier
Department of History
Valdosta State University
Valdosta , Georgia 31698

November 14, 2005 1:24PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes


I put it in my course outline that if they miss more than five classes they will be asked to withdraw. Of course, there is always the true exception which I would allow, but it does cover the majority of the students.

I also announce it the first day so it is out there as general information and take attendance each day. I believe the purpose of my Student Success skills is to foster excellence in college learning, which includes attending all classes.

Mahara Sinclaire, M. Ed.
Langara College
Vancouver , BC Canada

November 14, 2005 1:23PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

Hello! At the University of South Carolina, Student Affairs has collaborated with University 101 to develop and implement an "Early Intervention Initiative" by which instructors and student affairs staff intervene with students once they miss 2 or more University 101 classes. The Counseling and Human Development Center has also created a "Class Absence Reflection Group" to which instructors can refer students. We are in the first semester of this program, but the feedback so far is that it has been a good way of connecting with students when they first begin demonstrating transitional challenges or emotional distress. Feel free to view our website, which includes a link to the "Excessive Absence Report Form," at to get more information.

By the way, the Journal of College Student Retention (Vol 6, No 4 * 2004-05) has a great article on the "effectiveness of telephone intervention in reducing absences and improving grades of college freshmen" written by Sarah Richie and David Hargrove at the University of Mississippi. They include an extensive literature review, and their findings were impressive.

Chrissy Coley, Ph.D.
Director of Retention and Planning
University of South Carolina
115C Russell House University Union
Columbia , SC 29208
(803) 777-9307 -- voice
(803) 777-9354 -- fax

November 14, 2005 1:21PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

Without university policies on attendance (which many faculty members resist), we try to use intrinsic motivation to get the students to attend. Hopefully getting them to understand the academy will help. This happens in our FYE class (all first-years are required to take it; all sections use the same text). We focus on "socializing" students relative to the importance of class attendance using the "Burkean Parlor" as a metaphor for their entree into a scholarly community. This is in the first-chapter of our text. Excerpt:

So how will you react to this bustling campus and its ongoing conversations? This textbook will encourage you to be an active participant in this dialogue; you've walked into an enormous room full of people talking--listen for a while if you would like, but don't forget to offer your own contributions. Rhetorician Kenneth Burke's (1973) explanation of this concept has been referred to as the Burkean parlor:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. (110-111)

As a college or university student, you have the opportunity to join a scholarly community, a group of people working toward intellectual pursuits, but your membership is not guaranteed. You must work toward familiarizing yourself with the guiding principles of that community and aspire toward them if you are to be considered a peer in this environment.

Laurie Hazard
Bryant University
Smithfield , RI

November 14, 2005 12:31PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

Coastal also adheres to a 25% attendance policy, where if a student misses more than 25% of their classes they automatically fail the course. Another program that we offer is called Helping Students Succeed (HSS). This program is offered primarily for First-Year students during their fall semester. If a professor notices excessive absences, they e-mail my office with the students name and a brief summary of the situation (# classes missed, class attendance policy, Test scores, etc). Once we receive this information, I have a few upper level students who begin to track down the students and find out why they are missing classes. When it comes to contacting students we do everything in our power to find them (e-mail, phone calls to parents, going to their dorm room, etc.). Once we contact the student, I or someone in my office meet with them individually to discuss the consequences of missing their classes and try to counsel them on ways to improve the situation; sometimes we even recommend they drop the course. Once all of this has taken place, we e-mail the professor and give them a brief report on the situation and inform them of any actions that may be needed.

Also, in my Success Seminar I have the students break down where their tuition goes (student activities, athletics, etc.). I then have them divide the amount that goes towards academics and the # of class sessions they have per semester. It really hits home when they see that they spend anywhere from $15- $35 per class session. This activity also helps to encourage them to get involved on campus since they are spending the money anyway.

Charlie Sena
Academic Advisor
Coastal Carolina University
Prince 214

November 14, 2005 12:16PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes


We are a small, private Liberal Arts college. The attendance policy is such that students in 100 level courses cannot miss more than 20% of class or they will be dropped with a withdraw failing (WF) grade which is calculated into the GPA as an 'F’. There is an appeal procedure and if the student is allowed to return to class, he or she can miss no more classes. The student, the faculty member and the academic advisor are notified in writing with regard to the absence(s).

Note that faculty members may have a more stringent policy.

Nicolette Campos
Assistant Dean for Academic Services
Methodist College
5400 Ramsey Street
Fayetteville , NC, 28311-1498
(910) 630-7033
Fax (910) 630-7410

November 14, 2005 12:13PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

I am involved in student success issues at Memorial (UG enrollment of 18000) in eastern Canada. We also have a major problem with absence from class and I would be interested in how others deal with this problem. Our institution (and especially most faculty) has strong ideas about making attending class an issue for students who are really adults.


