Millions of College Students Tweet About Skipping Class: Is Attendance a Lost Cause?

Posted By Terri Williams on October 5, 2015 at 10:13 am
Millions of College Students Tweet About Skipping Class: Is Attendance a Lost Cause?

Recently, the technology company Core Principle and the social media analysis company Crimson Hexagon evaluated 3.1 million tweets from college students on the subject of skipping class. 13% of students said they did not skip class, while 87% of students said they did skip class.

Out of the students who did skip class, 40% provided a reason why:

  • 37% were spending time with friends
  • 32% were too tired
  • 17% were involved in recreational activities (specific events or watching TV)
  • 11% were studying
  • 3% blamed the weather (inclement or too pleasant)

Even the most prestigious colleges in the country aren’t immune to classroom absenteeism. Last fall, researchers at Harvard set up GoPro cameras in front of four lecture halls. They discovered the following:

  • 60% of students attended any given lecture (some classes had attendance levels as low as 38% over the semester, while others had levels as high as 97%)
  • Over the course of the semester, lecture attendance started at 79% and ended at 43%; attendance also declined toward the end of the week
  • Courses that measured and graded attendance had higher attendance (87%) than those that did not (49%)

Class attendance is the greatest predictor of course grades, so what can motivate students to stay in class?

Core Principle developed Class 120, a class attendance monitoring system that uses geolocation tracking and proprietary campus mapping to determine if a student is in class through their smartphone. If the phone is not in class at the specific time, a text message is sent to parents, coaches, academic advisors or other designated individuals. However, it’s possible that this geofencing approach could be outsmarted by students who send their phones to class with a friend.

Another approach is to figure out why students are skipping classes and how they can be motivated to attend. GoodCall reached out to two experts for their views on this subject.

According to Melissa Cohen, a licensed social worker and coach who works with teens and parents to tackle issues related to college, there are several reasons why students skip class. “They might be experiencing difficulty in the class, they might not be interested, they might believe the lecture will be boring or they may not feel challenged enough,” says Cohen. She adds that these students think they can learn just as much from reading the lesson or someone else’s notes.

In addition to academic reasons, Cohen, who is also the author of ParentKnowledgy – A (Simple) Guide to Surviving Your Teen, says that sometimes students are just lazy, and they do not believe that there will be any negative consequences from missing class.  However, she cautions, “Success is tied to attendance, and these students are just fooling themselves. Every missed class is a lost opportunity to gain new knowledge, experience something new and it’s also a waste of money.”

Ethan Zagore, Director of TRiO Programs at the University of Notre Dame, thinks it’s a common misconception that only academically poor students skip classes. “A student that excels academically, but has additional responsibilities (i.e. extracurricular activities on campus or a job) might just feel that sleeping, studying for other classes or simply hanging out with friends is a better usage of time,” says Zagore. He adds, “As students matriculate through college despite skipping some classes, they grow more confident in the belief that missing the occasional class is acceptable.”

Is geofencing the answer?

Will tracking students’ attendance through their cellphones ultimately help? Cohen doesn’t think so. She says it’s more important to find out why students are making these choices. “We should attempt to address the underlying issue rather than try to force students to attend class or track them electronically. If we don’t fix the core concern, then no amount or type of technology will make the student successful.”

Cohen also says that students will always find a way to circumvent the rules and technology. “They need to learn to grow up and take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Geofencing is not allowing them to do this.” She says that college is a time for growth, “and by notifying parents, advisors and coaches, they are just enabling students to remain dependent.”

Zagore also believes there are other ways to encourage students to attend class. “Increasing the amount of percentage points attendance is worth, having periodic quizzes, including a small amount of material on exams that only comes from classroom lectures (not the textbook), and creating a more interactive classroom environment are all strategies to improve the classroom attendance of students,” he concludes.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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