I must admit that on more than one occasion, I cut some of my university classes, which on retrospect, may not have been for the best of reasons. Since class attendance itself didn't count towards my grades, the only penalty I incurred was if I couldn't understand later what had been taught during the lecture. Some classes you didn't dare cut for that very reason.
At Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Arizona, the administration has instructed that next semester professors should seriously consider counting class attendance as part of the course grade for their freshman and sophomore classes, says this Arizona Republic article.
The administration's reasoning is that students who attend classes and participate are generally more successful than those that don't. The administration says that it wants to reduce the drop-out rate of the university's lower classman, and cites various statistics to back up its objectives.
The fuss about attendance would probably not be a news item except that NAU intends to use RFID proximity card readers to automatically take attendance in classes of 50 or more freshman and sophomore students. NAU has used RFID-enabled student ID cards for years to allow its students access to their resident halls, purchase meals on campus, etc. In smaller freshman and sophomore classes, the professors would manually take class attendance.
Many NAU students don't like the idea, and some privacy advocates have expressed reservations, too. Some 1,500 students have voiced their objection to the plan, according to this Government Technology article. To put that number in perspective, according to the NAU website, there are 18,300 undergraduate students and 5,300 graduate students that attend the university. I would guess that about 9,000 or so are freshman and sophomore students.
Other NAU students apparently don't mind because they see themselves getting credit for doing what they would do normally anyway.
Since grading for attendance is at the discretion of NAU professors, it is not known how many classes or students will actually be affected next semester.
I don't know if students at NAU rate their professors at the end of the year, either. I would be curious to see after next semester whether those professors who decide to count attendance as part of the course grade get a higher or lower student rating than those who do not.
The Arizona Republic nor Government Technology article interviewed any parents of the affected students (especially the incoming freshman class) attending NAU for their opinion, but I would guess that few of them are vigorously objecting to the plan.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.