8 Ways to Improve Student Attendance in College

An image of Poll Everywhere's attendance report.

Technology advancements in the education industry are supporting the rise of remote or hybrid learning environments that allow students to attend class from anywhere or catch up on lectures at a more convenient time for them. It is undeniable that these tools create a more flexible and accessible learning environment.

However, having experienced 2 years of online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students are itching to return to the classroom. According to a 2022 report by the Pew Research Center, 65% of students prefer in-person learning to hybrid or remote learning options. Many cite academic achievement gaps and declining test scores as reasons for preferring in-person learning.

Student attendance is a crucial factor in academic success, and as educators, it's essential to explore effective strategies to boost attendance rates. Let’s delve into the effects of poor student attendance, highlight the importance of in-person attendance, and provide 8 practical ways to enhance student attendance in college.

What are the Effects of Poor Student Attendance?

  1. Incomplete Understanding of Subjects:

Consistent attendance ensures that students receive continuous instruction and can build a comprehensive understanding of the subjects being taught. Frequent absences may result in knowledge gaps.

  1. Limited Participation in Classroom Activities:

Regular attendance allows students to actively participate in classroom activities, discussions, and group projects. Missing classes restricts their involvement, limiting their overall educational experience.

  1. Academic Performance Decline: 

Regular attendance is crucial for students to excel in their studies, as frequent absences can lead to a decline in academic performance. Students who do not attend class can miss out on important class material and opportunities to ask clarifying questions. Attending in person requires the student to pay attention and learn the material on the spot. At the same time, remote options like rewatching a lecture recording solely rely on the student’s discipline to ensure they’ve studied the material.

Why is Student Attendance Important?

As highlighted above, attendance is crucial to the learning outcomes of every student. In fact, according to the Review of Educational Research, attendance is a better predictor of college grades than any other predictor of academic performance. Classroom attendance helps establish a foundation for effective learning and builds a comprehensive understanding of subjects. Students who do not attend class will miss out on chances to acquire knowledge, engage in discussions, and collaborate with peers.

How to improve student attendance

1. Set expectations early on with an attendance policy

For higher education students, requiring attendance or participation may seem unnecessary but it can be beneficial in improving attendance rates. According to the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching, 84% of undergraduate college students claimed that their attendance would increase if they earned attendance points.

Start your semester strong by setting the expectation that attendance is required to be successful in your class. The best way to communicate this requirement is to explain how and why the specific structure of your course benefits from regular in-person attendance. If your class is discussion-based or project-based, then explain to students that missing class could take away from not only their learning but other students too. Requiring attendance is a great way to keep students accountable for their performance in your class.  

Did you know: You can use Poll Everywhere to automate attendance tracking and incorporate interactive activities to foster student participation. Poll Everywhere’s Attendance Management feature allows educators to track in-person attendance using geolocation services and get insights into how attendance impacts student engagement.  

2. Give absent days

This may seem counterintuitive but offer 2-3 acceptable absent days that will not impact their attendance grade to be more inclusive to students. This flexibility shows students that you are understanding of emergencies and other circumstances that may occur, which can build up trust between you and your students. If you can show that you trust your students to use this flexibility and that you respect their personal lives, they will show you that same respect back by attending class regularly and engaging with you.

3. Implement a Rewards System: 

Recognize and reward students with perfect attendance through incentives like extra credit, small prizes, or public acknowledgment. This can motivate students to attend in-person classes regularly. You can also conduct live quizzes for in-person students to take as a way to gain bonus points.

4. Create an Engaging Learning Environment:

Create a memorable class experience by incorporating interactive elements to capture your students’ attention. According to Gallup, engaged students are 2.5 times more likely to say that they get excellent grades and do well in school. A stimulating learning environment encourages regular in-person attendance as students can look forward to attending and participating in class.

Incorporate Poll Everywhere Activities like Word Clouds, Clickable Images, and Competitions to liven up your lectures. Poll Everywhere encourages students to participate in the lecture, practice recalling material, and ask questions. Check out our recommended list of student engagement tools.

5. Give your students a voice in the classroom

Make your class worth attending in person by encouraging your students to speak up in class. Whether you give time at the end of class for questions or use Poll Everywhere’s Open-ended Activity or Q&A Activity to gather questions or feedback, giving your students a voice in the classroom will make them feel like they play a role in the lesson plan. Taking questions from your students will allow you to tailor your teaching to their specific needs, creating a lecture that students will not want to miss.

6. Give them access to your knowledge

One of the most exciting things about attending any higher education institution is the faculty. Professors are such an important resource to a student’s career, whether as a mentor or just a gateway into an industry they are interested in. Having access to a faculty member who has experience and knowledge of an industry is invaluable. Therefore, as a professor, one of the best things you can offer your students is access to your knowledge and experience. This can play out in a multitude of ways, such as having dedicated time in class to answer questions and allowing your students to pick your brain on topics they are interested in.

7. Assign pre-reading

One of the ways you can make in-person class time more valuable to your students is by saving time with a pre-reading assignment. Rather than using precious class time to read materials, assign it as a pre-read for students to prepare ahead of time. That way they can come to class and focus on asking clarifying questions, divulging interesting topics, and discussing the material with you and other students.

8. Prioritize discussions, projects, and group work

Another way to make in-person class time more valuable and productive for students is to design your course around peer-to-peer discussions, projects, and group work. Here are some examples of how you can use Poll Everywhere to power discussions and group work:

  • Students teach: Put students into small groups of 4. Use a Q&A activity to crowd-source topics that need further clarification from your students. Assign one question per group and have them put together a presentation on that topic.
  • Summary: Use an Open-ended activity to challenge students to write the most concise summary of a topic and discuss why certain responses were effective.
  • May the best group win: Put students into groups and use a Competition activity to host a trivia competition. Students must discuss answers with their group before answering as a collective.

Check out our free course planning template to plan your next lesson. 


Take attendance with ease using Poll Everywhere

Improving student attendance requires a multifaceted approach involving educators, faculty, administrators, and academic technology leaders. By understanding the effects of poor attendance, recognizing its importance, and implementing these 8 practical strategies, we can collectively work towards creating a positive and conducive learning environment for all students.

If you are looking for a more effective way to take attendance and create greater classroom accountability for your students, look no further than Poll Everywhere’s Attendance Management feature. Attendance Management uses geolocation services to verify students’ location and only allows them to check the specific location parameters you set. This ensures that only in-person students can mark themselves as present. Learn more about Attendance Management on our website.