Some students may choose not to go to class if attendance doesn't "count," while others are overcommitted in campus clubs, socialize late at night, or use drugs or alcohol. Many students are "Rob Peter to pay Paul" absentees-they miss one class in order to catch up on another, a cycle that repeats itself throughout the semester until they are behind in all their courses. On our campus, health problems, family emergencies, financial or legal trouble are major contributors to absenteeism.
What Can You Do?
Contact absent students in whatever way is convenient for you. Let them know you'd like them to be successful, but they are engaging in behavior that leads to low grades and failure. If it seems appropriate, have a conversation about priorities and balancing social activities and school work. You may also discuss with them the protocol for missing class-some are unaware that, if they are sick, they need a doctor's excuse or that contacting professors when they are absent is common courtesy. Encourage them to read your syllabus so they know exactly what your attendance policies are, and be honest about how likely they are to pass the course. If they choose to remain in the course, tell them exactly how their absences will impact their grade.
If you suspect that their absences are due to mental or physical health problems or to substance abuse, encourage them to seek help from campus resources such as Access Resource Center, Health Services, or Counseling. While students likely know that these resources exist, they can have misperceptions about what they do or who can use the services. While it may be glaringly obvious to you that a student ought to go to take advantage of a particular service, it may never have crossed the student's mind. If you have time, you can contact the campus resource yourself to describe the situation and get feedback.
You may also Early Alert the student. Hearing from counseling that their absences are not only being noticed, but will impact their grade may cause the student to attend class again.