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Engineering retention, first-year mathematics performance, and financial aid requirements: A scoping review

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 8: Academic Progress, Retention, and Mathematics

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Paper Authors


Jody Zhong University of Louisville

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Jody is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology department at the University of Louisville College of Education & Human Development. Jody's interests include studying how students from underserved communities navigate academic and professional environments, and the formation of intersectional identities amongst undergraduate and graduate students.

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Patricia Ralston University of Louisville


Campbell Bego University of Louisville

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Dr. Campbell Bego researches engineering learning and persistence as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville's Speed School of Engineering. Prior to entering academia, she obtained a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, worked in tunnel ventilation (CFD modeling) at Mott MacDonald and AECOM, and received a Professional Engineering license in the State of New York. She draws on these experiences as well as her MS and PhD in Cognitive Science from the University of Louisville to construct meaningful activities in her first-year engineering course. She aims to improve the number of engineering graduates as well as the quality and diversity of the engineering workforce using evidence-based practices and applied theory in the classroom.

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Thomas Tretter

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This Complete Theory paper is a scoping review of peer reviewed research on the intersection of math performance and financial aid dependence on maintaining academic GPA on first-year retention.

Motivation: Preliminary research by the research team indicated that students who receive a C grade in their first mathematics course have an approximately equal likelihood of (a) completing their 2-year sequence of mathematical requirements, or (b) leaving engineering, by their third year in engineering school at a large midwestern university (Blind Ref). Anecdotally, some first-year engineering students at the same university who receive grades of C or lower in first-year math courses have reported feeling pressured to leave engineering to maintain eligibility for GPA-based financial aid, typically requiring a GPA of 3.0 or higher. We sought to answer the question “What is known from the existing literature about the combination of first-year math performance and financial aid eligibility as predictors of retention in undergraduate engineering?”

Background: First-year engineering curriculum typically involves one or more foundational mathematics courses, including calculus. While factors influencing retention are complex and multifaceted, some scholars have suggested that first-year mathematics courses are barriers to persisting in engineering studies (Ayebo, Ukkelberg, & Assuah, 2017; Bischof, Zwölfer, & Rubeša, 2015; Campbell, 2015). Simultaneously, scholars have increasingly paid attention to how socioeconomic stressors and financial aid can play roles in whether students select and persist in engineering studies (Carrigan et al., 2015; Ennis & Greenwood, 2018; Eris et al., 2018). However, there is limited scholarship examining the intersection of math performance and financial aid eligibility as predictors of leaving engineering. Due to the apparent paucity of research at the intersection of math performance, financial aid, and leaving/retention, a scoping review will be conducted to investigate what is known about this topic and the gaps in the literature. This paper will report on results of the scoping review currently being conducted.

Methods: The authors followed recommendations by Arksey and O’Malley (2005) for conducting a scoping review. To craft a set of Boolean search terms, the authors generated a list of keywords and synonyms (e.g., retention or persistence or completion) and pilot-tested the combination of these keywords through the databases PsycINFO, ERIC, and EBSCO Academic Search Complete. These databases were selected for their content relevance. After pilot-testing, additional relevant keywords were added to the search terms. An official search was then undertaken using the modified search terms. Abstracts for all records from this search were reviewed once by the first or second author and categorized as relevant or not. Duplicate records were omitted. All papers deemed relevant with full-text versions available will be reviewed using a semi-structured protocol. Information gathered will include type of article (e.g., conceptual, empirical), study setting if applicable (e.g., country/region, school size, public or private), participants (e.g., Ns, demographics, type of class taken), variables or constructs of interest, study design (e.g., quantitative, qualitative), and results.

Anticipated results: Results will be organized along the following a priori questions: 1) What is known about first-year math performance as a predictor of undergraduate engineering retention? 2) What is known about financial aid dependence on GPA as a predictor of retention? 3) What is known about the intersection of math performance and financial aid dependence on GPA as predictors of retention? We will synthesize the bodies of literature on these questions in order to extract and articulate the state of knowledge in this domain. We will also highlight gaps in the literature and suggest future areas of research. Taken together, results from this scoping review will hopefully provide scholars of undergraduate engineering retention with a sense of what work still needs to be done to understand if/how undergrad engineering students’ math performance and financial aid eligibility factor into their decision to discontinue engineering studies.

References Arksey, H., & O’Malley. (2005). Scoping studies: Towards a methodological framework. International Journey of Social Research Methodology, 8(1), 19-32. Ayebo, A., Ukkelberg, S., & Assuah, C. (2017). Success in introductory calculus: The role of high school and pre-calculus preparation. International Journal of Research in Education and Science (IJRES), 3(1), 11-19. Bischof, G., Zwölfer, A., & Rubeša, D. (2015, June). Correlation Between Engineering Students' Performance in Mathematics and Academic Success. In 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition (pp. 26-410). Campbell, A. (2015). Exploring boot camps for ‘gatekeeper’ service courses in mathematics. Pythagoras, 36(2), Art. #298, 9 pages. Carrigan, C., Borgford-Parnell, J. L., Mody-Pan, P. N., Riskin, E. A., Cunningham, S., & Wiggin, D. (2015, June). Learning from Pell-eligible engineering students’ class standpoint. In 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition (pp. 26-1067). Ennis, T. D., & Greenwood, J. (2018, April). Broken Promises: Resolving Financial Aid Dilemmas that Further Marginalize Students in Need. In 2018 CoNECD-TheCollaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference. Eris, O., Chachra, D., Chen, H. L., Sheppard, S., Ludlow, L., Rosca, C., ... & Toye, G. (2010). Outcomes of a longitudinal administration of the persistence in engineering survey. Journal of Engineering Education, 99(4), 371-395.

Zhong, J., & Ralston, P., & Bego, C., & Tretter, T. (2022, August), Engineering retention, first-year mathematics performance, and financial aid requirements: A scoping review Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2022 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015