Attendance alerts good step for better retention

By Rachel Scaman

NIU’s new attendance check-ups are a realistic way of improving retention because they will get students out of bed and into the classroom.

NIU has announced it will start keeping tabs on attendance in several classes. If a student misses two or more classes, a university employee will email or call the student to help him or her through whatever is making him or her skip class. This attendance checkup is a part of NIU’s Early Alert and Referral System, which identifies and seeks to help “students who may be experiencing academic challenges,” according to its website.

One of NIU President Doug Baker’s key goals for NIU is improving retention, and the attendance checkup could help these numbers rise. Freshman retention jumped from 66 percent in fall 2013 to 71 percent last semester, according to a Sept. 11 Northern Star article, and the alert system can help it climb higher.

Kelly Wesener Michael, associate vice president for Student Affairs, said if a student misses two classes, he or she will receive an email alert, and if a student misses three classes he or she will receive a phone call. Wesener Michael, whose division oversees the Early Alert and Referral System, said this will only apply to selected 100- and 200-level classes.

This way, students can miss a couple classes, maybe for emergencies, but once they miss too many they’ll receive a reminder.

“Going to class is the leading predictor of student success,” Wesener Michael said. “ … We want to help solve and support any problems” the students have.

NIU spokesman Paul Palian said the alert system is a retention effort to identify the students who are in need of help. He said attendance is correlated with good grades.

My instructors have said it agian and again: The more you attend class, the better your grades are. I know the more I go to class the more the information gets drilled in my head.

An email reminder to go to class would have gotten me out of bed and out the door last semester. Checking up on students who are missing class is a great way to let them know they matter and their education is cared about.

Some students are going through a hard time and just don’t want to leave their residence hall room or their apartment. Providing resources for those who need to talk to someone over email or the phone helps NIU connect with the students.

Out of all the ideas NIU has had for increasing retention, this is the easiest to implement. An email or phone call to a student who isn’t attending class is a simple, cost-effective and personable way to help students stay on the path to success.