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A First-year Attrition Survey: Why Do They Say They Are Still Leaving?

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 10: Paying Attention to Retention

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.39.1 - 26.39.25



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Paper Authors


Jeff Johnson LeTourneau University

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Jeff Johnson is an Assistant Professor at LeTourneau University. He received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology from LeTourneau in 1994 then proceeded to spend 16 years in industry focusing on machine and civil design as well as project management. In 2010 he began his teaching career at his alma mater to share his experiences with engineering and technology students. He earned a masters in Engineering Project Management from Eastern Michigan University in 2014. He is currently a co-PI on the schools NSF-STEP retention grant.

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Alan D. Niemi LeTourneau University

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Alan D. Niemi is a Professor and Chair of Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University. He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology from Lake Superior State University and his M.S.E.E. from Illinois Institute of Technology. He has taught courses in Electrical Engineering and Technology for 27 years. In addition to teaching, Professor Niemi has spent 7 years in industry designing digital and microcontroller systems.

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A First-Year Attrition Survey: Why Do They Say They Are Still Leaving?AbstractMany retention programs measure success through the basic metrics of 1-, 2- and 3- yearretention rates and/or 6-year graduation rates. When these numbers are increasing we can inferthat the retention initiatives are successful. Further study of this retained population throughsurveys and focus groups can yield additional insight into the reasons behind student persistence.But, what if we changed our perspective and instead examined the inverse population? Whatvaluable insight can be gained by looking at the reasons behind why some still leave STEMprograms? More specifically, are there predominant factors still underlying the loss of studentsfrom an engineering program even when overall retention is improving?In 2009, a small, private university sought to identify the reasons behind low graduation rates inthe school of engineering and engineering technology. They deployed an exhaustive survey tostudents that had left the school asking these former students (leavers) to rank the influencesbehind their decision to leave engineering. Results were utilized to help develop several first-year retention initiatives targeted at engineering persistence of FTIC students. These initiatives,aided with funding through an NSF-STEP grant began with the 2010 cohort and have continueduntil present. Subsequent deployments of the identical survey to cohorts 2009 through 2013 haveresulted in two distinct populations: PRE-STEP (cohorts 2006-2009) and POST-STEP (cohorts2010-2013).This exhaustive survey requests input such as:  Rank the top reasons why you changed your major from engineering or engineering technology to something else. Considering factors such as: lost interest or motivation to study engineering, had difficulty with coursework, uncertain of future career options, began engineering due to parental pressure but decided it was not for me.  If difficulty with coursework was a reason for leaving, please indicate the degree that certain factors played in this decision such as: inadequate study or time management skills, inadequate preparation in math and/or science, inadequate note-taking skills, addiction to gaming, or inadequate computer skills.  State in your own words why you left.This paper begins with a summary of the school’s STEP retention initiatives providing a contextfor the subsequent comparison of survey results between the pre and post populations. It thenprovides composite survey results revealing the dominant factors affecting engineering attritionin the entire population. Differences in the results between the pre and post populations are thenexamined, revealing both areas of significant improvement and areas that show little change. Thepaper concludes by suggesting refinement to the current retention program.

Johnson, J., & Niemi, A. D. (2015, June), A First-year Attrition Survey: Why Do They Say They Are Still Leaving? Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23380

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