Undergraduate Attendance Policies and Students’ Perceptions
by Sheryl Kiernan
© 2006 Sheryl Kiernan

Originally Submitted for Honors Senior Thesis
Professors J. Craig Clarke and Tony Whall

            Attendance policies exist in almost every primary and secondary school in the country to ensure that students get the education that the law requires.  They also exist in many undergraduate colleges and universities to encourage frequent attendance, to provide proof of attendance to scholarship providers, and for many other reasons.  Attendance policies are cause for debate as well as concern, which is why there has been so much research regarding their characteristics.  There have been studies which have assessed the relationship between attendance policies and either grades or learning (Levine, 1992; Launius, 1997; Shimoff & Catania, 2001); their effectiveness in improving attendance rates (Wilder, 2001; Conard, 2004); the arguments both for and against them (Petress 1996); and student, faculty, and administrative perceptions of them (Sleigh, Ritzer & Casey, 2002)            While I am primarily interested in student perceptions of these policies, it is important that each aspect be addressed to gain a full understanding of the issues surrounding these policies.  There would not be any debate if attendance policies were proven to not improve grades or attendance rates, or if students and faculty agreed on what was considered fair, and there would be no reason to conduct any surveys if what students and faculty thought about such policies was completely understood.  Since it is important to establish whether a link exists between attendance and grades, much research has focused on the relationships between specific attendance policies and attendance rates, and the correlations between those attendance rates and students’ grades. 

            Levine (1992) used three different attendance policies for her Child Development course over four semesters from Fall 1989 through Spring 1991 in order to determine if there is a relationship between class attendance and grades, and to decide if students need attendance policies to maintain absence levels within an acceptable range.  A total of 401 students were enrolled in the course over the four semesters.  In Fall 1989, Levine (1992) made it clear in writing and announced to the 106 students in the three sections of the course that attendance was required and that up to three absences would not be penalized while more than nine would result in a failing grade.  Students who were absent between four and eight times would be penalized at the discretion of the instructor.  Levine defined this policy as Required Explicit.  During the Spring and Fall semesters of 1990 the instructor did not require attendance, and the 184 students across five sections were given no announcements or instructions regarding attendance unless they specifically asked about the policy.  This policy was termed Not Required Implicit.  Finally, in Spring 1991, Levine explained in writing and announced to the 111 students of her three sections that while attendance would not be a factor of their final grades, class attendance was encouraged and students were expected to be prepared when they did attend class.  This policy was considered Not required Explicit. 

            Levine (1992) found that over the four semesters 26 students were absent nine or more times.  Of the 106 students enrolled in a class using the Required Explicit policy, only one of those students was absent nine or more times; eight of the 184 students under the Not Required Implicit policy were absent nine or more times, and 17 of the 111 students following a Not Required Explicit policy were absent nine or more times.  These findings support Levine’s hypothesis that students in classes where attendance is not required will have significantly more absences than those in classes in which attendance is required.  Also, while the various policies did not have any significant effect on grades of the four non-cumulative exams, absence levels did have a significant negative correlation with those grades.  Levine (1992) noted that this effect could have been even greater if her exams had included material that was lecture-specific; this notion was also supported by research performed by Sleigh, Ritzer, and Casey (2002), which I will address in more detail below.

            Margaret H. Launius (1997) investigated the relationship between grades and attendance records, gender differences in attendance and grades, and student attitudes towards attendance.  She studied the records of 378 undergraduates enrolled in sections of an introductory psychology class during the Fall semesters of 1990, 1991, 1994, and 1995.  During every semester, the instructor kept attendance records by having students sign an attendance sheet at each class.  Launius found that the average attendance rate for each section was between 83% and 96%, and there was also a significant positive correlation between student attendance and both exam scores and other class assignments.  Only one section of the class yielded a significant positive correlation between attendance rates and grades on the final exam, but overall this study supports a positive relationship between attendance and class performance.  A substantial amount of research supports the idea that good attendance and good grades are positively correlated, but there is also a question of whether or not the methods used to increase attendance work at all. 

            Shimoff and Catania (2001) studied the relationships between simply recording attendance and attendance rates as well as between attendance rates and quiz performance.  One hundred and fourteen of the 132 students enrolled in an introductory psychology class were used in the final analysis; the rest were eliminated for various reasons.  The course consisted of 12 noncumulative quizzes and after the first one the authors randomly assigned the students to seats on either the right or left side of the room.  The students on one side of the room had their attendance recorded using a sign-in sheet while the students on the other side of the room did not have their attendance individually recorded; however, the number of students on that side were counted at each class.  Students were ensured that their attendance records would have no bearing on their final grades.  Attendance was recorded at each of the 18 classes after the seats had been assigned until two weeks prior to the end of the semester.

