Lecturer Maurits de Klepper on the Attendance Policy: “A Lot of Cut-Off Criteria at AUC Are Based on Convention”

By Maurits de Klepper


Collage by Sabine Besson and Levin Stamm

A disclaimer (and trigger warning of sorts): As academics, we need to be open about our academic worldviews, so let me start by writing that I am a follower of the empiricist doctrine in the social sciences. I am trained to believe that academic knowledge is produced through systematic observation and mostly quantitative analysis. Don’t dismiss me just yet, you selective observer! I am not an entrenched empiricist and I am well aware that this is one of many worldviews with its own weaknesses and strengths.

I’d like to respond to The Herring article “Attendance Policies at Dutch Universities: Requirement or Relic?” and the (student) discussion of the attendance policy in general at AUC.

In the discussions on mandatory class attendance, I hear and read a lot of arguments based on single-opinion anecdotes and common-sense theorising, mostly from a student perspective. Without dismissing any of these arguments, I want to highlight that it strikes me that arguments from teachers, institutions and academic research are mostly missing. 

In this response, I’m focusing on what academic research has to offer in this regard. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. But before we do that, we have to ask the question: What is the purpose of (mandatory) class attendance? If I project my thoughts, I think most would agree that it is a means to improve student learning and achievement, specifically academic performance. Possibly with collateral benefits such as increased motivation, socialisation and sense of belonging at AUC.

There is a long tradition of research in the educational sciences on what causes student achievement or performance. In the last 15 years, there has been a strong tendency of researchers to comprehensively summarise and weigh off all possible success factors. One landmark publication is John Hattie’s “Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement” (2008), which also boosted the practice of evidence-based teaching. If we look at the relationship between class attendance and student performance in colleges, we find a fairly strong positive statistical relationship between the two, even in comparison to other factors (Credé et al, 2010; Schneider & Preckel, 2017). Schneider and Preckel elaborate (p. 590):

“Students who attend more class sessions show significantly better achievement than students with lower attendance rates. This correlational finding does not allow for a causal interpretation (see Credé et al., 2010, for a detailed discussion). However, the empirical results indicate that the frequency of class attendance makes unique contributions to academic achievement beyond prior achievement and personality traits such as conscientiousness. Furthermore, the effect of class attendance has remained constant over the past years. Thus, the increasing frequency of online classes and blended learning (i.e., presentation slides for download) does not diminish the importance of class attendance for achievement. So far, there is hardly any controlled quantitative study that has investigated the effects of mandatory attendance policies, so it is too early to draw conclusions about their usefulness.”

So the evidence and current state of affairs seem relatively clear: attendance relates positively to student performance, but it is unknown whether making it mandatory helps. Do we dare to set up a quasi-experimental field study at AUC where we allow some classes to have attendance policy and others not, preferably in large mandatory classes, and compare them to student performance and class ratings? Or do we leave empirics (anecdotal or not) aside and start a discussion on moral and social grounds (see MacFarlane, 2013 for an interesting review)? In my opinion, we should encourage attendance and make classes worthwhile to attend. In the end, however, attendance and academic performance are students’ own responsibility.


What no one ever talks about: why can’t we have more than six absences (so require 84 percent attendance)? Who says that this is the optimum attendance rate? I tried to find this out at AUC and, as is often the case, a lot of cut-off criteria are based on convention; a couple of people brainstorming and thinking, “oh yeah, that sounds about right.” Well, there is some evidence that the relationship between attendance and academic performance follows a law of diminishing returns, with a tipping point in performance a lot lower than 84 percent (Credé et al, 2010). We could consider rethinking the attendance policy by allowing for more absences, or enforcing attendance only conditionally (for example, when someone performs below 5.5 after mid-term).

Editor’s Note: This article is a guest contribution by Dr. Maurits de Klepper. He has been a lecturer and tutor at AUC since August 2011. He also currently serves as interim Head of Academic Core.

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