Philip J. Davis, Ph.D.
Professor of Biochemistry and Special Advisor to the Vice President (Academic)
Memorial University
St. John's , NL
A1b 3X9
(709) 737-8042

November 14, 2005 12:12PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

Charleston Southern University has a liberal attendance policy; students are not penalized unless they miss over 25% of class meetings. Also the policy is mandatory for 100-200 level courses and discretionary [up to the professor] for 300-400 level courses. Students who exceed the allowable absences receive a grade of FA --failed for absences. An FA calculates into the GPA like an F.

Annie Watson

Student Success Center
Charleston Southern University

November 14, 2005 12:07PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes


In our first-year writing courses, there is a strict policy--6 absences and the student automatically fails the course.

Steve Strang
Director, Writing & Communications Ctr
Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

November 14, 2005 12:07PM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

At our school if a student has missed a majority of their classes and is failing everything we ask them to withdraw for the rest of the semester.

Tara K. Marandos
Director of Academic Resources
Daniel Webster College
20 University Drive
Nashua , NH 03063
(603) 577-6612
(603) 577-6177 fax

November 15, 2005 2:34AM
Re: Excessive Absences From Classes

Lisa, and others with interest in this issue:

I've attached some research and scholarship on the issue of class attendance policies for first-year students, and its relationship to early-alert interventions. Also, pasted below is an excerpt from a handout I use in the first-year seminar, which is intended to persuade new students about the benefits of consistent class attendance.

I've experience some success using the one-minute paper to promote students' class attendance (and attentiveness). I ask students to write an in-class minute papers in response to question I pose that relates to the day's topic, and I award them points for doing so that count toward their final course grade. I don't allow students to make-up minute papers they missed due to class absence; however, I will allow students two "free" or "forgiven" minute papers for the term, so if they are absent on two days when minute papers are assigned, they will not lose those points. I adopt this forgiving policy simply because students can get sick (physically and mentally) and can have emergencies (personal and familial) that sometimes compete with their scholastic commitments. Students who are in class for all minute papers are allowed to "bank" extra credit for the two "free" minute papers that they were entitled to, but did not use.

I have found that students are more likely to come to class if they know they are going to gain points. Even though I do not assign minute papers in every class period, they function as a type of "pop quiz" that can be given in any class at any time. For readers familiar with behavior management principles of reinforcement schedules, periodically assigning minute papers in this manner serves to reward students on a "variable schedule of reinforcement," which is known to produce high response rates-in this case, high attendance rates.

Furthermore, students are rewarded for actually doing something in class, rather than merely "showing up." Thus, students are rewarded for their participation in class, and since attendance is a precondition or prerequisite for this participation, they are also indirectly rewarded for coming to class. I feel more comfortable using this class-attendance strategy, because it puts me in the position of positively reinforcing student attendance, rather than playing the role of "truant officer" who punitively penalizing student absence by "taking away" points away from them. However, I say this with due respect to those who faculty who enforce formal attendance policies; it's just not a strategy that "fits" my educational philosophy and individual personality.

Hope this helps.

- Joe -

The "Home Base" of College Success: ACTIVE INVOLVEMENT

Joe Cuseo

Research indicates that active involvement is the most fundamental and most powerful principle of human learning and college success (Astin, 1993). You might consider it to be the touchstone or "home base" of college success, because it provides the basic foundation for all other college-success strategies. The bottom line is this: To maximize your success in college, you need to be an active agent in the learning process, not a passive sponge or spectator. As you proceed through college, keep in mind the following words of one researcher who devoted many years of his professional life to studying college students and what makes them successful: "Quality of effort is the most influential single variable [factor] in accounting for students' success. The conclusion is this: What counts most is not who you are or where you are, but what you do" (Robert Pace, Measuring the Quality of Student Effort, p. 16).

The basic principle of active involvement includes the following pair of key components or processes: (a) the amount of personal time you devote to learning in college, and (2) the degree of personal effort or energy (mental and physical) that you put into the learning process.

Classic Quote:

Success comes to those who hustle.

-Abraham Lincoln

  • Amount of Time Spent in Class

Since the total amount of time you spend on learning is associated with how much you learn and how successful you are in college, this association naturally leads to a very straightforward recommendation: Attend all class sessions in all your courses. It may be tempting to skip or cut classes, because college professors are less likely to monitor your attendance or "call roll" like your teachers in high school. Do not let this new freedom fool you into thinking that missing classes will not affect your grades. College research indicates that there is a direct relationship between class attendance and course grades-as one goes up or down, so does the other. For instance, one study conducted revealed that every 10% increase in the number of student absences in college classes resulted in a .2 drop in students' overall grade-point average (Kowalewski, Holstein, & Schneider, 1989).

  • Amount of Time Spent on Coursework Outside the Classroom

In college, you will spend fewer hours per week sitting in class than you did in high school. However, in college, there are higher expectations for the amount of time that you should commit to academic work outside of class time. Research clearly indicates that the greater amount of time college students spend on academic work outside of class results in greater learning and higher grades. For example, one study of over 25,000 college students found that the percentage of students receiving grades that were mostly "As" was almost three times higher for students who spent 40 or more hours per week on academic work than it was for students who spent 20 or less hours per week on academic work. On the other hand, among students who spent 20 or fewer hours on academic work, the percentage of them receiving grades that were mostly "Cs" or below was almost twice as high as it was for students who spent 40 or more hours per week on academic activities (Pace, 1990a, 1990b).

