Course Attendance

Attendance Expectations in Higher Education. College is supposed in many respects to be different from high school. Colleges and universities generally don't babysit their students. To do so would defeat part of the educational program, to build student responsibility and accountability, and promote student maturity. At some colleges and universities, and in some courses, the instructor's attendance stance is that if a student is so undisciplined and immature as to blow off all classes, then the student must face whatever exam consequences come from not learning and rehearsing in class the skills and content. Some students may pass exams even if they seldom if ever attend classes, although those students are probably few and far between. Better to participate in the classes for which you pay. But despite the relatively lax approach many schools and instructors may take toward attendance, colleges and universities do have attendance policies. Boston University, for example, has an attendance policy that expects regular attendance, requires documentation for absences of five days or more, and removes the student from the course without credit for excessive absences. Students can run so afoul of attendance policies as to suffer academic probation or dismissal.

Discretionary Attendance Policies. Colleges and universities vary in their attendance policies according to the needs of their student body and the commitments of their faculties and academic programs. A common form of attendance policy, represented by the policy at Michigan State University, is to permit the instructor to determine required attendance. Those discretionary policies are common because instructors use different instructional methods, have different instructional goals, and have different beliefs about the value of attendance and how to promote or enforce it. Under those discretionary policies, instructors may articulate in their syllabi or other course instructions the number of permitted class absences and the class periods students must attend for labs, collaborative projects, quizzes, exams, or other critical instructional activities. Students who do not meet an instructor's attendance requirements may end up with a lower grade, failing grade, or incomplete grade for missed labs, projects, quizzes, or exams. College and university students can face significant hazards of course failure, and academic probation or dismissal, simply because of attendance policies.

Attendance and Financial Aid. Although many colleges and universities let their instructors decide attendance requirements, federal student aid regulations impose some attendance requirements on all colleges and universities whose students receive federal funding. Michigan State University's attendance policy explains the requirement in this way: “In compliance with federal regulations governing financial aid and veterans education benefits, instructors are required to report students who stop attending or who have never attended class. After the first week of classes, through the middle of the term of instruction, instructors who identify a non-attending student should notify their departmental office. Upon receiving a report of non-attendance, departmental representatives are encouraged to initiate an administrative drop.” The policy behind the policy is that Congress doesn't authorize student loans just for students to blow off classes. A student and school may be committing loan fraud if they solicit and accept federal student grants and loans for courses for which the student never shows up. Respect and meet your school's early and minimum attendance requirements. You must show up for your courses early and often enough to satisfy federal financial-aid regulations.

Attendance Offices and Officials. Professors and other college and university instructors can have better things to do than to implement attendance policies. The time that attendance questions and concerns take to manage can be especially significant when it comes to excused class absences. The person deciding the student's absence request may also need significant training in disability, equal-opportunity, freedom-of-religion, pregnancy, and sexual-violence laws, and physical and mental health practices, to make informed and reliable decisions. Some colleges and universities thus move the responsibility for approving or disapproving class absences from the instructor to an attendance office or official. The University of North Carolina's faculty-adopted attendance policy provides a good example. At UNC, students make requests to a centralized University Approved Absence Office. To make sound decisions on absence requests, UNC's Approved Absence Office works closely with the university's accommodations, gender violence, equal opportunity, and physical and mental health offices. If you find yourself in an attendance dispute at your college or university, then you may deal with an attendance office or official rather than your professor or other instructor. You may also need the representation of a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney who knows the applicable law, rules, regulations, and practices.

An Institutional View of Attendance Policies. The above variety in attendance policies and approaches suggests that most colleges and universities at some point find themselves struggling to implement a meaningful attendance policy. An Inside Higher Ed article reveals the nature of that struggle. Professors often want the school to handle attendance policies and disputes because of the time attendance takes away from instruction, preparation, and scholarship. Deans may prefer that professors take responsibility for attendance, both to fit attendance demands to course requirements and to relieve administrators of the burden. Schools that permit professor discretion, though, may be sending the wrong signal that attendance doesn't matter. Yet schools that have strict, one-size-fits-all attendance policies may be handicapping instruction and students in certain courses. Plainly, no attendance policy or approach is going to be perfect. Instead, attendance policies of any sort tend to create concerns and disputes for certain students in certain situations. That's just the nature of the attendance issue. Don't get caught in your school's game of attendance hot potato. If you need help getting your instructor or school to deal upfront and responsibly with your attendance issue, then consult an academic administrative attorney.