            The data showed that those students who had attendance recorded attended an average of 85.61% of the time while those whose attendance was not recorded attended an average of only 78.50% of the classes, which was a statistically significant difference.  Students in both groups were aware that their attendance would have no direct bearing on their grades and approximately 80% of each group said that their attendance was influenced only a little or not at all by recording attendance.  However, the percentages reflect that simply recording attendance still lowered student absence levels.  During the same course the following semester, attendance was not recorded and attendance rates were found to be about 75%, which is similar to the attendance rate of the students whose attendance had not been individually recorded in the study.  The students’ quiz grades demonstrated another difference between those students whose attendance had been recorded and those whose attendance had not been recorded.  While the quiz given prior to the study showed no significant differences in scores, students whose attendance had been recorded averaged 77% on the seven quizzes that were included in the study while students whose attendance had not been recorded scored an average of 73%.  Shimoff and Catania (2001) were also able to analyze the individual attendance rates of those students whose attendance had been recorded and they found that attendance levels had a positive correlation with quiz grades overall (r = .61). 

Other research has also related quizzes to attendance rates.  One study that used quizzes to study attendance rates and influences was performed by David A. Wilder (2001).  Wilder (2001) assessed the influence that extra-credit quizzes had on the attendance and exam grades of 32 students enrolled in a psychology of learning course.  He gave students an extra-credit quiz once a week (although he told students that quizzes could be given any day of the week and more than once a week) that was worth a maximum of two points (one for the student’s name and one for the correct answer) over the course of six weeks.  The author then announced that the quizzes would no longer be given and none were given for 2 weeks, but then he announced that he would begin giving the quizzes again and he did so for the remaining four weeks of the term. 

            Wilder (2001) found that class attendance was at an average of 63.4% during the first six weeks when the extra credit quizzes were given and stated that attendance was inclining toward the end of the time-frame, but that during the two-week period when no quizzes were given, class attendance was only an average of 52.1%.  During the last four weeks when the quizzes were used again, class attendance increased to an average of 62.1% and again was increasing at the end of the semester.  Student attendance rates were found to have a positive correlation (r = .73) with the final course grade, supporting once again the relationship between attendance and grades.  Also, the use of extra-credit quizzes was supported by the students; 94% liked them, 69% stated that they attended class more frequently in order to earn points, and 53% said that the quizzes helped them keep up with the reading.  

While the aforementioned studies support the effectiveness of attendance policies in increasing attendance, Conard (2004) came to a different conclusion.  Maureen A. Conard (2004) conducted a study in which she examined the interaction between a student’s conscientiousness and incentives given for attending class.  She taught 141 undergraduates in two sections of General Psychology I and two sections of General Psychology II.  The General Psychology I students were given what she termed the “high-incentive condition” which was up to 12 points or 6% of the course grade for attendance, and the General Psychology II students were given the “low-incentive condition” of up to 7 points or 3.5% of the total course grade for attendance.  While having different incentive levels in different courses could potentially be a confounding variable, Conard (2004) claimed that students are not as interested in the material taught in General Psychology I (including history, research methods, and sensation and perception) as they are in the subjects discussed in General Psychology II (including psychotherapy, disorders, and development); therefore the attendance rates in the low-incentive condition would be higher if interest were a contributing factor.  She added that if a confound existed, the highly conscientious students would have had lower attendance rates in General Psychology I than they did in General Psychology II, which was not the case.  The students’ conscientiousness in both sections was measured by the NEO Five-Factor Inventory, Form S (Costa & McCrae, 1992).  The mean for all the students was 32.44 which was comparable to normative statistics of college students; students with a score of 32 or below were placed in the “low-conscientiousness” group and those with scores higher than 32 were placed in the “high-conscientiousness” group. 

            Overall, Conard (2004) found that students of the high-conscientiousness group had higher attendance than those of the low-conscientiousness group despite any conditions of incentives.  Those of the low-conscientiousness group attended the low-incentive condition class an average of 85.2% of the time, and their average attendance increased to 88.5% in the high-incentive condition.  However, the students of the high-conscientiousness group attended class 93.4% of the time in the low-incentive condition, and their averaged attendance barely increased to 93.7% in the high-incentive condition.  Conard’s research brings up an interesting issue regarding attendance policies: can attendance policies actually significantly increase students’ attendance rates beyond one or two more classes, or are attendance rates predominantly a function of the students’ conscience and motivation?  It appears to be an interaction of the two variables, but more research needs to be done in this area before any conclusions can be made.  Whether or not attendance policies are effective is not the only controversy regarding their usage, and there are other researchers who address those issues.

            Kenneth C. Petress (1996) outlined some of the basic arguments both for and against the use of attendance policies from faculty and student perspectives.  Students often point out that they are mature adults who are capable and should be given the opportunity to make decisions, such as whether or not to attend class, for themselves.  However, Petress (1996) pointed out that those with the most absences are those with the most complaints and those with the fewest absences do not complain because the policies essentially do not apply to them.  Students also argue that they are paying customers and it is therefore the responsibility of the professor or university to make their product (education) so attractive to students that they enjoy going to class.  Petress (1996) countered that argument by noting that education is hard work that is achieved in part by a collaborative effort of an educator and a group of students, not just one student.  Therefore, one needs to ensure the attendance of the majority of students to provide a quality education for each student.  The objections of undergraduates were not the only arguments addressed in Petress’s (1996) article; faculty reservations were also discussed.

