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A Study of the Impact of a National Project Based Learning Curriculum (PLTW) on Student Continuation to Postsecondary Institutions

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Research Initiatives

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.113.1 - 23.113.13



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Paper Authors


David G. Rethwisch University of Iowa

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Dr. Rethwisch is a professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa. His current research interest is assessing the impact of secondary curricula (particularly problem/project based learning curricula) on student interest and performance in science and mathematics, and on their interest in careers in STEM fields.

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Soko S Starobin Iowa State University

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Dr. Starobin’s research focuses on gender issues in STEM fields among community college students, specifically traditionally under-represented student populations. She served as the lead-guest editor of the Special Issue on Community Colleges for the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering (volume 16, issue 1, 2010) and received the Barbara K. Townsend Emerging Scholar Award from the Council for the Study of Community Colleges in spring 2010. Dr. Starobin is currently conducting a funded study that examines the effects of STEM Student Success Literacy on transfer among community college students in pre-STEM fields.

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Frankie Santos Laanan Iowa State University

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Frankie Santos Laanan is professor of higher education in the School of Education at Iowa State University. His research focuses on college access and pathways to STEM degrees, especially among women and underrepresented students. He served as interim director of the Center for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education.

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Melissa Chapman Haynes Professional Data Analysts, Inc.

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A Study of the Impact of a National Project Based Learning Curriculum (PLTW) on Student Continuation to Postsecondary InstitutionsAbstractProject based learning (PBL) has increasingly been promoted as a way to increase studentinterest in the STEM related fields. One such curriculum, Project Lead The Way (PLTW), hasgained increasing popularity in middle schools and high schools. A key objective of the PLTWengineering curriculum is to create a more seamless transition for students from secondaryschool into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics post-secondary programs. PLTWhas been implemented in all fifty states; however, there has been sparse research to-date that hasrigorously measured the impact of PLTW or other PBL curricula on the student’s choice topersist into postsecondary education We used Iowa’s statewide longitudinal data system tofollow multiple cohorts of PLTW participants and nonparticipants from 8th grade into secondaryeducation. We derived a comparable treatment and control group by matching students based ontheir propensity to enter PLTW, permitting a stronger interpretation of the program’s impact thanprior studies. Specifically, the students were matched based on 8th grade standardized test mathand science scores, gender, ethnicity, and SES information. We found statistically significantevidence that PLTW increases the odds of a student attending a 2-year college by 64% (p =0.007) and increases the odds that they attend a 4-year college or university by 52% (p = 0.024).Further studies are being carried out to examine the majors selected by these students and theirpersistence in post-secondary education. This study has implications for researchers,practitioners, and policy makers regarding the comprehensive evaluation design and the criticalrole that PBL curricula can play to increase the participation, both generally and within non-traditional groups, in postsecondary STEM education in the U.S. 1    

Rethwisch, D. G., & Starobin, S. S., & Laanan, F. S., & Chapman Haynes, M. (2013, June), A Study of the Impact of a National Project Based Learning Curriculum (PLTW) on Student Continuation to Postsecondary Institutions Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19127

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