Defining Attendance. Interestingly, schools may have to define what constitutes attendance, especially in this day and age of remote instruction fueled by the pandemic, to enforce their attendance policies. Again, Michigan State University's attendance policy provides this example definition for attendance: “Attendance is defined as physical attendance or participation in an academically-related activity, including but not limited to the submission of an assignment, an examination, participation in a study group or an online discussion. Instructors who do not take attendance may utilize key assessment points (e.g., projects, papers, mid-term exams, and discussions) as benchmarks for participation.” MSU's attendance definition shows that attendance isn't always as simple as counting students in their seats, especially when significant portions of the course occur online. Students can unquestionably find themselves in disputes over whether their form and level of participation constituted attendance within their school's policy and instructor's practice. Don't let a vague attendance definition, or no definition, cause you to run afoul of your school's attendance policy. Get help if you find yourself in a dispute over whether your participation met your school's attendance definition.

Excuses for Absences. Colleges and universities generally approve absences, especially multiple or lengthy absences, only for good cause and sound reasons. You will likely need to provide a good excuse, and may need to document that excuse, to qualify for relief from your instructor's or school's attendance policy. Absence excuses typically begin with illness or injury, documentation for which would come from healthcare providers. But excuses can also include personal reasons like divorce, transportation loss, eviction, homelessness, and military training. Excuses can also include family reasons like the death, illness, disability, pregnancy, or delivery of a family member. Boston University's attendance policy offers another example of a valid and reliable excuse for absence: religious observance. Religious-observance laws, such as Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151C, Section 2B, which Boston University's attendance policy cites, may require your school to permit such an absence. No list of excuses is quite complete. Excuses may be as numerous as the unique and unusual circumstances individual students face. If you need help advocating with your instructor or school for an excused absence, then consult an academic administrative attorney.

Make-Up Work for Absences. Students sometimes end up in disputes with their instructors or school over making up work, exams, and projects following an approved or unapproved absence. The absence may not be the problem. The missed activity may instead be the problem. Once again, colleges and universities may have straightforward or complex policies addressing making up for absences. The University of North Carolina's attendance policy provides a good example of a make-up policy. UNC's policy first assures students of fair and equitable treatment, notwithstanding the reason for the approved absence. UNC's policy further assures that “[i]nstructors will provide reasonable alternatives that permit course objectives and learning outcomes to be met.” UNC's assurance of reasonable alternatives for make-ups is a bold and generous offer, given how difficult it can be for instructors to arrange secure alternative quiz, exam, problem, and project dates and content. UNC's testing center handles much of the challenging scheduling. UNC's policy provides other assurances that instructors will not penalize students for approved absences and will instead be prudent, fair, and equitable. If you find yourself in an intractable dispute with your instructor or school over make-up exams or work, then get the help of an academic administrative attorney to negotiate a fair and reasonable resolution.

Final-Exam Absences. Colleges and universities may treat final-exam absences differently from other absences. Once again, the University of North Carolina's attendance policy provides a good example. Instead of using its Approved Absence Office for final exams, UNC directs students with emergency health issues to its healthcare providers to add the student to an excused-exam list. Students with personal or family emergencies must see their academic advisors. Students who face three or more exams in twenty-four hours may submit an online request to reschedule an exam. Students with religious-observance reasons for missing a final exam must see their academic dean. Your school may have similar special requirements for missed final exams. If you find yourself in a dispute with your instructor or school over missed final exams, and you have been unable to obtain any relief, then consult a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney.

Attendance Appeal Procedures. Colleges and universities may not have the same elaborate, formal, published procedures for attendance appeals as they have for academic appeals and misconduct discipline appeals. Your school may not have any specific attendance appeal procedure, suggesting that you must relent to the decision of your instructor or your school's attendance official. But informal appeal routes very likely exist. Depending on the grounds justifying your absence, you may have an appeal to administrators within your school's Title IX office, disability accommodations office, veterans-affairs office, mental health services, dean of student's office, dean of faculty office, or general counsel's office. Determining your procedural course can require significant investigation into the legal and factual or other basis for your attendance relief claim and your school's institutional rules, customs, hierarchy, and structures. Winning an attendance appeal can also require significant knowledge, diplomatic sensitivity, abundant documentation, and strong advocacy skills. If you face the need for an attendance appeal because your instructor or attendance official is refusing you due relief, then consult an academic administrative attorney who knows the informal procedures for relief.

Academic Administrative Attorney Available. No matter your school, program, level, or location, you have available to you a skilled and experienced academic administrative attorney to help you navigate attendance disputes. Attendance disputes can delay or threaten your progress and degree. Resolve those disputes forthrightly and effectively. Retain national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to aggressively and effectively represent you. Attorney Lento has successfully represented hundreds of students nationwide in all kinds of schools and programs. He has not only the knowledge of academic administrative customs and procedures and the procedural knowledge and skills but also the high commitment that you need and deserve to preserve your valuable education. Call 888.535.3686 or go online to tell Attorney Lento about your case.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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