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First Year Students Who Leave Engineering: Learning Styles And Self Reported Perceptions

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Recruiting, Retention & Advising

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.613.1 - 9.613.17



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Paper Authors

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Kay C. Dee

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Glen Livesay

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Session Number 2253

First-Year Students Who Leave Engineering: Learning Styles and Self-Reported Perceptions

Kay C Dee, Glen A. Livesay

Department of Biomedical Engineering, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118


Many engineering programs/schools would like to reduce student attrition. Implementing successful special courses or activities to retain students depends on identifying major reasons for student attrition. This study therefore sought to identify reasons cited by students for leaving the School of Engineering at Tulane University, and explored whether retention of first-year engineering students could be correlated to the learning styles of these students. All students leaving engineering during the 2002/2003 academic year had the opportunity to voluntarily and anonymously complete an exit survey which asked students to identify their reasons for leaving engineering. Additionally, we administered Felder’s Index of Learning Styles (ILS) to all first- semester students in Tulane’s introductory engineering course. Participation was voluntary and uncompensated. Students were not informed of their assessment outcomes, and were identified only by code number for analyses.

The exit survey was completed by 42 students, and learning style information and/or various demographic data were obtained for 209 first-year students. The most frequently-cited known “destination” for students leaving engineering was the School of Business. The most frequently-cited reasons for leaving engineering included “I just don’t seem to be like other engineers” and “I want to take classes that will give me more opportunities to have discussions or talk about opinions and views.” The students who left engineering and Tulane University during their first semester included a higher percentage of ILS-identified global learners (70%; n = 10) than the students who left Tulane during their second semester (53%, n = 15), who transferred to other majors during their first year (33%, n = 21), or who were retained in engineering to the second year (40%; n = 121). Although the sample sizes in this study were small due to the size of the school, the results are important to educators interested in retaining first-year students – including, to the best of our knowledge, the first published link between ILS-identified global learners and attrition from engineering.

Introduction Student attrition is a concern of many engineering programs, with first-year students a special concern. First-year engineering students, while adjusting to college life, often complete a curriculum which includes minimal contact with engineering faculty and little exposure to the types of problem-solving used in engineering fields. For this reason, many engineering programs undertake initiatives to help first-year students self-identify as engineers in training,

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Dee, K. C., & Livesay, G. (2004, June), First Year Students Who Leave Engineering: Learning Styles And Self Reported Perceptions Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13811

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