Also, keep in mind that the better your grades are in college, the better are your chances for career success after college. Research on college graduates indicates that the higher their grades were in college, the higher is: (a) the status (prestige) of their first job, (b) their job mobility (ability to change jobs or move into different positions), and (c) their total earnings (salary). This relationship between college grades and career success exists for students at all types of colleges and universities; regardless of the "reputation" or "prestige" of the institution they are attending (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). In other words, how well you do academically in college matters more for your career success than where you go to college, or what particular college issues your diploma.

  • Active Listening and Note-Taking in Class

In college, you will find that professors frequently use the lecture method, whereby the instructor speaks continuously and the students' job is to listen and take notes. This method of instruction places great demands on students' ability to listen carefully and take notes that are accurate and complete. Research shows that, in all subject areas, the majority of test questions on college exams come from the professor's lectures and that students who take better class notes get better course grades (Brown, 1988; Kierwa, 2000). The best way to apply the strategy of active involvement during a class lecture is to engage in the physical action of writing notes. Writing down what your instructor is saying in class essentially "forces" you to pay closer attention to what is being said, and "reinforces" your retention (memory) of what has been said. By taking notes, you not only hear the information (auditory memory), you also see it-on paper (visual memory) and feel it-in the muscles of your hand as you write it (motor memory). Remember: Your role in the college classroom is not to be a spectator or sponge; instead, take-on the role of an aggressive detective or investigative reporter who is on a "search and record" mission. Actively search for information by picking your instructor's brain and recording your "pickings" in your portable notebook. (See the following box for top strategies on classroom listening and note-taking that you could put into practice immediately. This is the first of a series of top-priority academic strategies that we will be offering you throughout the text.)

Take Action Now!

- Top Strategies -


One of the tasks that you will be expected to perform at the very start of your first term in college is to attend class and take notes. Studies show that professors' lecture notes are the number-one source of test questions (and test answers) on college exams. So, get off to a fast start by using the following strategies to improve the quality of your note-taking.

  1. Get to every class. Whether or not your instructor takes roll, s/he may still be aware of whether you are in class, and you are still responsible for all material covered in class. Think of you class schedule as a full-time job that requires you to show-up only about 13 hours a week. (If you happen to miss class, leave space in your notebook as a reminder to get those notes from a classmate.)

  2. Get to every class on time. The first few minutes of a class session often contain very valuable information-such as reminders, reviews, and previews.

  3. Get organized. Come to class with the right equipment-get a separate notebook for each class, get your name on it, date each class session, and store all class handouts in it.

  4. Get in the right position: The ideal place to sit-front & center of the room-where you can hear and see most effectively; the ideal posture-sitting upright and leaning forward-because your body influences your mind; if your body is in an alert and ready position, your mind is likely to follow. Also, be aware of where you are positioned socially-sit near people who will not distract your focus of attention or detract from the quality of your note-taking.
    (Note: These attention-focusing strategies are particularly during the first year of college because you are more likely to have class sizes that are much larger than they were in high school. When class size gets larger, each individual tends to feel more anonymous, which may reduce feelings of personal responsibility and the need to stay focused and remain actively involved. So, in large-class settings, it is especially important to use effective strategies that fight-off distractions and "attention drift.")

  5. Get in the right frame of mind. Get "psyched up," and come into the classroom with "an attitude"-an attitude that you are going to "pick your instructor's brain" and pick up answers to test questions. (Remember: The majority of answers to test questions asked on college exams come directly from the instructor's lecture notes-so get them into your notebook, into your brain, and onto the test.)

  6. Get it down (in writing) by actively looking, listening, and recording important points. Pay special attention to whatever information the instructor puts in writing-on the board, on an overhead, on a slide, or in a handout.

  7. Do not let go of your pen-if you're in doubt, write it out-it's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Keep in mind that most professors do not write out all the important information on the board for you; instead, they expect you to listen carefully to what they are saying and write it down for yourself.

  8. Finish strong-the last few minutes of class often contain very valuable information-such as reminders, reviews, and previews.

  9. Stick around. As soon as class ends, don't bolt out-hang out-and quickly review your notes (by yourself or with a classmate); if you find any "gaps," check them out with your instructor before s/he leaves the classroom. Also, this quick end-of-class review will help your brain "lock in" and retain the information it just received.
    • Active Participation in Class
    You can become actively involved in the college classroom by coming to class prepared (e.g., having done the assigned reading), by asking relevant questions, and by contributing thoughtful comments during class discussions. Oral communication increases your level of active involvement because it requires you to exert both mental energy-you have to think about what you are going to say and physical energy-you have to move your lips to say it). This increases the likelihood that you remain alert and attentive in class, and also sends a clear message to the instructor that you are a motivated student who takes the course seriously and really wants to learn.