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Beginning to Quantify the Pool of Engineering-Eligible Prospective Students through a Survey of Access Practices

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Choice and Persistence in Engineering Education and Careers

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.224.1 - 24.224.13



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Paper Authors


Beth A. Myers University of Colorado Boulder

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Beth A. Myers is the engineering assessment specialist for the Integrated Teaching and Learning and BOLD Programs at the University of Colorado Boulder. She holds a B.A. in biochemistry and M.E. in engineering management and is currently a PhD student at the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has worked for the University of Colorado in various capacities for 15 years, including as a program manager for a small medical research center and most recently as Director of Access and Recruiting for the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Her interests are in quantitative and qualitative research and data analysis. She has been involved with the BOLD Center and the Engineering GoldShirt Program implementation since inception.

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Jacquelyn F. Sullivan University of Colorado Boulder

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Jacquelyn Sullivan is founding co-director of the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and the General Engineering Plus degree program at the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. She received her PhD in environmental health physics and toxicology from Purdue University and held leadership positions in the energy and software industries for 13 years. She founded and leads CU’s extensive K-12 engineering initiative and spearheaded the Engineering GoldShirt Program for high potential, next tier students. Sullivan led the founding of the ASEE K-12 Division in 2004, was awarded ASEE’s 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award, was conferred as an ASEE fellow member in 2011 and was awarded NAE’s 2008 Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education.

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Evidence-Based Practice: Beginning to Quantify the Pool of Engineering-Eligible Prospective Students through a Survey of Access PracticesIt is generally believed that the existing pool of underrepresented students prepared to besuccessful in engineering college is large enough to supply our nation’s demand for engineers—if only we could attract them to study engineering. Our preliminary research of the currentadmissions criteria at the nation’s leading research institutions says this is not the case.We hypothesize that through the use of current metrics and admission strategies/practices, notenough prepared underrepresented students exist to meet our nation’s objectives. This paperdiscusses the first-step in a multi-step research plan to ultimately quantify the minority studentpopulation that meets generally applied admissions criteria at top engineering researchuniversities, and examine whether institutional strategies create admissions barriers that undulylimit access to an engineering future—unwittingly counteracting national imperatives to broadenparticipation in the engineering profession. This examination has the potential to identify new,more equitable admissions policies and practices, as well as a broader range of access pathwaysinto engineering education. To begin this research, we undertook an in-depth examination of theexisting engineering admission policies and practices at 32 U.S. universities; the survey resultsand conclusions are described herein.Historically, undergraduate engineering admission has been primarily determined by 1) highschool performance and 2) cognitive abilities as assessed by standardized tests. Even thoughthese commonly-used merit metrics may not accurately predict students’ long-term potential tosucceed in the study of college-level engineering, they are widely used in admission practices,essentially serving as the “gatekeepers” for access to the profession. In August 2013, we sent anonline survey to decision makers at the 98 “high research-active” universities with engineeringprograms, making an effort to reach the people most able to answer questions about theirengineering admission policies and practices, including directors of admissions and engineeringdeans. Survey participants were offered an incentive and access to the summary results. Of the50 survey responses, 36 were deemed complete enough for research purposes—representing 32institutions from 21 states and the District of Columbia.Survey results 1 indicate that a variety of factors are used to determine engineering admissioneligibility. More than half the respondents rated 22 factors as important or extremely importantin undergraduate first-year engineering admission decisions. Unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous keyfactors are high school grade point average; math and comprehensive standardized test scores;physics, calculus and chemistry high school track record; and the quality of the high schoolcourse load. Within these commonly used variables, a wide range of acceptable values werefound, as well as identification of gaps in admission policies and practices.Next, the admissions survey findings reported in this paper will be collated with eachengineering college’s published first-year class metrics—such as 25th and 75th percentile class1 Note: Survey analysis is in-progress, hence more detailed description of our findings is not available to include inthe abstract at this time (October 2013).rank and standardized test scores—to better understand how well students who decision makerssay they admit align to which engineering students actually matriculate. Further mapping to highschool performance results—including standardized test scores, self-reported grade pointaverages and other admissions survey variables—will move us closer to being able to quantifytoday’s pool of students from backgrounds underrepresented in engineering who are prepared topursue engineering education at research-intensive institutions.Looking ahead, our intent is to define the “next-tier” of students who would not likely beaccepted with today’s standard admission practices—but who have high potential and probabilityfor success in engineering if provided access pathways and targeted support to amelioratepreparation deficiencies, thereby adding to the pool of engineer candidates.

Myers, B. A., & Sullivan, J. F. (2014, June), Beginning to Quantify the Pool of Engineering-Eligible Prospective Students through a Survey of Access Practices Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20115

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