June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
24.62.1 - 24.62.8
A Longitudinal Study of the Impact of a First-Year Honors Engineering ProgramThe honors program for first-year engineering students at a large Midwestern university beganapproximately twenty years ago. Part of the driving force for its development was a retention studyconducted in 1988, showing that only 38 percent of first-year engineering students went on to earnan engineering degree from the institution. At this university, students enter as pre-majors and enrollin the first-year sequence. Most students take a common first-year introductory sequence; those whoare designated as honors by the university have the option of taking the more challenging honorsversion of the sequence. After taking additional prescribed courses such as math, physics, andchemistry, students apply to be accepted into their specific major departments. As part of the initialevaluation of the program, the honors cohort was compared to a group of equally academicallytalented students on measures such as first-year GPA (both by the term and cumulatively throughoutthe year), time to acceptance into the major, retention in engineering, and time to graduation. Thesedata were collected for several years in the late 1990’s. Analysis of the data showed clearly thatstudents who chose to participate in the honors program outperformed those who did not on everymetric.The cohorts involved in that study contained between 30 and 60 students. As the honors program’sreputation has grown, a larger and larger percentage of the students who have been eligible for theprogram have elected to participate. In recent years, the percentage of eligible students opting forhonors has been greater than 90%, resulting in honors cohorts of several hundred students. Further,the retention rate in engineering has improved significantly, to as high as 65 percent of studentsgraduating within 6 years with a degree in engineering.Also during this time period, the first-year engineering program has made many improvements toboth the honors sequence and the standard sequence. At the same time, the criteria for being anhonors student in first-year engineering have become more rigorous. Motivated by these changes instudent population and curriculum, a similar study has been conducted with three recent first-yearengineering cohorts (students who started the university in 2004, 2005, and 2006). In each incomingclass, the students who were eligible for the honors sequence but who did not choose it, werematched to students of equal academic ability who did choose honors. The following informationwas collected for each group to compare their success: first-year GPA (both by each term andcumulatively), grades in introductory science and math courses, number of terms from admission toacceptance to the major, number of terms from admission to graduation, number of times studentschanged their major, the college and department from which the students earned their degree. Thetotal number of students being analyzed for this study is just under 400.The analysis of these data is ongoing as of abstract submission, but will be completed prior to papersubmission. The analysis will show whether students who select the honors program over thestandard sequence continue to be more successful. It will also give a clearer picture of whether thecontinually increasing ability of the incoming students has had an impact on general achievementand retention.
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