June 25th, 2012

Five Techniques for Improving Student Attendance


The general consensus among most faculty members is that regular class attendance helps students learn and retain the course content more effectively. According to Park & Kerr (1990), research demonstrates that the lack of attendance was statistically significant in explaining why a student received a poor grade.

In this article I focus on some of the practical techniques that faculty can use to increase the attendance in their classrooms. I have used most of these methods during my years of college teaching to keep attendance high in all of my classes.

1. Prepare learning contracts for students to sign at the beginning of the semester. The contracts can be part of the syllabus or independent documents. They should define exactly how grading is done and include an attendance policy. This way, students know right from the start that attendance is part of the calculation.

2. Give unannounced quizzes. The main objective of these quizzes is to encourage students to prepare for each class so they have a basic understanding of the current terms and concepts. Make it clear that the quizzes can’t be made up later by absent students.

3. Provide handouts in class, but do not post them on your course website. Students can come to your office hours to pick up a handout later, but the idea is to discourage them from skipping class knowing that they can grab the material from your website.

4. Collect contact information from students at the beginning of the semester, including their phone numbers and email addresses. Call or e-mail students who are frequently absent and encourage them to attend more often. I started my teaching career at a two-year community college where this was expected of faculty. It worked so well that I have continued doing it, even with my graduate-level students.

5. Think of ways to keep the morale high. Learn students’ names as quickly as possible. Prepare lesson plans that grab student interest. Try to tie in course material with modern real-life examples that students can relate to. Create a classroom that has a sense of community and mutual respect where each member has something to contribute and where disagreement is tolerated. Continually adapt your lesson plans to make the subject interesting and relevant. Encourage student feedback so you can eliminate some of the “busy work” that has minimal learning benefits.

My 14 years of college teaching experience has convinced me that maintaining a high level of student attendance has significant benefits to both the student and the faculty member. Be aware that monitoring class participation through unannounced quizzes, attendance points, or not posting materials to the course website will not be popular with some students. The support from administration and other faculty is essential. Explain to your colleagues and department chair the benefits of your attendance strategy. Many of the students who are initially resistant to this approach will realize its value and respect you for going forward with it.

What are some of the tactics you use to ensure students come to class? Please share in the comment box below.

Park, K. & Kerr, P., Determinants of Academic Performance: A Multinomial Logit Approach, The Journal of Economic Education, Spring, 1990.

Dr. Rick Sheridan is an assistant professor of communication at Wilberforce University in Ohio.