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Exploring the relationship between initial mathematics course in college and engineering graduation rates

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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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Aysa Galbraith University of Arkansas

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Dr. Aysa Galbraith is a Teaching Assistant Professor in the First-Year Engineering Program at University of Arkansas. She received her PhD in Chemical Engineering from Chemical and Biomolecular Department at North Carolina State University in 2006. She is responsible from coordinating the First-Year Honors Research Experience, teaching Introduction to Engineering, developing course material, and advising freshmen engineering students.

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Heath Schluterman University of Arkansas


Leslie Massey University of Arkansas

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Leslie Massey is an instructor in the First-Year Engineering Program. She received her BS in Biological Engineering and MS in Environmental Engineering from the University of Arkansas. She previously served as project manager at the Arkansas Water Resources Center, but returned to teaching full time in 2013. She teaches Introduction to Engineering I and II and and is the coordinator for the First-Year Honors Innovation Experience.

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Brandon Crisel

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Candace Rainwater University of Arkansas

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First-Year Engineering Program (FEP) supports the retention and graduation goals for the College of Engineering (CoE) at University of Arkansas. Since the implementation of FEP in 2007, approximately 33% of engineering students graduate in 4 years, whereas our 5-year and 6-year graduation rates are around 50%. Although there are many factors associated with the graduation rate, students’ initial mathematics course in college and their progression in their mathematics courses have been documented as a significant predictor of graduating with a degree in engineering. Therefore, one of our primary concerns is our students’ progression through the mathematics course sequence. The eight-semester degree completion programs for all engineering degrees in the CoE assume students will begin their math course of study in Calculus I; however, many of our students are required to take remedial math courses before they can begin the calculus sequence. Although there are variations to math placement each year, on average, approximately 40% of CoE students begin in Calculus 1 while 20% begin ahead (in Calculus 2 or higher), and 40% of CoE students begin one or two math class behind (in Precalculus or College Algebra). The goal of this research was to look at the graduation rates of engineering students based on their initial math course taken at the university. The data analyzed spanned from 2007 to 2015. We found that starting math class is a significant factor in graduation rates and verified this by Chi-square Test of Independence. The results were consistent for the 4-year, 5-year, 6-year, and overall timelines for the 2007-2015 cohort; students started behind in their math sequence graduated with engineering degrees significantly less than expected. We also explored the relationship with the grade earned in the first math class and graduation rates. As expected, the better grade a student earns in their first math course at each level, the more likely to they are to graduate. And the higher math class a student is enrolled in, the more likely they are to graduate for each grade earned. Other interesting results are discussed in detail in paper. Lastly, we looked at the engineering degrees completed divided into math groups. While we cannot make any conclusions on probability of graduating from a specific major depending on the math groups (due to fluctuation of the popularity of different majors over time and self-bias in selection), we can reiterate that graduating with any Bachelor of Science degree in engineering is difficult for students who start behind in their math progression.

The results of this study will be used by academic advisors and college administrators to determine additional support and programming needed for students identified as less likely to graduate. Currently, one main discussion in College of Engineering is whether to require all incoming freshman engineering students to take the ALEKS math placement exam. Our study will also be used to aid this discussion.

Galbraith, A., & Schluterman, H., & Massey, L., & Crisel, B., & Rainwater, C. (2022, August), Exploring the relationship between initial mathematics course in college and engineering graduation rates 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