By the Editorial Board Class attendance varies greatly across college campuses. Students at huge universities may attend the first day of class and then only return for exams, while students at small colleges face stricter attendance policies and participation grades. The Editorial Board believes that, at a school like Skidmore, classroom attendance should be mandatory, contrary to the insistence by many of our peers that the opposite should be true. Our opinion is predicated on the belief that students respect their peers and professors and the understanding that a pillar of a liberal arts education is discussion-based learning.
Skidmore’s average class size is 17, and the majority of those classes are small, discussion-based seminars. In most classes, a percentage of the final grade is based on participation- this number can vary from five percent to 50 percent. In such small classes, a group dynamic emerges as students become more comfortable with each other. Missing a significant number of classes can directly affect the learning experience of other students by altering this classroom dynamic. Out of respect to the classroom environment and our peers, students should be required to attend all classes.
A liberal arts education is, in part, differentiated from the traditional university education by its focus on discussion-based learning. Companies hiring from liberal arts schools understand that distinction and anticipate hiring students who have spent considerable time honing their discussion skills and critical thinking in a classroom. If the school has done its job well, a liberal arts graduate should be able to make a strong verbal argument and hold their own in a discussion. Mandating classroom attendance would ensure that Skidmore graduates have developed these skills through many hours in the classroom.
Detractors of mandatory attendance policies often argue that, because they're paying nearly $50,000 for tuition alone, it should be at their discretion whether they attend class or not -- let the professors evaluate their completion of the course through essays, exams and projects. However, what that money is paying for is a diploma that signals to prospective employers a standard of education. As has been argued, much of the learning, whether through lecture or discussion, occurs exclusively in the classroom. The truant may be able to ace the material without entering the classroom, but that does not mean they absorbed all the material they could have or, perhaps more importantly, developed all the skills they could have (e.g. critical analysis). To waive mandatory attendance would dilute the significance of the liberal arts degree.
Yet, the Editorial Board understands that some absences are unavoidable or deemed necessary by students, for example in the case of an overwhelming workload in a given week.. Many professors acknowledge that tough situations arise, but we have seen one too many syllabi without this exception. We ask that professors allow for at least two unexcused absences per semester, and thank those who already do so. To clarify, this would not replace the permitted excused absences, the stipulations of which are, or should be, clarified at the beginning of the semester. Rather, these unexcused absences are no-questions-asked and have no punitive consequences other than missed material.
The Editorial Board believes there are times that justify absence, but we generally uphold the policy of many professors to make attendance mandatory and factor of final grades. It is fair that professors expect it of students, and, for those who still fail to see the logic, mandatory attendance should have been expected upon matriculation into a liberal arts college.