When the issue of attendance arises, most faculty members let out a frustrated sigh; keeping records, enforcing policies, and dealing with grumbling students are among the least enjoyable parts of our profession. But setting up clear attendance policies is an important part of our jobs, so we've gathered some ideas to help you craft an effective attendance policy.

First, as always, be aware of university or departmental policies that impact your course policy. See the university policy from the Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook. Check with your department chair about more local policies or expectations.

Be clear about policies and consequences
Work on a clear and concise attendance policy that lays out what is expected of students, as well as what the consequences are of missing class. You might consider some of these issues:

  • Will students be allowed to miss a certain number of classes without repercussions? Many teachers allow 2-3 "no questions asked" absences ("freebies"), with grade reductions or other consequences kicking in after that.
  • What will those consequences be for missed classes? Perhaps a certain number of points could be deducted from the final grade for each additional absence after the three "freebies."
  • Will absent students be able to make up missed work, such as in-class assignments, papers or other assignments due in class, or tests/quizzes?
  • How will tardiness be handled?
  • What should students do in order to catch up? Can they contact you, or do you expect them to get assistance from classmates? If you want to avoid, "What did I miss in class?" questions, you should make this clear up front.

Put attendance in a positive light
Don't make attendance all about punishment. Take time—either in class or in your syllabus—to explain why you think attendance is important, and what the benefits are of attending class. Your students may ultimately disagree with your reasons, but at least you are explaining the policy, rather than appearing arbitrary or simply authoritarian.

Excused or unexcused?
Will you make a distinction between "excused" and "unexcused" absences? Excusing particular absences due to illness or other circumstances can complicate your policies and lead to questions of fairness. What type of illness is bad enough to be excused—a minor cold, the flu, or hospitalization? What if a student has a court date, and does it matter if it is a DUI appearance or a child custody hearing?

Some faculty members avoid the "excused" distinction and provide those 2-3 "freebies" no matter what the reason—illness or vacation. Students just need to be reminded of the consequences of their blowing off their "freebies" for a long fall break, then coming down with a cold in December.

Also, know that the BSU Health Center does not provide students with notes or excuses. Clearly, they do not want to get into the business of deciding when a student should be excused from class.  If a student has a serious illness, consider having them go through Disabled Student Development rather than bringing you doctor's notes directly.

Occasionally you will get a student who may miss classes due to a documented disability, such as a psychological disorder or a chronic health condition. In cases such as these, students must work with Disability Services (DS) to document their condition, and the student will provide you with a letter from DS asking for a reasonable accommodation and flexibility in your attendance policy. There are no set rules for that flexibility; it is something you can work out with the student and DS.

Field Trips and Athletics
As you can see from the university policy below, students should not be penalized for missing class when they are participating in officially sponsored field trips, or when they are representing the university through athletics or other activities (e.g., debate, artistic performances, etc.).  In most cases, students should present you with an official form early in the semester that provides details of the event and absence dates.

Funeral and Bereavement Leave
Students are officially excused from classes for funeral leave for specific relatives and for specified amounts of time, with the length of time depending upon the distance the student must travel. You can see section 1.6.9 of the Student Code for details. Faculty members should also be aware that other deaths may occur that are not covered by this policy, such as the death of a close high school friend, or a relative of a significant other. Those events can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Make Class Worth Attending
Beyond policies, find ways of making class worth attending. What do students get from class that they cannot get from the textbook, a classmate's notes, or even a recording of the class? Consider incorporating collaborative and active learning strategies that get students involved—discussions, small group activities, student-led projects or presentations, etc.

Ideas for Creative Attendance Policies
Here are a few ideas for dealing with attendance issues in more creative ways:

Alternative educational tasks can be used as a way for students to "make up" missed classes. If students are missing an educational opportunity by missing class, they can substitute a different educational event such as a speaker, play, or field trip. Consider whether you want that event to be connected to the course topic, and what type of report students must submit afterwards.

Rely on professional standards whenever possible. If you are teaching in a professional area—business, nursing, education, etc.—draw on a sense of professionalism to encourage attendance.

Use clickers to ensure students are in class and are engaged. Using clickers only to take attendance may frustrate students, since they are spending money on the devices, but many of the systems allow you to track student participation and give students points for answering questions. See the "Clickers" tip for more information.

Emergency Absence Notifications

Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook

Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities

Ball State university Student Attendance Policy
from Faculty and Professional Personnel Handbook, p. 213

  1. At Ball State university, student attendance at class meetings is expected. Faculty shall establish attendance policies for their courses. Such attendance policies must be communicated to students by faculty through course syllabi or outlines.
  2. Absence caused by field trips or activities in which the student is representing Ball State university at state, regional, or national events shall be announced in advance to instructors of the other course(s) in which the student is enrolled. A notice will originate in the office of the department chairperson and be brought to the instructor(s) by the student at least three (3) days before the field trip. All trips should be scheduled after the first week or before the last two weeks of a semester (last two weeks—including the examination period). Exceptions to these periods will be granted only after consultation with and approval by the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the Vice President for Marketing, Communication and Enrollment Management. Faculty are expected to allow students to make up all missed course activities during their absence including, but not limited to, class activities, assignments, examinations, and final examinations. Students should not be penalized for their absence while representing the university. When possible, students are expected to complete these activities before their absences.
  3. Detailed information regarding requirements for Veterans' attendance may be obtained from the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. This information is kept current by directives received from the Administrator of the Veterans Administration, VACO, Washington, D.C.