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Early-career Plans in Engineering: Insights from the Theory of Planned Behavior

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Conference

2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Career Decisions and Faculty Development

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

11

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/30348

Download Count

16

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Paper Authors

biography

Trevion S. Henderson University of Michigan

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Trevion Henderson is a doctoral student in the Center for Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan. He recently earned his master's degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The Ohio State University while serving as a graduate research associate with the Center for Higher Education Enterprise. Trevion also hold's a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering from The Ohio State University, where he served as a research assistant in the College of Education and Human Ecology Center for Inclusion, Diversity, and Academic Success.

Trevion's research interests center on three foci in Engineering Education: pedagogical strategies, practices and policies that broaden minority participation, and curricular design for meeting workforce and industry needs.

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Katie A. Shoemaker University of Michigan

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Katie A. Shoemaker is a doctoral student in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan. She worked in the Office of Residence Life as a first year adviser at Miami University for four years after earning her master's degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The Ohio State University.

Katie's research interests center around experiential learning in higher education, with a particular focus on study abroad and social contexts that influence learning.

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Lisa R. Lattuca University of Michigan

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Lisa Lattuca, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Michigan, studies curriculum, teaching, and learning, primarily in engineering programs in college and university settings. She examines processes of curriculum development and revision at the course, program, and institutional levels, including how faculty attitudes, beliefs, and cultures influence curricular and instructional practices and how these in affect student learning.

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Abstract

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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