Cut class, cut grade

Extraordinary as it may sound, attending lectures can help you learn more – at least when it comes to economics at the University of Wollongong.

The Impact of Lecture Attendance on Academic Performance in a  Large First Year Economics Course
Frank Neri & Yumiko Meloche
In this study we investigate whether class attendance is positively associated with academic performance for a large sample of first year students studying macroeconomics in a regional Australian university. Our findings, based on OLS and Logit models, confirm those of many others in that lecture attendance does contribute to academic performance. Other findings are that prior economics training in high school and a measure of ability or intelligence are both positively and significantly related to academic performance. Males do better than females on multiple choice sections but not on written answer sections of the final exam. Non-minority students do better in the multiple choice section, but not in the written answer section, than minority students. Finally, there is some evidence that longer travel times to and from campus also reduce academic performance. 

Cleverly, they control for UAI, to get around the problem that smart kids performers might be more likely – or less likely – to come to class. For an average student, perfect attendance buys you about one more letter grade. These findings raise two possibilities in my mind. The first is that students are rationally optimising their behaviour, and the cost of dropping a letter grade is pretty small (in which case universities shouldn’t do anything to promote attendance). The second is that students are hyperbolic discounters, and would probably be made better off under a scheme that mandated class attendance.

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5 Responses to Cut class, cut grade

  1. Don Arthur says:

    What would happen if universities were forced to unbundle the three services they provide:

    1. teaching;
    2. testing; and
    3. acceditation.

    If students could sit exams, submit essays and be awarded degrees without being forced to pay for the university’s lectures and tutorials, what would happen? How much would universities charge for each service?

    And if the university’s teachers were prevented from accessing and trading in inside information about exam questions, then would the university’s lecturers and tutors face competition from other providers?

    I’d love to find out how much students would be willing to pay for lectures.

  2. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Interesting idea, Don. You’re assuming that the education process can be ‘unbundled’. So many education types argue that the assessment is part of the learning process, i.e. teaching and assessment are integrated.

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    Don, doesn’t educational specialisation lead to large bundling efficiencies? So it’s easy to write a year 12 test that’s administered to tens of thousands of kids, but it’d be pretty inefficient for an outsider to write the exam for my Economics for Government course, with 50 or so students.

  4. Sacha says:

    Andrew – I observed that people had a very good chance of passing a 1st/2nd years maths subject if they merely attended all the lectures, tutorials and did all the minimum number of questions during semester (and studied hard as well) and told them that.

    It wasn’t surprising when someone who hadn’t turned up to many tutes ended up failing the subject.

  5. Don Arthur says:

    Sinclair – That’s a good point. Ideally students would be getting constant feedback on their progress.

    Andrew – Do employers care how well your students mastered the material in your particular course? Or are they really looking for evidence of motivation and generic knowledge and skills?

    Does feedback to students need to be rolled into the accreditation process in this way?

    Just to clarify — I’m not arguing that universities ought to unbundle their services. It’s more a thought experiment than a policy proposal. What is the teaching worth to students?

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