Attendance tracking has long been a vital component to student success and retention, but there are equally important financial ramifications tied to student classroom attendance. Financial aid disbursement can carry certain attendance requirements, and without accurate reporting that funding can be put in jeopardy.
That’s precisely the experience for New Orleans, Louisiana’s Dillard University, where the registrar’s office was becoming overclocked by an attendance tracking system that had fallen behind the times.
98% of Dillard’s roughly 1,400 students depend on some form of federal financial aid, so the attendance system is highly relevant for the campus population.
“We need to keep in line with federal regulations and prove that students attend all classes before dispersing federal aid,” says Dennis Sigur, Transact Attendance Administrator, Dillard University. “If you can’t provide reliable data then you get fined, and if you’re fined too many times, the university could eventually lose federal financial aid funding.”
According to the university registrar's office, Dillard has over the course of time paid nearly $350,000 in fines related to providing accurate student attendance data. This made the implementation of a robust attendance system a no-brainer.
It’s required that Dillard keeps attendance information on file for five years in order to report data for federal financial aid funding. The university used to keep paper records of this data, making the audit process a challenge, requiring staff to sift through file cabinets and follow paper trails back to professors to verify attendance accuracy.
"If you can’t provide reliable data then you get fined, and if you’re fined too many times, the university could lose federal financial aid funding.”
Transact ultimately provided the winning attendance system for Dillard. Prior to Transact’s attendance system, Dillard faculty either recorded paper attendance or logged it manually on Canvas.
Dillard was already a Transact campus client using a mag stripe card for transactions. To use the new attendance solution, the institution needed to upgrade to a contactless credential. The new cards were produced and distributed to Dillard’s student population throughout the summer of 2019, before going live with the new attendance system.
“We bought 80 readers and put one in every classroom,” says Sigur. “We began a pilot of the system in the summer and fully launched in Fall of 2019.”
The attendance solution from Transact is designed to provide students with an easy way to check-in to class via a quick tap or swipe with their campus ID card or mobile credential.
The system makes monitoring attendance more manageable for campus administrators by implementing exception-based rules, multiple course collections, and easy export functions. Administrators can also benefit from the system’s easy-to-use controls for course imports, flexible check-in/out policies, and management of multiple instructors.
The solution also features a native mobile app that works with iOS and both online and offline functionality. The app automatically allows check-in and check-out based on configured course times, ID card check-ins using a Transact Mobile Reader, supports multiple course collections for sharing between instructors or rooms, and automated synchronization to the cloud when online.
With the Transact attendance solution in place, Dillard students simply tap their campus card at a Transact reader to log their attendance.
“The transact reader can be mounted to a wired gauge box in every classroom, but we decided to use our Wi-Fi network,” Sigur explains. “We purchased a gauge box and stuck them on outside and we plug them into a normal power outlet.”
Start to finish, a two-man team of university personnel were able to deploy all 80 WR500 readers in just about three weeks – without having to tear into any walls.
When an admin makes a change from the website it automatically updates the readers. Students tap their cards and it sends the data to cloud. The university also uses a dedicated website that leverages students’ username and password for LDAP on campus.
"Students are coming to class more and they are coming to class on time, and faculty like it because they don’t have to do anything.
“Initially, students could check in as early as 10 minutes before the start of class, and up to five minutes after the class start time to avoid being counted as absent,” explains Sigur. “Now, we’ve added a 10-minute window after that five-minute cutoff that marks students as late rather than fully absent.”
As for other growing pains, there have been few and they've been easy fixes. “Occasionally a faculty member will move classrooms without telling us and the system would be out of sync for that class meeting, but overall things are going great,” says Sigur.
“We now have people asking us to track attendance for special events in existing classrooms,” adds Sigur. “And there’s a portable version of the attendance system that we can use for biology classes that go out in the field for course work.”
Dillard just finished its second semester with Transact attendance active on campus. The first semester was dedicated to getting everyone acclimated to a new process, and this past spring the university announced that participation in the attendance system was required for students.
“Students are coming to class more and they are coming to class on time,” says Sigur. “Faculty like it for that reason, and because they don’t have to do anything.”