            Differentiating between “excused” and “unexcused” absences is frequently problematic.  Some universities have eliminated this issue by establishing a campus-wide attendance policy.  For example, Salisbury University has an attendance policy that states that there are no excused absences, but whether a policy exists, as well as what that policy states, varies from institution to institution (Salisbury University).  Faculty can never be sure students are being completely honest and there can also be debate over who has the authority to deem an absence “excused” or not.  Petress (1996) disputed that absences do not need to be distinguished as excused or unexcused at all.  To illustrate his point, he used an analogy to the work force where workers give their employers notice that they will not be in to work on a particular day, and, no matter the reason, it is accepted and treated the same as any other excuse would be.  While the employee will not be rewarded with pay for missing work, he/she will not receive any additional punishment.  Petress (1996) suggested that perhaps similar policies based on a mutual respect and understanding, rather than punishment, should be practiced in the classroom.  Faculty also dislike having to take attendance daily through a roll call, but Petress (1996) contended that it is easy enough to have a daily sign-in sheet where signatures can be compared to avoid using class time for attendance and to prevent students from signing in for their friends.  Faculty also argue against uniform attendance policies because they claim that they infringe upon “academic freedom” but Petress (1996) disputed this claim stating that taking attendance does not affect the content of what is taught or the manner in which it is taught.  He added that in cases where students’ educations are funded by veteran benefits, welfare payments, scholarships, or grants, there are laws that require that the student’s attendance be verified, which necessitates valid attendance records from the educator.

            In addition to the faculty and student arguments, Petress (1996) noted the toll that a chronically absent student can take on his/her peers’ education.  To be constantly forced to take class time to repeat information to a student who is frequently absent is aggravating and time-consuming as well as unfair to the other students who do attend class consistently.  While there are always cases where one’s absence is legitimate and understandable, there are students who may not go to class on a regular basis without a good reason and it is because of those students that attendance policies are created.  Petress (1996) came to the conclusion that arguments for rather than against attendance policies are more supported, but he also suggested that students, faculty, and administrators collaborate to develop an attendance policy that is both practical and acceptable.  While the arguments that Petress (1996) presented and his final conclusion based on them may not be commonly agreed to, his article is a good representation of the various opinions and arguments that exist and it calls attention to the need for collaboration in the creation of such policies.  The opinions of all those affected by them are important in their application, and Petress (1996) was not the first to think so.

            In 1974, Dean H. Jones conducted a survey of 100 students at Gaston College to assess the amount of involvement students desired in certain college decisions and activities.  The survey included 30 college activities and students responded on a 5-point scale of their preferred level of involvement that ranged from no involvement to complete student direction.  Jones (1974) found that the students desired no involvement in such areas as faculty hiring and promotion, but would prefer control of student publications.  Jones (1974) also found that the students wanted to be somewhat involved in such areas as determining how the annual budget is dispersed as well as the development of attendance policies.  Francis A. Romano (1975) also found that student participation in developing policies could be beneficial.

Romano (1975) studied the attendance policy at Trenton State College, which is now The College of New Jersey, and interviewed some of those primarily involved in its establishment using a theoretical model to find not only how and why the policy was created, but also problems encountered during the process of its development, such as disagreements among those involved, and ways to advance student contribution in this area.  Romano (1975) concluded that the only major problem in the process was a lack of communication between the committee creating the policy and the college community.  He also found that the students involved in the process acted appropriately and professionally and were beneficial to the completion of this task.  Student involvement in future policy-making was recommended. 

Student opinions have not only been studied regarding the policy-making process, but also the application process.  Baum and Youngblood (1975) studied the effects of applying an attendance policy on attendance rates and performance as well as on students’ satisfaction.  The authors used 297 undergraduates enrolled in eight sections of an accounting course since the courses were identical in every way except the instructors.  Four instructors, who taught two sections each, were given instructions on how to carry out certain class procedures in order to ensure uniformity.  During the first week of class, students completed a short survey to assess any variation among students’ grade point average, number of completed credits, involvement in extracurricular activities, major, sex, race, and age; no significant differences among the sections were found.  The instructors applied one of two attendance policies to their classes.  They were told to apply a compulsory attendance policy first in one class and announced that University policy was requiring them to enforce attendance policies and that attendance would be worth less than 10% of students’ grades.  The other class that the instructor taught began with a noncompulsory attendance policy in which he/she stated that there was a University policy, but the University was also allowing latitude so attendance would not be a factor in students’ grades.  The actual University attendance policy was not specified in the study.  All sections used seating charts and attendance was recorded regularly.  In the middle of the semester, the instructors announced that the attendance policy had changed and administered the noncompulsory attendance policy in those classes that began with the compulsory attendance policy and used the compulsory attendance policy in those classes that began with the noncompulsory policy for the remainder of the semester.  Students were also given evaluation surveys to complete just before the attendance policies changed mid-semester and also during the last week of classes.

At the conclusion of the study, Baum and Youngblood (1975) found that on average, students under the compulsory attendance policy had lower rates of absenteeism as well as higher performance rates on tests.  The student satisfaction levels, which were measured at the end of each attendance policy period, were not significantly different, so the compulsory attendance policy was not only beneficial to attendance and grades, but was not more negatively received by the students. 

