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Distinctive Academic Programs as a School Choice Factor: An Exploratory Study

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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

FPD 1: The Path to Engineering

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.437.1 - 24.437.8



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Paper Authors


Lee Kemp Rynearson Purdue University

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Lee Rynearson is currently pursuing a PhD in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He received a BS and MEng in Mechanical Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He has previous experience as an instructor of engineering at the Kanazawa Institute of Technology, in Kanazawa, Japan. His current research interests focus on first-year engineering experiences.

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Distinctive Academic Programs as a School Choice Factor: An Exploratory StudyPrevious research into what influences a high school student’s selection of a college or universityfor undergraduate study has identified some factors that may impact this decision, includingfactors such as cost, overall academic reputation of the educational institution and department,and availability of a target major1. Some studies have identified other factors, ranging from thesize of the educational institution to its distance from a student’s home. Differences in identifiedfactors between studies performed at different types of institutions (for instance, traditional andcommunity colleges2) and in different countries3 suggest that the relative strength of schoolchoice factors can vary widely between student populations. Understanding school choicefactors may allow an institution or department to better communicate their educationalopportunities and strengths and attract applicants better suited to their particular offerings.This study used a survey of current first-year engineering students (N=150) at a single Research1 University for an initial exploration of the potential influence of a previously unidentifiedfactor in undergraduate school choice, the presence of a distinctive or unique academic program.The survey used Likert-scale, rank-order, and free response question types. The distinctiveacademic programs investigated were a first-year engineering program and an engineeringhonors program at a large Midwestern research university, however, it is expected that othertypes of distinctive programs, from co-op to study-abroad, might behave similarly in influencingschool choice at this and other institutions.A majority of students reported being influenced to attend the university by the presence ofdistinctive academic programs. In relative strength, the presence of the programs studied wasfound in this population to be comparable to previously established school choice factors.Responses also suggest strategies to increase the strength of this factor in school choice.This exploratory study indicates that the availability of distinctive, unique, or special academicprograms may be a meaningful factor in undergraduate school choice, comparable in strength toschool choice factors established in previous literature. As with other school choice factors, thisavailability is not expected to be a dominant or even meaningful factor for every student of everyinstitution, but rather to be of greater or lesser influence depending on the student, the institution,and the program in question. Faculty or administrators interested either in understanding whatdraws students to a school or schools or in increasing the attractiveness of their educationalinstitutions may wish to include this factor in their considerations. 1. Rocca, Steven J., & Washburn, Shannon G. (2005). Factors influencing college choice on high school and transfer matriculants into a college of agriculture. NACTA Journal, 49(1), 32-38. 2. Wajeeh, Emad M., & Micceri, Ted. (1997). Factors influencing students' college choice at traditional and metropolitan universities: ERIC Clearinghouse. 3. Briggs, Senga, & Wilson, Alex. (2007). Which university? A study of the influence of cost and information factors on Scottish undergraduate choice. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 29(1), 57-72.

Rynearson, L. K. (2014, June), Distinctive Academic Programs as a School Choice Factor: An Exploratory Study Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20328

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