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Taking attendance improves grades, retention, says report

12/10/2002
December 10, 2002

Faculty in the college of arts and sciences at Mississippi State decided to test the affect of a familiar academic activity on freshman grades and retention. They took attendance, religiously, especially for the first six weeks.

Using a Web-based program, they then reported students who missed two or more sessions to specially trained "academic assistants." The assistants make a brief, nonconfrontational call to the students, letting them know their absence was noticed and the instructor was concerned.

During the program's first year, 25 percent of the freshman class had more than three absences. Last year, that number dropped to 9 percent.

More important, the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate increased from 76 percent to 81 percent, and freshman GPAs rose from 2.52 to 2.67.

Funded as an internal research project by MSU's office of academic affairs, the program more than pays for itself through fees from students who remain in school.

"The economic trickledown [from the program] is enormous," says Ty Abernathy, a member of the program's staff and the graduate student whose research launched the program. Most important, students are succeeding.

A complete report on the program can be found in the November 2002 issue of "Recruitment and Retention in Higher Education."