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A Study Of Factors Contributing To Low Retention Rates

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.105.1 - 6.105.6



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Paper Authors

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William Schonberg

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Gary Spring

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1864

A Study of Factors Contributing to Low Retention Rates

Drs. Gary S. Spring, and William Schonberg University of Missouri-Rolla


Undergraduate engineering programs across the country suffer from declining enrollments due in part to retention problems. College administrators and faculty report that the recruitment and retention of this population has become more difficult1,2,3,4. This is especially critical at this time because the number of students graduating from American high schools began to dramatically decline after reaching a peak in 19794,5. Additionally, while colleges and universities are experiencing declining applicant pools and increasing attrition, less money is available to fund institutions of higher education6.

In order to ensure the continued viability of our engineering programs, we must determine the underlying causes for their poor retention rates. The University of Missouri Rolla (UMR) administration, hypothesizing that low grades affect student satisfaction and subsequent decisions to leave the University, has asked Departments to analyze courses with high levels of low student grades. This paper describes work ongoing at UMR in its Civil Engineering Department that examines several possible factors thought to be associated with student success (and ultimately retention) or lack thereof.

Rationale and Significance

Attrition rates at UMR during the nineties ranged from 10% to 50%7, which is consistent with figures reported by a number of other colleges and universities1,2,7,8. Most students who depart will leave during their first two years. Again, this is consistent with other national studies showing that approximately 75% of the students leave during their first two years. These departures have serious consequences for students. They also present a harsh financial reality for many institutions that rely heavily on tuition revenue to support academic programs, manage physical plants, and deliver student services1,2.

While many administrators and faculty members report that the students who enroll at their colleges are not as academically prepared as the students who enrolled in the past3, nearly 85% of student departures are voluntary and occur even though most students maintain adequate levels of academic performance1. A subsequent study found that one reason that freshmen remain is their academic preparedness: when students are well prepared, they tend to remain enrolled9. Since the number of students departing before graduation exceeds the number who remain, administrators and faculty must develop a better understanding of the students who withdraw and the reasons why they do so1,2.

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ” 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Schonberg, W., & Spring, G. (2001, June), A Study Of Factors Contributing To Low Retention Rates Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9813

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