There have been other more recent studies that have attempted to evaluate students’ perceptions of different attendance policies once they are applied, including one by Haig Kouyoumdjian (2004).  Certain attendance policies may be shown to increase attendance, but some researchers are concerned that the use of such policies may be viewed negatively by the students they affect.  Haig Kouyoumdjian (2004) taught a total of 66 students between two introductory psychology classes and used short pop quizzes to enforce attendance.  The author explained to his students that there would be unannounced quizzes composed of three multiple-choice questions each, and that there would be a possibility of 18 total points, with only 15 points required (3% of the total course grade).  Using this method, the students could achieve up to three bonus points and one missed quiz would not affect the grades.  Kouyoumdjian (2004) also included a 100-point cumulative final exam worth 20% of the students’ final grade.  He gave a short survey to the students at the end of the semester which asked them to evaluate how, if at all, the quizzes and cumulative exam affected their attendance and study habits, and to rate their opinion of different aspects or activities of the course on a scale of 1 to 10.  Students responded that the quizzes affected their study habits and attendance more than the cumulative exam did, but Kouyoumdjian (2004) also found that the quizzes and exam had a greater effect on attendance than on study habits; there were also significant positive correlations among attendance and course grade and quiz grades.  Finally, Kouyoumdjian (2004) found that the students did not view the quizzes with a negative attitude; 84% of the students rated them with a five or higher on a scale of one to ten and the average was 5.75.  Overall, it appears that students do not view these attendance policies or methods negatively, but student opinions of other aspects of class attendance still need to be evaluated.

            Research by Margaret H. Launius (1997), not only assessed correlations between grades and attendance but also general student opinions of class attendance.  Launius (1997) surveyed 378 students and was able to use 257 responses that were considered scorable since the questions were open-ended.  The students’ responses revealed that 70% support instructors giving credit for attending class while the other 30% felt that since they are paying money for the course, it is their choice to attend or not.  Also, 84% of students responded that giving points for attendance provided some incentive for them to attend on days that they did not feel well or sufficiently motivated to attend; while the other remaining 16% responded that points had no bearing on whether or not they attended class because they always went to class unless an absence was unavoidable since they take their education very seriously and enjoy it.

            Another study of students’ opinions of attendance policies is one by Sleigh, Ritzer, and Casey (2002).  They assessed student and faculty opinions of what are considered to be acceptable and unacceptable absences and the differences between those two perceptions.  They surveyed 231 undergraduates and 22 full-time psychology department faculty members and asked them to answer a few questions in addition to classifying 61 different reasons for missing class as acceptable or unacceptable.  Sleigh, Ritzer, and Casey (2002) did find various significant patterns, including the finding that 94% of students and 100% of faculty correctly predicted that students would consider more of the students’ excuses acceptable.  Students with lower GPA’s found a larger number of excuses to be acceptable than students with higher GPA’s. Some additional faculty-student differences included the finding that 56% of faculty believed that the greatest factor in class attendance was the student interest level in the material, yet only 17% of the students agreed.  Twenty-five percent of the students selected the greatest factor in class attendance as being the amount of lecture information included on exams and 79% believed to some degree that their final grades were dependent upon their attendance.  Faculty and students also differed in how important they considered explaining a missed class to be with 35% of faculty feeling that it was unimportant or very unimportant and only 12% of students feeling that way.  Students who thought their grades were more dependent on their attendance were more likely to consider it important to explain their absences.  The authors argued that if faculty are privy to students’ perceptions and motivations, they may be able to use those influences to reach or motivate their students, which may in turn increase class attendance as well as teaching effectiveness.

            It is indeed important to examine students’ perceptions of attendance and policies regarding class attendance, and understanding the differences between faculty and student perceptions could be especially beneficial.  Communicating both sides of the issue so that people, especially the educators, are aware of what is desired and expected could greatly improve the effect that educators can have on their students.  Students’ opinions are especially important since it is the students who are most affected by the application of attendance policies, because, in many cases, their grades depend on them.  I decided to focus my research on this aspect of class attendance because, after evaluating previous research on attendance policies, I found that there were fewer findings regarding student, faculty, and administrative perceptions of such policies than many other issues, such as how attendance policies relate to grades. In order to evaluate student versus faculty perceptions of attendance policies and possibly find mutually acceptable policies, I chose to develop a survey and determine what differences do exist, but, due to a poor return of the faculty surveys, I was only able to analyze students’ perceptions.



