Class attendance shouldn’t be mandatory

Varun Joshi, a senior double-majoring in economics and mathematics, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

At the start of the semester, students begin their new classes with a fidgety scan of their syllabi: Is there an emphasis on exams? Will there be pop quizzes? But more than anything else, it’s often a huge disappointment to see attendance listed as a major component of the final grade.

Attendance policies certainly come from a good place. Some professors say that class attendance is positively correlated with better grades. Others simply want to incentivize students to participate. However, mandating attendance and penalizing students who skip class may not always have the best outcome.

As college students and as adults, we should have the right to prioritize our time based on our needs. While our professors are well-meaning and want to see us succeed, they should understand that attending class is a tuition-paying student’s responsibility – and should be a choice, rather than an obligation.

During my time at GW, I’ve noticed that there is a big distinction between being “physically present” and “mentally present.” Mandatory attendance, in my experience, merely incentivizes physical presence: Those who would have normally skipped class only show up to avoid losing points, rather than out of a natural desire to learn. In other words, these students are simply present, rather than either processing the lecture or actively participating.

I strongly believe that students are rational enough to determine when to attend class and when to miss it. I have had some incredibly instructive professors who taught me material I could never learn on my own – like statistical programming – so I made sure to attend every one of their classes. My intellectual curiosity, along with my realization that it was a necessity, motivated me to always attend those classes – not any mandatory attendance policy.

In my experience, it’s common for classes with strict attendance policies to be filled with students sleeping, watching viral animal videos on YouTube or pinning to their dream wedding boards on Pinterest. This is often to the detriment of students who come to class to learn, and are then distracted by what their classmates are doing.

It’s important to remember that GW, like any university, is a service provider – much like a gym. People purchase a membership, and go work out whenever they choose. Because they’re paying for that service, there’s no penalty for staying home – and there shouldn’t be a penalty if students choose to stay home from class, either. Classes are just one service students receive for paying tuition.

Plus, class lectures aren’t always valuable. I’ve had several professors who instructed verbatim from textbooks, offering identical examples and reading paragraphs line by line – an educational experience that I can attain from the comfort of my apartment. By independently practicing problems and devoting time to tackling and processing core elements of the course, I can still be “mentally present” and succeed without being physically present at a time that might be less convenient.

Of course, I am not arguing that arbitrarily skipping classes on a regular basis is a good thing. Since we’re paying for these classes, it’s worth it to go as often as possible. But, given our busy schedules that often include work in addition to classes, students should not be penalized or forced to provide documentation of absences if events or other obligations conflict with lectures every now and then.

As a student already paying to attend each of my classes, I strongly believe that I should have the right to utilize my purchased service at my own discretion. Provided I meet the learning objectives of my classes, my physical presence in a classroom should therefore not be factored into my grade.

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