Why Tracking Attendance Matters to Student Success


While is seems like an inherent notion that a student’s attendance is a direct reflection of their ability to persist through their program of choice, very often colleges and universities do not require this as a practice. The reasons behind not actively taking attendance can range from faculty push back to the sheer number of students in classrooms is not conducive to obtaining accurate data. We also know there may be differing attendance requirements and guidelines at each institution.  While large classes in lecture halls seating 200+ can be a significant challenge, for many institutions it is simply a culture shift that can be hard to address.

With all the items on a faculty members plate, adding one more thing is often met with a significant amount of resistance. The idea that students are adults and responsible for their own attendance to the classes they are paying for is a valid response. However, this is simply not the reality of higher education. Student success often relies on early intervention from advisors and faculty members.

Taking attendance may not appear to initially impact our retention rates, but what we do with the knowledge of this early indicator has a momentous impact on student success. The reasons for student’s missing classes range from a lack of responsibility to a major life event.  Students often struggle with communicating the need for help or advice. We know this to be true, therefore the role faculty, advisors and success coaches becomes critical to early intervention and student success. Unless systems are put in place before hand, often by the time a student has the courage to ask for help or we realize they have not been attending their classes, it is too late. We also know this is even more critical for students who do not reside on our campuses. If they have stopped attending classes, attempting to coach them to come on campus for an advising appointment can feel a little bit like trying to move a mountain with our pinky.

Data seems to be the sexiest word in the higher education space as of late, and being a company in the business of student success, we would agree of the attractiveness of data! However, data alone will not provide the results colleges and universities need to gain higher retention rates. Should we obtain the insight that students on our case load have missed 3 out of the last 4 classes they were scheduled for, we can intervene before the student comes to us with a failing midterm grade.

So while taking attendance can provide challenges, the data it provides can arguably be one of the most important pieces in understanding student success. However this shift can take time, but there are a few key steps to assist:

  • Start with a Pilot: Often times when understanding the impact on a small group, campuses can gain additional buy in, assisting in the transition.
  • Slow Transition: Require attendance during certain parts of the year, beyond census dates.
  • Implement an Easy to Use System: The easier you can make taking attendance on your faculty the easier it will be to require it. If a faculty member needs to click through more than one screen, you have the wrong system.

Attendance is critical to student success and should become a priority for campus cultures. In order to do so our faculty must be appropriately supported. This will allow us to obtain critical data for early intervention, student success and ultimately higher retention rates.