Achieving the Dream, Part 2

Increasing Student Attendance Rates from Start to Finish

The Start to Finish Program was started in fall 2012 on the campus of Lake Michigan College. The program was created to increase overall success and graduation rates among Promise Zone students.  After researching data and surveying faculty, attendance was identified as a key indicator of success. The initial Promise Zone cohort from 2011 had an attendance rate of 63 percent, compared to an average overall rate of over 80 percent for the college. We decided to implement an aggressive attendance strategy for this cohort. Our program is layered with various services, but attendance monitoring has definitely been one of the most effective.

Life coach-TiaraWeb

Life coach-RoyWeb

Courtney-life coach picWeb

  Life coaches and students
Lake Michigan College Start to Finish Program

Our life coaches work hard to establish a solid rapport with each student as soon as they show up on campus. This makes it a lot easier to have conversations in regards to attendance. The I.T. department provides our office with a daily report of the previous day’s attendance. The office assistant reviews the attendance every day and contacts each student who has missed at least one class, to inquire about the reason and offer assistance if needed. After two absences, the life coach intervenes. We initially thought contacting a student after each absence was excessive, so decided to contact them after two classes were missed. This was often times too late for several reasons:

  • Quite a few students had a hard time digging themselves out of the hole created by just two absences;
  • For each day they are not in class, students could be missing out on valuable participation points;
  • Some instructors even decrease letter grades after a set number of absences; and
  • It can take a couple days to communicate with students because contact information changed quite often. 

Because the repercussions of two absences can multiply quickly, contact after every absence gave us a better chance of addressing the issue before it was too late. The most common reasons for absences are usually transportation, work conflicts and personal issues. Classroom fear also is significant, as several students missed class because they didn’t complete assignments or understand what was being discussed during class.  In each situation, life coaches work closely with the students to guide them through the problem solving process, provide resources, reiterate the importance of attendance, and provide encouragement.

As a result, we were able to increase our attendance consistently each year, which resulted in significant gains in grade-point averages, completion rates and retention. This past fall semester, our students completed the semester with an 84 percent attendance rate; less than one point below the college average. Perhaps the most surprising result of our aggressive attendance monitoring is the reaction we received from students. Most students said they appreciated the contact because it was nice to know someone was concerned. Other students exclaimed, “I make sure I go to every class so you all won’t call me every day.”  Either way, it works!

Guest Author: Louis Thomas, Lake Michigan College

Posted: April 8, 2015

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