Each day, students at the College of William and Mary are faced with a choice: head to class or forego attending for an extra 50 minutes of sleep or an extra hour in Earl Gregg Swem Library. But those extra minutes in Swem or bed could cost up to $110 per skipped class.
According to the Bursar’s Office’s data on undergraduate and graduate tuition rates, the cost of each credit hour is $325 for in-state undergraduates and $1,030 for out-of-state undergraduates.
For a typical three-credit class at the College, these costs mean that in-state students pay $975 for each course, while out-of-state students pay $3,090. In a 14-week semester, twice-a-week classes will meet 28 times, meaning the cost of each class is about $34.82 for in-state students and $110.36 for out-of-state students. Classes that meet three times a week will convene a total of 42 times, with each class costing approximately $23.21 for in-state students and $73.57 for out-of-state students.
Faculty Director of Academic Advising and associate professor of geology Rowan Lockwood said that although she sees a correlation between high class attendance and exam scores, she views the decision to go to class as a student’s personal choice.
“By the time a person gets to college, it’s really up to them,” Lockwood said. “I know that in the classes I teach, it’s really hard to skip class and do well on the exams, but I think that’s an individual’s choice.”
Lockwood said that she does not take attendance, but employs various tactics in the courses she teaches to encourage students to come to class.
Lockwood’s main strategy, she said, is learning as many names as possible in each class, even in the 100-person course she is teaching this semester. Lockwood said she will also occasionally have unannounced participation activities, in which students will run through a quantitative problem, do a demo, or participate in a discussion. The activities are then graded based on effort.
Like Lockwood, associate psychology professor Constance Pilkington does not opt to take attendance in her classes. Pilkington has taught introductory classes with up to 300 students, as well as upper-level courses, which she said tend to have between 16 and 45 students. On any given day teaching either type of class, Pilkington said she thinks about 75 percent of her students are in attendance.
“Of course I could take attendance and award points for that,” Pilkington said in an email. “But I am neither a high school teacher [nor] a parent. It’s the student’s job to attend class.”
While Lockwood and Pilkington do not take attendance in their classes, University Registrar Sara Marchello said many faculty members do take roll regularly. However, they do not report the information to any central database, meaning the College does not have any data on how common skipping class may be.
However, Lockwood said she does not think the College has any major issues with students not attending class.
“I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised at student attendance in my own classes, even in the really big classes,” Lockwood said. “I offer a dinosaurs class with 150 people, and I usually have 90 percent attendance, and I’m very happy with that. I think William and Mary students in general tend to be really committed, really dedicated and enthusiastic.”
Lockwood said she finds it fascinating to watch how her students handle telling professors about their impending absences. Some will come in with notes or visit office hours, she said, while others will be perpetually absent and not say anything at all.
Chrissy Sherman ’14 said she occasionally skips classes to catch up on other work.
“It’s a cost-benefit analysis in terms of what you can get done during that time,” Sherman said. “Usually going to class is more valuable, but sometimes it’s more beneficial to learn the material outside of class or to spend that time doing work.”
Pilkington said that while students may have differing reasons for missing class, she views being in the classroom as key.
“Even if you can get all the information from a textbook or your friend’s notes that is necessary to achieve your goal grade on an exam, you miss out on a critical element of a liberal arts education — the interaction between faculty and students,” Pilkington said. “That’s where you can learn to question and challenge in a productive way.”