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Exploring the Effects of Student Course Withdrawals on Time to Graduation

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Choice and Persistence in Engineering Education and Careers

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.586.1 - 24.586.12



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Paper Authors


Gillian M. Nicholls University of Alabama, Huntsville

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Gillian Nicholls is an assistant professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering & Engineering Management and a 2009-2010 Gray Faculty Fellow at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Her research interests are in applying statistical analysis and optimization to supply chain management, transportation management, and engineering education. She holds the B.S. in Industrial Engineering (Lehigh University), Masters in Business Administration (Penn State University), M.S. in Industrial Engineering (University of Pittsburgh.), and Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering (University of Pittsburgh). Address: N149 Technology Hall, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, AL 35899; telephone (+1) 256.824.6637; fax: (+1) 256.824.6733; e-mail:

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Rhonda Kay Gaede University of Alabama, Huntsville

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Rhonda Gaede received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Southern Methodist University and an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. She worked as a product engineer for Motorola and as a staff engineer for IBM. She is currently an Associate Professor at The University of Alabama in Huntsville where she teaches computer architecture, logic design and hardware design and verification using VHDL and SystemVerilog. Research interests include factors contributing to academic success, hardware verification, and computer architecture and performance. Address:211 Engineering Buildingl, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, AL 35899; telephone (+1) 256.824.6573; fax: (+1) 256.824.6803; e-mail:

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Exploring the Effects of Student Course Withdrawals on Time to GraduationPersistence and retention of undergraduate students remain serious concerns in engineeringeducation. The first two years in which students are enrolled in the gateway math, science, andengineering courses are a period when many students chose to switch out. Universities are underincreasing pressure to educate students more effectively in terms of cost and time. This isparticularly true for Colleges of Engineering which have seen the time to graduate with abachelor’s degree increase from four years to five or more as the volume of content deemedrequired has increased and more students matriculate with insufficient academic preparation toprogress quickly. The frequency of students withdrawing from classes has also increased overtime. The academic policies governing course withdrawals can affect these trends.This paper discusses the effects of undergraduate engineering student patterns in coursewithdrawals on the time to graduation. Engineering student course enrollment data from Spring2005 through Summer 2013 has been collected to analyze patterns in the core math, science, andengineering classes. Other variables including gender, race/ethnicity, age, major, prior highschool/college, prior GPA, cumulative attempted credit hours, cumulated earned credit hours,and term attempted credit hours have also been collected. This time period was chosen tobalance the sample across two academic policies. From 1999-2009 almost all 100 and 200 levelclasses were graded on an A, B, C, D, and No Credit (NC) basis with NC grades being excludedfrom GPA calculations. This had the unfortunate effect of enabling students that were notmaking good academic progress to remain enrolled without triggering any academicinterventions. The policy was abolished in 2009, but students were still allowed unlimitedcourse withdrawals that also do not affect GPA calculations. An initiative within the College ofEngineering focuses on monitoring and improving students’ academic progress to ensure that allundergraduates are successfully completing at least 66% of all credit hours attempted. Concernshave been raised about the unlimited withdrawal policy; particularly in light of rising tuition,limits on financial aid, and the growing national problem of student loan debt. The researchhypotheses are that unlimited withdrawals lead to a protracted time to graduation and an elevatedrisk of not completing an engineering degree. While these hypotheses would seem to beintuitively obvious, it is important to analyze the data to formally prove/disprove them and to aidin proactively identifying problem courses and at risk students.

Nicholls, G. M., & Gaede, R. K. (2014, June), Exploring the Effects of Student Course Withdrawals on Time to Graduation Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20477

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