275538 Attrition in Engineering Education
Engineering attrition is a concern for first year engineering programs and engineering colleges. The stress related to making the transition from high school to college has been suggested as one reason for the high attrition rate. Not only is there a disruption to student-family relationships, but students need to learn how to manage their time and resources, as well as to meet deadlines without the guidance and close supervision of parents and relatives. Many first year engineering programs provide extensive academic and social support to help students make the transition and succeed academically. While necessary, are these programs sufficient to keep students in an engineering program? Are students who leave engineering academically successful in their non-engineering field of study? This study was designed not only to address why students transfer out of engineering, but to determine if those students who leave engineering are able to succeed in their new discipline and graduate from the university.
All “engineering” students at this large land grant university in the mid-Atlantic region, both calculus-ready and not calculus-ready,” must complete a common “first year experience” before moving to a discipline major. Students who are not calculus-ready at entry usually take 1.5 to 2 years to complete the required courses, depending on their initial math placement. The authors studied 527 students who transferred out of engineering during their first or second year of that general engineering program. The students were mostly men who changed majors between January 2007 and December 2010. An exit questionnaire administered at the time of the transfer was utilized to determine their exit grade point average (GPA) and the reason for the switch. Furthermore, university databases were utilized to determine if those students were able to graduate from, or are still pursuing a degree at, the university. The number of students who withdrew from the university, were suspended, or never returned to the university was also assessed, as was the percent of students who left engineering, but were later readmitted into the program.
Analysis of exit surveys provided insight into the academic characteristics of those first year students who transferred out of engineering, reasons why they left, and the degree to which these students persisted to degree completion in another major at the university. Results indicate that factors different from academic difficulty are leading to the change of discipline among general engineering students. Students who are in good standing academically are leaving engineering because they lack interest in the subject. Additional explanations are considered and presented, as well as the implications for potential intervention programs to address increasing student interest as well as academic success in engineering.
The percentage of students who leave engineering and who also leave the university is a source of concern for both engineering and university administrators. Influencing factors for leaving both engineering and the university are explored and presented.
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