A. Davis

Dublin Institute of Technology (IRELAND)
In a global context, third level institutions are concerned at the number of first year students not attending classes. The retention rate for first year students is an area of concern not only for third level educational institutions but also for programme leaders and individual tutors. Also, poor attendance can have a negative impact on class morale and cause problems for other students where group work is an integral part of a programme.
Research evidence suggests that a positive relationship exists between class attendance and academic achievement. This study examines the relationship between attendance and academic success for a cohort of students who are participating in the first year of a three year B.A. Hospitality Management degree. The study was initiated in order to make a contribution to the ongoing debate on how to address the unacceptably high attrition rate of year 1 students, in some cases estimated at 50%.
For the duration of the academic year 2010/2011 attendance data was collected manually by the lecturer for every teaching event, a register was distributed for each session and collected by the researcher who is also the programme tutor. 38 students participated in the study resulting in a total of 5,982 individual attendance events. The data was entered on a spreadsheet designed specifically for the purpose and monitored by the researcher on a weekly basis.
At the same time as monitoring the data, students who were attending at an unacceptable level were identified and contacted by email. The purpose of this aspect of the study was to encourage them to return to class and/or discuss any problems they were encountering. Engaging in this process was envisaged to bolster attendance and make students aware that faculty cared about them.
The findings indicate a positive correlation between class attendance and academic attainment. The findings also indicate that if a student is absent for only one or two weeks at the beginning of the academic year then this is cause for concern.
An important outcome identified from the study is the need to utilise specific trigger points for remedial action, this suggests that relevant students should be identified and contacted as soon as possible after a decline in attendance has been noticed.
The key benefit to management of the findings is to suggest an initiative that can be taken, such as that described in the paper, to address the issue of high attrition rates for year 1 students.
As poor attendance is usually a manifestation of deeper issues, the paper calls for a subsequent investigation into the motivational factors underpinning student attendance and engagement, during their first year in higher education.