            The participants included Salisbury University students enrolled in the three sections of Experimental Psychology and two sections of Psychology of Learning courses in the Fall Semester of 2004.  The sample was made up predominantly of psychology majors since the Experimental Psychology class is a core requirement of the psychology major curriculum and the Psychology of Learning class is another upper-level psychology course.  Those classes were chosen partly to ensure that the sample would be primarily upper-level students who have had significant experience with undergraduate attendance policies.  Upon the conclusion of the survey, it was found that 92% of respondents had earned 60 credits or more.  Women made up 78% of the sample, which appears to be representative of psychology majors in general, since Pate (2001) found that in the 1999-2000 academic year 77% of first-year Master’s students were women.  All of the participants completed the survey voluntarily, and those enrolled in the Experimental Psychology course were given bonus points as an incentive.  Among the five sections no student declined to participate in the study, yielding a total of 85 respondents; those enrolled in both courses were asked to take the survey only once.  The study was approved by the Salisbury University Committee on Human Research and all participants were treated in accordance with the “Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” (American Psychological Association, 2002).   Also, prior to being given the survey, each student read and signed an Informed Consent Form explaining the research (see Appendix A).  Participants were also given a Debriefing Statement after completing the survey (See Appendix B).


Before creating the final survey, I held an informal meeting during the Spring Semester of 2004 which lasted approximately 40 minutes.  I interviewed three students from a Cognitive Psychology class in order to learn how other students view attendance policies so that I could incorporate some of their issues into my survey.  I prepared some questions, used free pizza as an incentive for them to give up their time to help me, and informed them that all of their responses would be kept confidential.  The students brought up many interesting issues, and, although I could not incorporate all of them into the final survey, I was able to address issues such as the effectiveness of different kinds of policies, and whether or not attendance policies are demeaning or warranted.

During the Fall Semester of 2004, Dr. J. Craig Clarke and I collaborated to create a faculty survey and a student survey (see Appendix C) based on the informal meeting to explore those perspectives and determine if there are types of attendance policies that might work best, or that might be perceived in the most positive way.  The questionnaires tried to assess the extent to which the respondent had been exposed to attendance policies in his/her classes and what experiences he/she has had with them.  They attempted to assess opinions of: the effectiveness of various types of policies in terms of getting the respondent or the respondent’s students to class, participation requirements and their importance and uses, make-up policies, and the numbers of absences that are or should be considered exceptionally large or small.  They also inquired what class-related factors influence whether or not students go to class on any particular day and provided an opportunity for students to write any additional comments at the conclusion of the survey.  The final survey had a total of 24 objective items and three open-ended items.


Faculty surveys were distributed during the Fall Semester of 2004 in the mailboxes of twelve full-time psychology department members at Salisbury University who were requested to return the completed surveys and informed consent.  Since only five surveys were completed and returned, no meaningful analyses could be performed.  The student surveys were distributed at either the beginning or end of the Experimental Psychology and Psychology of Learning classes in the Fall Semester of 2004 after students read and signed an Informed Consent form.  The participants were given as much time as they needed to complete the questionnaire and no one took longer than fifteen minutes.  Upon completion, students were also given a Debriefing Statement.  After distributing the surveys, I compiled the responses into a spreadsheet and analyzed them by compiling frequencies, percentages, and chi square tests of goodness of fit and independence.


            To evaluate the experience the participants have had with attendance policies, I asked students to approximate the percentage of college courses they had taken that included an attendance policy using penalties and/or bonuses to encourage attendance.  None of the respondents said that 19% or fewer of their courses used attendance policies and 60 (71%) of the 85 respondents believed that 60% or more of their classes used attendance policies (see Appendix D for additional results).  Students were also asked if they had ever been penalized or rewarded for their attendance records.  Only 19 students (22%) had ever been penalized, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 22.05, p < .05, whereas 60 students (71%) had been rewarded at some point in time, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 17.61, p < .05.  While those questions helped demonstrate how frequently penalty and bonus systems were actually applied to the sample, I also needed to evaluate the perceived effectiveness of those policies.


Direct. The first six questions of the survey asked students how effective they considered various attendance policies to be in terms of getting them to go to class.  The majority of students responded that policies which use either a penalty or a combination of a penalty and a reward for attendance are very effective in getting them to attend class.  Of the 85 respondents, 71 (84%) found a penalty system to be very effective and the remaining 14 (16%) considered it to be somewhat effective while nobody said it was ineffective.  The goodness of fit chi-square showed that this outcome could not be expected by chance, χ2 (1, N  = 85) = 99.84, p < .05 (see Appendix D for additional goodness of fit chi-squares).  There were 75 students (88%) who considered a policy that uses a combination of penalties and rewards to be very effective and the remaining ten (12%) found it to be somewhat effective.  Again, no students considered it not effective, χ2 (1, N  = 85) = 117.06, p < .05.  Students did not find attendance policies that only reward exceptional attendance to be as effective as those using penalties, but 55 (65%) students considered it to be a very effective system and only four students found it not effective, χ2 (2, N = 5) = 46.19, p < .05.  Despite the fact that the bonus policy was not rated as highly as those using penalties, all three policies generated much higher ratings of effectiveness than those of policies using less direct methods to enforce attendance.

