Part of my job as an Admissions Advisor at Eastern Washington University is to give presentations to visiting middle and high school classes that come to see what a college campus is like. I nearly always start off my presentations by asking the students how they think college is different from high school. One day, a very bright high school student responded by saying, “You don’t have to go to class if you don’t want to.” He was absolutely right, but I think he was caught off guard by my response when I said, “But you don’t have to go to school right now either. You could just drop out and run away and you wouldn’t have to worry about school ever again.” The entire class (and especially the teacher) looked at me like I was crazy, but that was exactly the point I was trying to make.
It is obvious to almost everyone that there would be negative consequences associated with skipping class in high school. In college however, it is more difficult to see these consequences because there is no assistant principal calling your parents when you skip and assigning you Saturday school. The consequences still exist, though, and it is important to understand them. It is also important to understand the reasons why a college student might skip a class so you can make an informed decision for yourself when you attend college. When you miss class, whether the reason for missing is excusable or not, you are missing out on the opportunity to gain additional knowledge. Of course it is possible to gain that knowledge in alternative ways or with additional effort, but really if you are already skipping class are you going to put in the additional effort?
I’ve worked on college campuses for the past nine years and one of the most commonly overheard conversations in the dining halls goes something like this:
Student A: Hey did you go to class today? (Student A is not asking because they went to class and want to follow up about a certain topic covered in lecture. They skipped and want to know if they missed a quiz or something)
Student B: Yeah I was there, where were you?
Student A: I didn’t feel like going. Did we do anything in class?
Student B: No, not really.
Student A: Oh cool, then I didn’t miss anything.
Really? You think the professor just stared at the class blankly for the class period and didn’t say a word? That may be how it occasionally works in high school, where your teacher allows you to work on homework during the entire class period, but in college a professor lectures to the class for pretty much the entire time. However, I understand what the student is probably thinking. They think they can just read over notes from a friend and read the class textbook and pick up everything they would have learned by going to class that day, and honestly that would work for some classes and for some students. All students have different learning styles and while some do better absorbing material when it is spoken to them, others learn better from reading the same material. My question is, though, why not just do both? There is no easier way to get the information than sitting in class and listening for 50 minutes.
One other way college is different from high school is that in college you are paying to attend your class. According to EducationOnline.net the current average cost for a year of tuition at a 4-year public college is 6,585 dollars a year or 2195 per quarter. A college quarter is 10 weeks long so that is 219.50 and the average student is in class 15 hours a week so that comes out to $14.63 per hour of class. If you are going to skip a class then, whatever you are going to do with that time better be worth at least 14 dollars. If you skip class to take a nap or play World of Warcraft, are those things worth 14 dollars to you? 14 dollars may not seem like much, but if you were to skip class just once a week for the entire quarter, you would be out $140 over the course of ten weeks.
I realize it might sound like I’m a bit of a prude who never skipped class and that isn’t true. On occasion I did skip class, but I had to believe that I would pay at least 14 dollars to do whatever it was that I did while I skipped. For example during my senior year of college there was a presentation on campus that was happening during one of my classes that I wanted to attend. The presentation was by Graham Kerr, who was a TV chef and a childhood hero of mine (if you were a huge fan of Emeril Lagasse growing up maybe you can relate) and I felt like seeing him speak was a once in a lifetime opportunity. If I had to I would have paid at least 20 dollars to see the presentation, so for me I felt comfortable skipping my class to attend.
Maybe if college students had to pay someone cash every time they skipped a class they would think twice about whether it was worth missing class. You could work out a deal with your roommate so when either of you skip class they have to pay the other one 14 dollars.
However, we are still left with the question of why do college students skip class? I think I have come up with the answer, and it comes back to me telling that high school student they could drop out and run away if they wanted to. College is the first time most people have full control of their lives, or at least realize they have full control over their lives because really they could have always just run away. Discovering and exploring that freedom is one of the most exciting, and scary, parts of college. I believe college students skip class is a way to rebel against the system and show they are in charge. More simply, college students usually skip class just because it is the first time that feels like they can.
Now I know exactly what any college student who regularly skips class would say back to me, “But class is just boring. That is why I skip it.” To be completely honest, that student might be right. However, since in college you can pick almost whatever classes you want, maybe that student should take subjects they find more engaging and that don’t feel like a burden to learn about for an hour.
College is about developing a work ethic that will serve you for the rest of your life. I’m going to let you in on a little secret; most people will occasionally be bored at their job. Now if one day you felt like work was going to be boring and decided to skip it that probably wouldn’t go over very well with your boss. You have the opportunity to set habits that will stick with you for the rest of your life and the decision is yours on the habits you develop.
If going to class is such an inconvenience for you there is a way around it. You could go pick up a nice piece of card stock, print yourself out a fake degree, doctor your resume, and start applying for jobs. Now that plan might not work out so well if you are planning on being a neurosurgeon or looking for a job that needs special training but there are tons of job where you just need any college degree (what do you think all those philosophy majors are doing, they aren’t opening a lot of philosophy shops in the mall).
You might find the thought of faking your college degree to be morally off-putting but you could justify it in the same way you justify skipping class. When you apply for a job an employer rarely, if ever, contacts your university to ensure that you were awarded a degree which is similar to a college professor not taking attendance in the class. You could learn how to perform job duties by watching videos on YouTube in the same way you could catch up on a missed class by reading the textbook. In all honesty, with a little training you would probably end up doing fine, and there are plenty of examples of people doctoring resumes or faking degrees who were highly valued employees within their organization. The question you have to ask yourself whether you are skipping class or printing out your degree, is how many shortcuts in life are you willing to take? Are they worth the consequences? What do they say about your work ethic?