Asee peer logo

Exploring nontraditional characteristics of students in a freshman engineering course

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Two-year College Potpourri

Tagged Division

Two Year College Division

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


William B. Corley University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

visit author page

William B. Corley, M.S., is the graduate research assistant on this project. He is an experimental psychology graduate student with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at University of Louisville. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in experimental psychology with a cognitive psychology concentration. His background includes several educational research projects and training in statistical methods.

visit author page


J C McNeil University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

visit author page

J.C. McNeil is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at University of Louisville. Research includes investigating nontraditional students in engineering, the intersection of co-op experiences and higher education institutions, and how students decide their major. Other research has included how engineering faculty consider quality teaching through the ABET accreditation process and the university climate. Contact her at

visit author page

Download Paper |




Nontraditional students (NTS) face a myriad of challenges from their personal and professional lives while pursuing a post-secondary degree. Having spouses, children, full-time jobs, and other factors pose as additional responsibilities, outside of the main role of being a learner, which some researchers claim is distracting from learning. NTS are ranked, by magnitude, based on how many NTS characteristics they possess (e.g., part-time student status, employment, living off-campus, etc.), and are broken down into minimal, moderate, and high levels of nontraditional. Along with this, the higher a NTS is ranked, the lower their likelihood of graduating. In fact, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reports that moderate and highly nontraditional students graduate at rates of 16.9% and 11.2% respectively. These figures can be compared to the graduation rate for traditional students, 53.9% from the same NCES report. For engineering students, there is a 40% attrition rate, according to Ngambecki and colleagues (2010), as does some other work (McNeil & Ohland, 2015). Why does this disparity between engineering and other disciplines occur? The proposed study attempts to discover some of the reasons such a profound difference in NTS graduation rates exists.


The study was conducted through an informed survey, quantitative analysis of 549 students at an urban, medium sized university. The researchers included all current first-year engineering students, both traditional and nontraditional. The survey informed the researchers about the prevalence of nontraditional characteristics of incoming freshman students in engineering programs. The survey was given during the fall of 2016. Survey items included age, major, gender, whether they lived on or off campus, distance of permanent and local address from campus, marriage status, modality of transportation, information about dependents, single-parent status, financial independence, employment status, employment environment, length of break after high school and/or during college, possession of high school diploma or GED, part-time enrollment, and self-report on hindrances and benefits of being a NTS.

Preliminary Results

From the study design, a sample of 549 undergraduate students (426 male, 117 female, 6 other; Mage = 19.04) was examined. The analyses indicated that participants aged 25 and older reported significantly more NTS characteristics than did participants aged 24 and younger. Males have the likelihood of having more nontraditional characteristics than females. The results also show that marriage has a compounding effect for nontraditional characteristics, if a student is married, then they are also financially independent. Married males have more nontraditional characteristics than married females. NTS are also more likely to report being electrical engineering majors compared to the other majors available to engineering students.

Corley, W. B., & McNeil, J. C. (2017, June), Exploring nontraditional characteristics of students in a freshman engineering course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28331

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: © 2017 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