Indirect. The remaining policies were those that I considered to use indirect methods because they did not have specific grades for attendance, but incorporated other ways in which poor attendance could potentially negatively affect one’s grade.  They included make-up policies, participation policies, and undefined policies.  The make-up attendance policy stated that missed classwork and quizzes could not be made up, therefore frequent absences could negatively impact a student’s course grade.  This policy was not found to be as effective as any of the direct policies, but it was considered to be the most effective indirect policy, χ2 (2, N = 85) = 31.37, p < .05.  It was found to be narrowly more effective than the participation attendance policy which stated that a participation grade would be recorded so frequent absences may impact one’s grade because a student cannot earn participation points when he/she is not at class, χ2 (2, N = 85) = 15.55, p < .05.  The last attendance policy was considered “undefined” because it only said that a student’s attendance “may influence” his or her final grade if it is borderline.  This policy was found to be the least effective with only 16 (19%) students designating it as very effective and 29 (34%) considering it to be not effective at all, χ2 (2, N = 85) = 10.19, p < .05.


In item number nine (see Appendix C), students were asked to select factors that influence their decision to attend class on any particular day.  Of the nine options, the most frequently selected item was “attendance is recorded by the instructor,” which was considered influential by 75 (88%) students.  The participants also responded especially strongly to exam questions being taken from the lecture and an activity happening in class with 70 (82%) and 66 (78%) responses, respectively.  There were also 18 (21%) responses in the “other” category, most of which related to how the student was feeling, but others included having respect for the instructor or having interest in the subject.  The chi-square test of independence could not be performed for this item because students were able to select multiple responses.  Students appeared to be primarily motivated by the ways in which their grades would be affected if they do not attend class, including: having their attendance grade reduced, missing an important activity, or missing information that would be included on an exam.

Participation Policies

Students’ opinions of participation policies were not as commonly agreed upon as those of the individual attendance policies.  The goodness of fit chi-squares did not find the results to be significant for several questions, including: whether or not the presence of other students is important for the individual’s education, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 0.02, whether or not class participation requirements are helpful in stimulating discussions, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 2.97, and whether or not students like courses with such requirements, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 1.98.  The majority of participants felt that participation requirements result in students talking purely for credit, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 40.71, p < .05, but are not used as a way for the instructors to avoid lecturing, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 24.02, p < .05.  Respondents also believed that, while class participation requirements are only useful in classes with fewer than 30 students, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 4.31, p < .05, they can be used in either advanced or introductory level courses, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 8.07, p < .05. 


When asked about issues relating to attendance policies and responsibility, there was only one question in which the chi-square was not found to be significant.  That question asked the participants if attendance policies are demeaning to college students.  It is often stated that students dislike attendance policies mainly because they are viewed as being degrading to mature adults who can make their own decisions, but these results demonstrated a lack of agreement among students regarding that opinion, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 1.00.  Twenty-eight students (33%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that attendance policies are demeaning, 21 (25%) were undecided, and 36 (42%) agreed or strongly agreed that they are demeaning.  The respondents were less divided regarding the other three questions relating attendance policies and responsibility.  The majority of students disagreed with the statement that attendance policies have not helped them to become more responsible (χ2 = 11.21, p < .05).  Also, 55 (65%) participants believed that it is the professor’s responsibility to make class interesting enough that students want to attend (χ2 = 13.13, p < .05), but 81 (95%) of the participants agreed that it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to attend class, whether it is interesting or not (χ2 = 75.19, p < .05).

Make-up Policies

Students’ opinions of make-up policies were somewhat divided, but the chi-squares were significant.  When asked if students should justify an absence with written justification, the two most prominent answers were: “yes, but only when a delayed make-up would be unfair to other students by giving the absent student extra time to prepare” and “yes, but only for major projects like exams and papers” with 26 (31%) and 24 (28%) responses, respectively (χ2 = 14.71, p < .05 ).  Participants were also asked to choose which would be their preferred make-up policy.  There was a tie with 32 responses (38%) each for “a policy that allows making up missed grades regardless of the number of missed grades as long as a valid excuse is provided” and “a policy that does not allow making up missed grades but does allow the student the option of dropping the missed (or lowest) grade” (χ2 = 51.53, p < .05).

Allotted Absences

Students were also asked about the number of absences that should be allowed.  The majority of respondents believed that attendance policies that allow a large number of absences (such as 5 to 10) before students are penalized are ineffective in getting students to class (χ2 = 34.80, p < .05).  When asked to indicate how many absences they would consider unacceptable and deserving of a penalty, the median number was five absences.  Four absences appears to be the number most students consider to be acceptable and feel should be regarded as such in attendance policies.  Students were also asked to indicate how many absences should be considered exceptionally low and should be rewarded; the median number was two absences.

Additional Comments

At the conclusion of the survey students had the opportunity to provide any additional comments and 27 (32%) participants took advantage of that opportunity to express their opinions.  Comments ranged from being negative to positive; stereotypical to unexpected; and harsh to constructive.  All of the remarks can be found quoted at the conclusion of Appendix D, but some of the comments generally indicated that students hate attendance policies and do not feel that they should be forced to attend, especially since they are paying for their education.  Others argued that grades should be based on merit, not attendance, because, if they understand the material, there is no reason for them to get a lower grade just because they missed one too many classes.  Still, others understood why attendance policies and validated excuses for being absent are necessary and simply asked that professors be understanding.  Other participants pointed out that the professor can make a significant impact on attendance by how interesting and useful he/she makes the class and another pointed out that how the policies are presented can impact how they are regarded.


