No surprise: students cutting classes often

By
Friday, April 4, 2008

Not all Brown students may be like Ferris Bueller. But a majority of them skipped class at least once in an average week in March. According to a recent Herald poll, only 44.0 percent of students said they did not skip class for the week of March 3.

The poll, conducted from March 10 to 12, also found that 30.9 percent of students said they skipped class once that week, 18.8 percent two to three times, 2.3 percent four times and 3.4 percent five times or more. The results stunned neither professors nor students.

“That sounds pretty accurate,” said Crystal Vance ’11, who said she does not skip class often.”But I know people who skip class at least once a day,” she said.

“My classes are way too small” to skip, she added.

Barrett Hazeltine, professor emeritus of engineering who teaches ENGN 0900: “Managerial Decision Making,” which has 389 students, said students “feel less invested” in larger classes because they don’t get as much individual attention, and are thus more likely to skip.

In addition to two sections of ENGN 0900, Hazeltine teaches a 25-student seminar. He said a smaller percentage of students skip the seminar than ENGN 0900 because they “feel they’ll be missed.”

But class size isn’t the only thing that contributes to class skipping, Hazeltine said. It may also have “something to do with laziness.”

“Sometimes it’s more fun to watch the tube,” he joked.

Kieran Fitzgerald ’10 said he will cut class if he does not feel well. “I don’t regularly (skip), but if I’m sick or tired or something (I do).”

Going to class but catching a nap might be tempting, but the responsibility for being awake in class belongs entirely to students, said sleep expert Mary Carskadon, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Alpert Medical School.

“College students should be better (able) to manage things than high school students,” Carskadon said. College students “have lots of control over their life and schedule.”

“This is nothing new,” she added. “When I was in college, I actually dropped a class because I couldn’t get up for it.”

Carskadon said it made sense to drop her 8 a.m. art history course because even when she did wake up for it, she fell asleep when lights were turned off to view slides.

“It’s possible that some students skip class because they can’t wake up in the morning or they take a nap or they find themselves falling asleep in class,” Carskadon said. “I’m not convinced it’s not a smart thing to do to skip a class if you’re going to fall asleep anyway.”

In addition, Hazeltine speculated that students sometimes cut class because professors’ presentations are not geared towards their various learning styles. Students “feel they can learn the material in another way more effectively, which is certainly not a bad argument,” he said.

He suggested splitting up courses into several sections of the same class, each of which would be taught in a different manner to accommodate various learning styles.

Another reason for skipping is “plain immaturity,” he said. “Somehow, they think they’re beating the system by not coming to class.”

Students’ schedules also are a factor for skipping, he said. “Some people are too busy doing other things,” such as theater rehearsals during the weeks before a performance, he said.

Hazeltine agreed the statistics were not surprising, but he did find them upsetting.

“If you’re paying, you want to get your money’s worth,” he said. “It is troublesome. At Brown, there are so few requirements. Why sign up for a class they’re not going to come to?”

Carskadon also said skipping detracts from a student’s education experience. “It’s sad for students to miss a lot of class or drag themselves to class and miss that dialogue with their professors,” she said. “I wish a good night sleep to students and wish they could help themselves in this regard.”

The Herald poll was conducted from March 10 to 12 and has a 3.6 percent margin of error with 95 percent confidence. A total of 643 Brown undergraduates completed the poll, which was administered as a written questionnaire to students in the University Post Office at Faunce House and in the Sciences Library.