“Attendance is mandatory,” reads the end of my syllabus. “A valid written excuse must be provided for any absences.”
For many Lehigh students, a sentence such as this serves as a mere suggestion. Within the collegiate social structure, skipping one’s 150-person 8 a.m. lecture is not particularly frowned upon and there are few if any immediate repercussions. Students may opt to study for another class during their scheduled lecture time, or perhaps the lecture isn’t helpful to that particular student and they may decide to self-study instead.
Unknown to them, absence from a lecture affects far more than their attendance. This disregard for the value of knowledge harbors a passive attitude towards bettering one’s self and growing academically. Regardless of one’s ability to self-teach, attending lecture is a show of respect for both the professor and the value of academia as a whole.
Admittedly, there are many different types of learners and what may work for one student may not be the most effective method of study for another. However, despite the acceptance of these behaviors, these actions indicate a problem both in the way that students view lecture and in the way that our college education as a whole is delivered. While many may find it possible to obtain a good grade in class without ever attending, there is more to education that a letter grade on a transcript card. By not attending lecture, there are connections with professors that may never be made, as well as interesting tangents that might otherwise never have been learned. As the acclaimed director Woody Allen once said, “80 percent of success is showing up,” and in regard to lecture and academic opportunities, this is undoubtedly true.
If a love of knowledge alone is not enough of an incentive for a student to attend lecture, perhaps financial data will. Given that cost of tuition at Lehigh, textbooks, dining, and housing not included, is $44,890 per year, a minute in class is worth roughly $1.5 for a student enrolled in 18 credit hours not receiving financial aid. Thus, not attending a 50 minute lecture is the equivalent of buying a nice pair of headphones and then throwing them out, unused. Conversely, the value of that information that you miss from not attending that one lecture is priceless, even if at the moment it seems to be the most boring, least relevant thing. To the accounting student who thinks, “I will never need a single thing I learn in geology,” you never know when you might find yourself to be balancing the books for a gravel company.
Another fact to take into consideration when one is debating attending a particularly boring class is the luxury it is to be enrolled at a university in the first place. According to a study by Politifact, by age 27, 72 percent of Americans do not have bachelor’s degrees. Thus, being on track to complete a four-year accredited program at Lehigh automatically places the students here in the upper third of the U.S. population, educationally speaking. This statistic alone should incentivize Lehigh students to recognize their privilege and get the most out of the fortunate circumstances that they find themselves in. Regardless as to whether or not one finds a lecture helpful, it should always be remembered that a higher education is a blessing never to be taken for granted.
The relaxed attitude toward attendance is not solely the fault of students. The manner in which lectures are being taught should be engaging and interactive, and students should genuinely enjoy and cherish the knowledge that they are gaining at school. If individual professors, as well as the university as a whole, can work to making the coursework less overbearing and focus solely on enriching the minds of students in fun and engaging ways, I suspect attendance at lectures would see a sharp increase.
Knowledge is something that, once gained, can never be stolen from you. It is something you will always have with you, and there is always enough to share with those around you. It has the power to inspire, to motivate, to change and to enlighten. Given all this, it is a mystery to me that our society has employed an educational system that places such large amounts of stress and strain on students. When one receives an education, they receive so much more than a degree. They receive a new lens through which to see the world and approach their lives.
There exists a constant pressure in modern American academia for students to perform at a high level. This anxiety has driven students away from learning for the sake of learning and has pushed them towards stressful studies and too-heavy workloads. It is my hope that college students can rediscover a love for learning new things and that the educational system can help to take some of the pressure off the shoulders of its young minds.