I performed chi-square tests of independence on various pairs of questions to determine if there were trends in how the participants felt about different issues.  I wanted to determine if there was any relationship between whether students considered attendance policies to be demeaning (item number eight) and how effective they perceived those policies to be.  The chi-square tests of independence verified that those who considered the policies to be demeaning were more likely to find those using penalties, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 8.62, p < .05, or a combination of penalties and bonuses, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 5.49, p < .05, to be less effective than those who did not find them to be demeaning.  However, there was no relationship between how demeaning students thought attendance policies to be (item number eight) and how effective they considered policies that use only bonus points to be (item number two) , χ2 (2, N = 85) = 5.51.  Essentially, students who felt demeaned were less likely to consider penalty-based attendance policies as effective as those students who did not feel demeaned.  However, students who felt demeaned were just as likely as those who did not feel demeaned to consider bonus-based attendance policies as effective.  Given those conclusions, I wanted to find out if there was a relationship between whether or not a student considered attendance policies to be demeaning and whether he/she had ever been penalized or rewarded for attendance.  However, I found that there was no relationship between whether students felt demeaned and whether they had ever been penalized, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 1.43, or rewarded, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 3.82.  Therefore, while students who consider attendance policies demeaning do not judge them to be as effective as other students believe them to be, they are no more likely to have been punished or rewarded for their attendance records.

I also wanted to determine if there was a relationship between how effective students considered the policies to be and whether or not they believed the policies had hindered them from becoming more responsible.  Although in the survey I asked students if attendance policies had “not helped” them to become more responsible, I have altered the wording to make the explanation of my results more comprehensible.  The tests showed that a relationship did exist between whether students believed the policies had hindered them from becoming more responsible (item number seven) and if they considered attendance policies that use either a penalty or a combination of a penalty and a bonus [both item numbers one, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 8.71, p < .05 and three, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 16.31, p < .05] to be effective.  A connection was not found relating whether students felt attendance policies hindered responsibility and how effective students considered a policy using only bonus points (item number two), χ2 (2, N = 85) = 2.20.  Those who felt that such policies did not help them become more responsible also found them to be less effective.

Whether or not students had ever been penalized or rewarded for attendance was also analyzed for a relationship with item number seven.  The chi-square demonstrated that those respondents who felt that attendance policies hindered them from becoming more responsible had actually been penalized for poor attendance more often than those who disagreed with that statement, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 6.81, p < .05.  Conversely, there was no relationship found between whether students felt attendance policies hindered responsibility and whether they had ever received bonus points for good attendance, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 0.76.

I examined potential patterns among the responses to the items related to class participation requirements.  There was a relationship between students’ opinions as to whether participation requirements help stimulate class discussion (item number 11) and if participation requirements cause students to talk purely for credit (item number 12), χ2 (1, N = 85) = 17.98, p < .05.  Also, students who did not like class participation requirements (item number ten) were less likely to consider the presence of other students important to their education (item number 14) whereas the opposite was true for students who did not dislike such requirements, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 5.91, p < .05.  The participants who reported not liking courses with participation requirements also tended not to consider such requirements as helpful in stimulating classroom discussions, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 14.66, p < .05, but tended to feel that participation requirements cause students to talk purely for getting credit, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 26.73, p < .05.  In terms of where these requirements are considered useful, the chi-square test of independence showed that students who felt that participation requirements are only useful in advanced classes were also more likely to consider them only useful in small classes, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 13.22, p < .05).

I examined if there was a relationship between whether respondents believed it to be the professor’s responsibility to make class interesting enough to attract students or the students’ responsibility to attend class no matter what.  While it might seem that how students felt about one issue would relate to how they felt about the other, no such relationship existed, χ2 (1, N = 85) = 0.89.


            While most students believed that they respond best to attendance policies that have a direct influence on their grades rather than make-up, participation, or undefined attendance policies, the participants also stated that they can be influenced when instructors simply record attendance, which was also found by Shimoff and Catania (2001).

More than a quarter of the participants were undecided as to whether they liked or disliked participation requirements, but, of those with an opinion, most did not like such requirements.  This may be because they do not find them useful outside of small classes or because they do not consider other students’ opinions to be particularly necessary or beneficial for their personal education; especially when participation grades result in students speaking purely for credit.  The students who did like participation requirements probably felt this way because they believed participation requirements help stimulate class discussions rather than cause students to talk purely for credit.

The survey results demonstrated that while students believe faculty are responsible for making class interesting and useful enough to encourage attendance, ultimately it is the students’ responsibility to attend class no matter what.  Students were surprisingly divided when asked if attendance policies are demeaning; only 36 participants (43%) considered them to be demeaning and nearly one fourth of the respondents were neutral on this issue.  Those who felt demeaned were more likely to consider penalty-based attendance policies as only somewhat effective.  Similarly, students who felt that attendance policies had hindered them from becoming more responsible were also more likely to consider penalty-based attendance policies as only somewhat effective.  However, while there was no relationship between whether students felt demeaned and whether they had ever been penalized or rewarded for attendance, students who felt hindered by attendance policies were more likely to have been penalized at some point for poor attendance. 

