‘It’s going to take an entire campus culture shift’: Students and teachers reflect on non-mandatory class attendance.

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For Fall Semester 2020, Southern Adventist University administration made class attendance non-mandatory. The change came as a response to COVID-19 so that students don’t feel obligated to go to class if they feel ill. To make allowances for this, Southern has also made classes available via Zoom. 

While some teachers use daily quizzes or other tactics to encourage students to attend in person, School of Journalism and Communication professor Lorraine Ball said there has been “a significant change in attendance.”

“I have a student who has attended class twice,” Ball said. “On occasion they might show up on Zoom, but not always.”

In an Instagram poll of 162 students, 60% said they skipped class more than normal. The other 40% indicated  that their attendance habits “haven’t really changed.”

When Ball first heard of the change in policy, she was concerned that it would give students an excuse to skip class or a reason for why assignments are late. Half-way through the semester, she said she has noticed a drop in grades, which in her opinion is a direct result of the non-mandatory attendance policy. Sall said she can usually trace it back to the student not being in class for the quizzes or not turning in assignments.

However, in another Instagram poll, 85% of voters said non-mandatory class attendance has been a blessing as a whole.

“It’s been harder to manage my time and deal with major procrastination,” said Khelly Cabil, a sophomore biology major. “But, it has done a lot better for my anxiety.”

 Additionally, 61% of students from the poll voted that their grades, work ethic and learning experience as a whole has been better since the change of policy.

“I love making my own schedule at my own pace,” said Issac Abraham, a junior pre-med nursing major. “Now that I can do that, I don’t have to stuff myself with information during weeks where I am not mentally present at all.”

This experience is not specific to certain majors either. The range of those who voted that they have had a better learning experience since this change include nursing, business, communication, biology majors and more.

“I don’t feel stressed to always go to class, but I do still want to go,” said Nikki Litten, a junior business administration major. “I go because I want to learn, not because my grade relies on attendance. If we don’t want to go to class, that is on us for wasting our money. Also, I can finally catch up on work.”

Despite concerns about dropping attendance and grades, “it will take an entire campus culture shift,” according to Ball. If this new policy is to be continually sustainable for teachers and students alike, she said that it would take some time to train faculty and staff to get to the point where the expectations and responsibilities of students are clear.

In an email sent to students on Oct. 19, Senior Vice President Bob Young emphasized the reasons for non-mandatory class attendance along with an updated exam policy for Fall 2020. It outlined that it is the student’s responsibility to communicate with their professors and make necessary arrangements if in quarantine or isolation, as well as announcing the potential $100 fee for a rescheduled exam “for any reason other than verified illness or death in the immediate family.” However, this updated policy does not affect class attendance outside of exams and tests.

“There are certain classes that I understand why attendance is required, like labs or nursing classes,” said Joel Guerra, a junior public relations and business administration major. “But in college, you are grown enough to make your own decision whether you want to take advantage of the resources that are being offered. If you’re confused in quizzes and tests, that’s on you.”

While Ball echoes Guerra’s sentiments, she says students need to be more dependable.

“If we can get to the point where students are expected to take responsibility for their own grades and attendance…then I don’t have a problem,” Ball said. “Most colleges are there.  We’re going to have to shift the way we think about holding students accountable.”

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