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Engineering Attrition and University Retention

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD X: Addressing Retention in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.538.1 - 25.538.10



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Paper Authors


Lizzie Y. Santiago West Virginia University

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Lizzie Y. Santiago, Ph.D., is Teaching Assistant Professor for the Freshman Engineering program in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. She holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. She teaches freshman engineering courses and supports the outreach and recruiting activities of the college. Her research interests include neural tissue engineering, stem cell research, absorption of air pollutants in human upper airways, attrition and university retention, Increasing student awareness and interest in research and engineering, STEM education, and recruitment and retention of women and minorities.

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Robin A.M. Hensel Ed.D. West Virginia University

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Robin Hensel is the Assistant Dean for Freshman Experience in the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. She holds a B.S. in mathematics from Wheaton College IL, an M.A. in mathematics from SUNY at Buffalo, and an Ed.D. from West Virginia University. Before WVU, Hensel worked for the U.S. Department of Energy as a Mathematician and Computer Systems Analyst, and as an Associate Professor and Department Chair at Salem International Universtiy. Her research interests include STEM education at all levels, first-year experience and issues related to the transition from high school to college, and the retention and recruitment of women and minorities to STEM fields.

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Engineering Attrition and University RetentionEngineering attrition is a concern for first year engineering programs and engineering colleges.The stress related to making the transition from high school to college has been suggested as onereason for the high attrition rate. Not only is there a disruption to student-family relationships,but students need to learn how to manage their time and resources, as well as to meet deadlineswithout the guidance and close supervision of parents and relatives. Many first year engineeringprograms provide extensive academic and social support to help students make the transition andsucceed academically. While necessary, are these programs sufficient to keep students in anengineering program? Are students who leave engineering academically successful in their non-engineering field of study? This study was designed not only to address why students transferout of engineering, but to determine if those students who leave engineering are able to succeedin their new discipline and graduate from the university.All “engineering” students at this large land grant university in the mid-Atlantic region, bothcalculus-ready and not calculus-ready,” must complete a common “first year experience” beforemoving to a discipline major. Students who are not calculus-ready at entry usually take 1.5 to 2years to complete the required courses, depending on their initial math placement. The authorsstudied 527 students who transferred out of engineering during their first or second year of thatgeneral engineering program. The students were mostly men who changed majors betweenJanuary 2007 and December 2010. An exit questionnaire administered at the time of the transferwas utilized to determine their exit grade point average (GPA) and the reason for the switch.Furthermore, university databases were utilized to determine if those students were able tograduate from, or are still pursuing a degree at, the university. The number of students whowithdrew from the university, were suspended, or never returned to the university was alsoassessed, as was the percent of students who left engineering, but were later readmitted into theprogram.Analysis of exit surveys provided insight into the academic characteristics of those first yearstudents who transferred out of engineering, reasons why they left, and the degree to which thesestudents persisted to degree completion in another major at the university. Results indicate thatfactors different from academic difficulty are leading to the change of discipline among generalengineering students. Students who are in good standing academically are leaving engineeringbecause they lack interest in the subject. Additional explanations are considered and presented,as well as the implications for potential intervention programs to address increasing studentinterest as well as academic success in engineering.The percentage of students who leave engineering and who also leave the university is a sourceof concern for both engineering and university administrators. Influencing factors for leavingboth engineering and the university are explored and presented.

Santiago, L. Y., & Hensel, R. A. (2012, June), Engineering Attrition and University Retention Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21296

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