Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Educational Research and Methods
This is a research paper proposal for the ERM Division.
Attrition from undergraduate engineering programs is a well-documented problem. A recent National Center for Education Statistics report suggests as many as 41% of students who enter engineering leave the field without a postsecondary degree. Moreover, post-graduation attrition from engineering remains a persistent problem for engineering industry. These alarming statistics underscore the need to understand the factors that inform students’ decisions to leave engineering in higher education.
Many studies of student behavior and decision-making position students as rational decision makers who, after considering many academic, social, and financial factors, make decisions regarding the institutions they attend and majors they pursue. Positioning students as rational decision makers has its roots in economic theories of behavior. Broadly, rational choice theory posits that individuals have a set of preferences, beliefs, and dispositions and make choices consistent with those factors. Thus, researchers often directly link students’ preferences, constraints, and goals to their ultimate decisions.
Critics of rational choice theories suggest that too often research frames individual choices as though the utility of particular options (e.g., attending or foregoing college, leaving or persisting in engineering) are universally understood with absolute value across individuals. These critics suggest instead that cost (e.g., monetary, psychological, emotional cost) is relative, and utility may vary across individuals. Other researchers have proposed theories of bounded rationality that argue that while decision makers are rational, cognitive and emotional factors also inform decision-making.
In this paper, we position engineers as individuals who consider a host of economic factors, as well as sociocognitive beliefs, to make decisions about their career intentions. We analyze data from 345 engineering students, surveyed before and after their first year in a college of engineering, to examine whether economic factors, such as the means by which each student finances their college degree, and sociocognitive variables, such as students’ beliefs about the psychological costs of persisting in engineering and their self-efficacy, influenced the likelihood that they would change their plans to pursue a career in engineering.
During our preliminary analyses, a set of logistic and multinomial logistic regression models were estimated predicting students’ likelihood of changing their career plans after their first year in engineering. Results offered support for the inclusion of cognitive and affective beliefs, as both a measure of students’ engineering major confidence and of the psychological costs they associated with earning an engineering degree, were statistically significant predictors of students’ likelihood of changing their career plans. Students with higher self-efficacy were more likely to choose engineering as their professional goal. Moreover, of the students who choose engineering as their professional goal, higher perceived psychological cost of an engineering degree was associated with a higher likelihood that they may change their career plans away from engineering.
Understanding how students’ cognitive and affective beliefs about earning an engineering degree influence their choice to leave engineering in the early years of college may help programs and colleges devise interventions to help address persistent problems in degree attainment.
Henderson, T. S., & Shoemaker, K. A., & Lattuca, L. R. (2018, June), Early-career Plans in Engineering: Insights from the Theory of Planned Behavior Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30348
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