Five or more absences was the number that most participants considered unacceptable and deserving of punishment. Conversely, those attendance policies that allow a large number of absences, such as five to ten, were considered ineffective by students.  Many students also felt that two or fewer absences should be rewarded. 

            While the survey generally evaluated what it was designed to assess, after analyzing the data, some problems and suggestions to improve the survey became apparent.  First, the wording of some items on the survey, particularly item number seven, could be improved.  In item number seven, students were asked to indicate their agreement with the statement, “I believe that attendance policies that used either penalties or bonuses or some combination thereof have not helped me to become a more responsible person.”  This question was worded in such a way to ask students if attendance policies have specifically hindered their ability to become more responsible people rather than to ask if they have helped or had no effect on them becoming more responsible.  At the time, there was reason to have it worded that way, but after analyzing and explaining the results, I realize how difficult that item can be to understand and answer.  In addition, the question grouped bonus-based and penalty-based penalties together, but the survey results revealed differences in how those two types of attendance policies are perceived.  Students are more likely to be rewarded for good attendance than penalized for poor attendance, but they also generally consider penalty-based attendance policies to be more effective than bonus-based attendance policies.  Given those issues, it would be best to ask students two separate questions using clearer wording so that the questions would be easier to understand and so that it would be possible to determine if students feel that bonus-based and penalty-based types of attendance policies have different effects on them. For example, it might be best to ask, “Have attendance policies that use penalties for poor attendance hindered you in becoming a more responsible person?” and, “Have attendance policies that use rewards for exceptional attendance hindered you in becoming a more responsible person?”

            In item number nine, students were asked to select which factors influence whether or not they attend class on a particular day.  They were given nine options and the opportunity to add any other factors they chose.  One option was, “a particular activity that is happening in class that day,” which I meant to include such activities as exams, quizzes, presentations, group activities, movies, but I did not specify that.  It would be much more comprehensible if those examples were provided; for example, “a particular activity is happening in class that day (e.g. a test, quiz, presentation, classwork, etc.).”  Some participants wrote in quizzes or exams as additional factors that were not mentioned, so I do not think this item was as clearly stated as it could have been.  Also, students frequently wrote in family emergencies and illness as issues influencing their attendance.  Sleigh, Ritzer, and Casey (2002) primarily addressed such internal factors in their survey of what excuses for missing class are acceptable.  The most widely accepted excuses dealt with family emergencies and illnesses, and, while those are completely legitimate responses and reasons for missing class, I intended item number nine to assess what factors of the class, rather than the student, influence attendance.  I believe that health, personal emergencies, and other internal factors will most likely influence every student’s attendance; however, certain external class-related factors, such as the time of day, may influence some students’ attendance while not influencing others’.  I want to learn what class factors in particular influence attendance; research has already been done regarding internal factors and it is important to assess what can be done to prompt students who are less motivated to go to class.  Perhaps a better way to assess that would be to ask students to select and rank those external factors that influence them from most influential to least influential and allow them to add any other significant class-related factors not listed.

Another potentially influential factor that should be considered in item number nine as well as throughout the entire survey is the type of course.  Whether the course in question is a general education requirement or an upper-level course within one’s major may influence students’ opinions of what is an appropriate or effective policy, how many absences are acceptable, or what factors influence one’s personal attendance.  Many students would agree that there is more reason to go to a 300-level course with few students and in-depth discussions than a 100-level lecture course with 60 students and little discussion or information provided beyond that given in the textbook.  If I were to repeat the study, I would need to specifically instruct the respondents to consider each of the questions in terms of either a general education course or an upper-level course within his/her major.  Either option is a possibility for future research.  General education classes may have different attendance rates, which perhaps are lower, and therefore have more of a need for attendance policies.  Courses that undergraduates take that are within their major may involve more group work, class participation, or difficult projects, which may generate a need for attendance policies; however, students may also be more interested in the information taught in those courses, which could increase attendance rates.  Either category is worth investigation.

It may also be important to further explore the “undefined” attendance policy.  The survey assessed students’ opinions of different types and aspects of attendance policies, but the only question regarding the “undefined” policy is item number six, which asked students to rate the effectiveness of “an attendance policy that states that attendance record may influence grades, but only in cases where a student has a borderline grade.”  Students overall rated it the least effective of all the attendance policies listed, but there were no questions to assess why it may be a relatively ineffective policy.  One such question could investigate whether students believe instructors ever do change final grades based on this policy. 

With the exception of the “undefined” policy, I attempted to thoroughly evaluate what students’ thought of various types and aspects of attendance policies, but I did not directly assess students’ opinions of attendance policies that use grade contingencies, in general.  While I provided an opportunity for additional comments and several students took that opportunity to express themselves, it might have been enlightening to ask every student to do so through open-ended questions or a few questions using a Likert-scale response.  If faculty or researchers ask students whether they believe that attendance policies that use grade contingencies are useful or necessary, the responses may shed more light on what their opinions and issues are, which could lead to a better understanding and a better approach to attendance policies.


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