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Design of an Extended Engineering Curriculum to Increase Retention and Equity

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Identity and Engineering: ERM Roundtable

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.469.1 - 26.469.13



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Paper Authors


Diane Grayson University of Pretoria

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Diane Grayson is Extraordinary Professor of Physics at the University of Pretoria and Director, Institutional Audits at the Council on Higher Education, which is responsible for quality assurance in higher education in South Africa. She designed the ENGAGE program when she was academic development manager in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at the University of Pretoria.

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Erika Müller University of Pretoria

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Dr Erika Müller is a HPCSA registered Educational Psychologist, currently working as Senior Lecturer in the module Professional Orientation in the Engineering Augmented Degree Programme (Engage) at the University of Pretoria. Additionally, she has also been responsible for the management of the Engage programme since 2013.

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Design of an extended engineering curriculum to increase retention andequityEngineers provide the backbone for economic development and infrastructure provision in asociety. The dearth of engineers in South Africa is hampering its ability to meet both itsinternal social development needs and to compete globally. Poor throughput rates inengineering degree programs are exacerbating the problem. Of the 2006 entering cohort ofstudents only 23% completed their degrees in the regulation time of four years, and 41%completed after five years. Of black African students, only 9% completed in four years and22% in five years. There are thus both social and economic imperatives for improvingretention and equity in engineering programmes.In 2010 the university of [name] introduced the Engineering Augmented Degree Programme(ENGAGE) to address the retention and equity problems. ENGAGE students enrol for aplanned five-year programme. Four design principles informed the structure of theprogramme: 1. Students should be supported in making the transition from high school to university. 2. Student workload (time students spend working) should be high throughout. 3. The volume of work (amount of content covered) should be low initially and increase over time. 4. Support should be high initially and decrease over time. 5. Students should encounter familiar subjects early in the program, less familiar subjects later on.These principles were operationalised by creating additional, credit-bearing modules toaccompany all 100 level mainstream modules, spreading the 100 and 200 level modules overthree years and postponing the introduction of engineering modules from year 1 to year 2. Inyear 1 students take two Professional Orientation modules in which academic and life skillsare developed within an engineering context. The ENGAGE program also incorporates othersuccessful teaching and learning practices, such as CDIO projects, learning communities andstudent engagement.One-year retention rates for students in 4- and 5-year programs are shown in Table 1 from2009, before ENGAGE, to 2011. The figures for black students are shown in Table 2.Table 1: One-year retention figures for students in 4 and 5 year programs Initially registered Still registered one year laterYear of 4-year 5-year TOTAL 4-year degree 5-year degree TOTALentry degree degree2009 847 208 1055 645 (76.2%) 101 (48.6%) 746 (70.7%)2010 794 288 1082 632 (79.7%) 188 (75.4%) 820 (78.5%)2011 691 366 1057 600 (86.8%) 278 (76.0%) 878 (83.1%)Table 2: One-year retention figures for black African students in 4 and 5 year programs Initially registered Still registered one year laterYear of 4-year 5-year TOTAL 4-year degree 5-year degree TOTALentry degree degree2009 204 104 308 143 (70.1%) 55 (52.9%) 198 (64.3%)2010 202 103 305 148 (73.3%) 80 (77.6%) 228 (74.8%)2011 167 156 323 141 (84.4%) 125 (80.1%) 266 (82.4%)The tables show that after two years of running ENGAGE, more students were placed in the5-year program, one-year retention figures increased for both 4 and 5 year program students,there was an increase in the both the number and percentage of students retained and theretention rate for black African students was nearly the same as for the whole student cohort.In the future, longitudinal data on completion rates will be collected.

Grayson, D., & Müller, E. (2015, June), Design of an Extended Engineering Curriculum to Increase Retention and Equity Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23807

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