Retired Colonel Tackles Attendance Rate on HBCU Campus

Last Updated on November 22, 2013

Leaving home to go away to college is a big step. Students no longer have to answer to mom and dad. They no longer have curfews or household responsibilities. They are free to make their own choices about what to eat, what to do, where to go, what classes to take, and, most importantly, whether to attend those classes.

Being an adult requires a certain amount of discipline. If mom and dad aren't imposing it, who is? Some students have internalized a sense of discipline after years of living at home, but other are easily distracted by the many lures of campus life. That lack of discipline can lead to bad habits such as skipping meals, not getting enough sleep, partying instead of studying, or not attending class.

Colonel (Ret) Hilliard Lackey IIIDr. Hilliard L. Lackey is a former Colonel in the Mississippi State Guard and is currently an Associate Professor at the Jake Ayers Institute for Research in Urban Higher Education at Jackson State University, where he also teaches classes in world history and global geography. He came up with an innovative idea to address class attendance problems while serving as Campus Ombudsman (retention officer) in 1998.

According to Dr. Lackey, “[o]ur retention and graduation rates were below what we want[ed] them to be at that time. We looked into the matter through surveys and other feedback methods and discovered that class attendance was the number one culprit adversely impacting retention and graduation.”

To encourage class attendance, Dr. Lackey came up with two slogans: Students Who Attend Class Tend To Pass and If You Attend Class, You Tend To Pass. These slogans have been used on wall calendars, as crawls on the campus TV station, and in other venues. They have also been emblazoned on t-shirts available at the campus bookstore and other outlets. Since the slogans were introduced in 1998, retention and graduation rates at Jackson State have doubled from 23% to 46%. Dr. Lackey and his fellow JSU professors credit this boost to the use of the slogans.

They may be right as studies dating back to the 1980s show that class attendance is the single most important factor in predicting a student's success or failure. Richard Schiming of the Center for Faculty Development at Minnesota State University at Mankato arrived at these findings concerning class attendance:

  1. Research indicates that attendance is statistically significant in explaining class grade and overall performance of students.
  2. Students who miss class frequently significantly increase their odds of a poor grade in a given course.
  3. A case can be made that requiring [enhancing] attendance can be a successful means of improving the value added of any course.

Because Jackson State University is not the only school in the country that has a problem with class attendance, Dr. Lackey wants to share JSU's success. A line of patriotically colored t-shirts, designed by Pennsylvania-based artist Willie Hobbs, is available for order in sizes Small through 4 Extra Large. Youth sizes are also available.

Prices vary with quantity ordered. As an added incentive, Dr. Lackey has pledged that $1.00 from the sale of each t-shirt will be given to a scholarship fund at the school where it will be sold. For more information on this project and ordering, please contact Willie Hobbs at (724)-496-6685 or

Photo courtesy of: Joyce H. Hudson Photography

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