Asee peer logo

Facing our Retention Challenge: a Self-Portrait

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD I: Attacking the Problems of Retention in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.701.1 - 22.701.20



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Alan D. Niemi LeTourneau University

visit author page

Alan D. Niemi is an Associate Professor and Chair of Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University. He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering Technology from Lake Superior State University and his M.S.E.E. from Illinois Institute of Technology. He has taught courses in Electrical Engineering and Technology for 24 years. In addition to teaching, Mr. Niemi has spent seven years in industry designing digital and microcontroller systems.

visit author page


Robert W. Warke LeTourneau University

visit author page

Robert W. Warke is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Engineering Technology at LeTourneau University. He received a B.S. in Welding Engineering from LeTourneau University in 1986 and an M.S. in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1994. He joined the LeTourneau faculty in 2003 following 17 years of experience in industry, consulting, and applied research and development. In addition to his work in student retention, he currently teaches and consults in the areas of materials engineering, welding metallurgy, and structural weldment design and assessment.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Facing our Retention Challenge: a Self-PortraitA 32% increase in engineering and engineering technology student enrollment over a five-yearperiod at a small, private university was offset by a concurrent decline in retention rate, to arecent low of 33%. This motivated a comprehensive study to identify and address underlyingcauses and contributing factors.An online survey was developed and administered to three cohorts of non-retained students, mostof whom had completed one year or less. These collectively indicated loss of interest ormotivation as their foremost academic reason for leaving (Figure 1). This was found to beconsistent with the published findings of studies conducted by several other institutions.To enable the selection of optimal “best practices” for enhancing first-year retention at thesubject university, various internal performance and predictor data were analyzed and interpretedin light of a broad external survey of causes, trends and curricular improvements. Over 75national publications from the most recent five years were examined to identify leading factors inengineering student retention, and to identify for possible adoption any measures that hadproduced two or more consecutive years of documented improvement.This paper describes and graphically illustrates the results of the leaver survey and self-study(see Figure 2), as well as the noteworthy findings of the literature survey. Several best practiceswere adopted and are now being implemented with support from an NSF STEP grant. Lost interest in / motivation to study engineering or 5× 3 3× 2 2×1 engineering technologyHad difficulty with coursework (academic performance) 2× 3 2× 2 3× 1 1st (most) 1×1 Uncertain of future career options 3× 2 2nd Initially majored in engineering or eng. tech. due to 3rd 1 × 3 1×2 2×1parental pressure and later decided it just wasn't for me 0 5 10 15 20 25 Influence Points (respondents × weight)Figure 1. Summary of some responses to the “why they left” question in the leaver survey. Figure 2. Effect of high school GPA on 1st semester GPA and eventual graduation.

Niemi, A. D., & Warke, R. W. (2011, June), Facing our Retention Challenge: a Self-Portrait Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17982

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: © 2011 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