Audit findings lead to stricter attendance policy
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 24, 2012 12:05
The Office of the Registrar sent email blasts and posted in the Registrar’s Chronicle, reminding faculty of the importance of student attendance.
“Failure to (take attendance) not only prevents the Office of the Registrar from updating the student’s status in a timely manner, it also causes financial consequences — both to the institution and to the student,” the notice said.
The notifications came after a state audit this month found four out of 13 sampled USF students receiving some type of financial aid had no documentation for “attendance in at least one class.”
Because of the lack of stringent attendance policies, $590 was in question at USF— $534 from the federal Pell Grant program and $56 from federal Direct Student Loans, which was all paid back to the federal agencies to which it belonged.
“It’s kind of a high-profile issue right now in wanting to make sure that students who don’t actually ever go to college are (not) actually getting financial aid,” Director of Financial Aid Billie Jo Hamilton said. “For the audit, we had to go back and contact the faculty members to find out if the students actually did attend, and we found out, no, they didn’t. So we paid students who never attended, and therein lies the problem.”
Hamilton said first-day attendance is used to ensure that students are actually enrolled in courses for which they receive aid.
“We pay financial aid at the end of add/drop because the expectation is for undergraduate students that if they don’t show up for the first week of class, their professor would drop them from the class,” she said. “If a student is registered and doesn’t ever formally withdraw but never shows up for a class, then we don’t end up paying for them, because their courses are dropped.”
The audit report stated that the university’s existing policy was “significantly deficient.”
“The institution relied on the instructors’ timely and accurate input of the class roster indicating under graduate students who should be dropped for failure to comply with the mandatory first class meeting attendance policy,” it said. “Additionally, graduate courses were generally exempt from this policy. The policy did not require faculty to submit a roster if there were no students to be dropped from the class. The institution presumed there were no students that should be dropped if the faculty member did not submit a roster.”
While attendance on the first day of classes has always been mandatory for undergraduate classes, three out of the four students found in the audit were graduate students, who had no formal attendance policy to adhere to. Beginning in fall, faculty will be required to turn in first day-attendance for graduate students as well.
Marquisha Wilson, enrollment services team administrator in the Office of the Registrar, said the new policy benefits students as it helps them from accidentally being fee liable for a course they may have intended to drop.
“As for undergraduates, the policy has always been in effect,” she said. “For graduate students, their instructors have discretion whether or not they want to take attendance the first day. They decided to include graduate school in the enforcement of the policy simply because it really is in the best interest of the students.”
Wilson said the Office of the Registrar created a new tool on Blackboard to make attendance reporting easier for faculty members. The tool has received mixed feedback, she said.
“It’s not that it’s difficult,” she said. “We’ve always had attendance being taken. We just had to get the information out there to make sure faculty are taking attendance and doing it consistently. We just had to make sure everyone was on board. I think they are. As with anything you do, I think there’s both negative and positive. But as you get in to the habit of doing things, it gets easier.”
Other universities were also included in the audit for untimely return of federal funds.
At FAMU, five sample students who unofficially withdrew from classes caused more than $9,500 to be in question because the school failed to identify students who withdrew, and $3,500 was in question because of inaccurate official withdrawal information entered into computers.
Hillsborough Community College had almost $2,000 in questioned costs cited in the audit, which came from 25 withdrawn students whose information was incorrectly reported during a staff turnover.