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An Experimental Program To Enhance Retention Of At Risk Freshmen

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.65.1 - 1.65.6



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Paper Authors

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Joan A. Burtner

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Benjamin S. Kelley

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Allen F. Grum

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

. — Session 2653 ..-.

-- An Experimental Program to Enhance Retention of At-Risk Freshmen

Benjamin S. Kelley, Joan A. Burtner, and Allen F. Grum Mercer University School of Engineering, Macon, Georgia


In the Fall of 1992, the Mercer University School of Engineering implemented an experimental program entitled Applications in Math and Science (AIMS). This program targeted marginally-qualified and thus at-risk entering engineering freshmen. The goals of the program were to 1) increase the rate of retention of this group of students from their freshman to their sophomore year and 2) enhance their performance in introductory science and mathematics courses. The year-long program consisted of two parts: the Fall Quarter applications courses in math and science, and the Winter and Spring Quarter follow-up lab courses designed to provide academic support for the students while they were enrolled in regular Chemistry and Calculus courses, Program success was measured in terms of satisfactory performance in Calculus and Chemistry courses as well as persistence in the School of Engineering at the beginning of the student’s second year in college.

Motivation for an Intervention Strategy Approximately one-third of all of the undergraduate students who enrolled at Mercer for the 1990 Fall Quarter were no longer enrolled in the Fall of 1991. For the School of Engineering, the attrition rate was even higher. Almost half of the 1990 freshman engineering class did not return to the Engineering School for their sophomore year. These statistics clearly indicated that there was a need for some kind of intervention.

In addition to the concern about low rates of retention, the School of Engineering had a variety of other reasons for wanting to implement this experimental program. The primary motivating factors included several that may be somewhat unique to schools like Mercer. First, the School of Engineering has a primary mission of quality undergraduate education and teaching. This philosophy of quality education and teaching led us to examine the possible causes for the lack of persistence of our least-qualified entering freshmen. Second, because Mercer is a small private school, by the time the student arrives on campus, the university has already made a substantial investment of time and money in the student. Finally, because Mercer is a moderately selective school, our freshmen engineering students are academically qualified and expect to succeed in an engineering curriculum.

The Importance of the Freshman Year In terms of retention, the freshman year appears to be the most critical. Various sources indicate that the freshman-to-sophomore attrition rate for four year colleges is approximately 30%. 1JZ3 In fact, almost 20% of the freshmen leave before the end of their first term. Many of the students decide to leave within the first six weeks of classes. Because of the importance of the first year, the School of Engineering decided to design a program that focused on at-risk freshmen engineering students.

---- .- ?@xij 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘.JyyHll’3

Burtner, J. A., & Kelley, B. S., & Grum, A. F. (1996, June), An Experimental Program To Enhance Retention Of At Risk Freshmen Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--6049

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