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Gender Differences In Major Selection And Academic Success For Students Leaving Engineering

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Knowing Students: Diversity & Retention

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.658.1 - 10.658.11



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Paper Authors

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Miguel A. Padilla

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Timothy J. Anderson

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Guili Zhang

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Gender Differences in Major Selection and Academic Success for Students Leaving Engineering

Guili Zhang, Miguel A. Padilla, and Timothy J. Anderson Educational Statistics and Chemical Engineering, University of Florida

Matthew W. Ohland, General Engineering, Clemson University


The major selection and academic performance of students who matriculated in and subsequently left undergraduate engineering programs are studied at the nine SUCCEED universities (Southeastern University and College Coalition for Engineering Education) from 1987 to 1996 (requiring student data from 1987 to 2002) to determine gender differences in these outcomes. Academic success after leaving engineering is characterized by three outcomes: graduation in the first non-engineering major, graduation after at least one additional change of major, and failure to graduate. The impact of gender and grade-point average (GPA) at the time of leaving engineering on major selection and subsequent academic success were investigated in a multi- category, logistic regression model. The results revealed a significant interaction effect between GPA and gender on students’ post-engineering success. Females leaving engineering with GPA less than 2.65 were more likely to graduate in the first non-engineering major. At higher GPA’s, the reverse was true. Females who changed their major at least once more were also more likely to graduate than their male counterparts when leaving engineering with lower GPA (less than 2.75), the difference is not observed for males and females leaving engineering with GPA greater than 2.75. Concomitant to these two success rates is that females with a GPA lower than 2.8 are more likely to graduate after leaving engineering than their male counterparts. With a GPA greater than 3.125, males were more likely to graduate after leaving engineering than females. With GPA between 2.8 and 3.125, males and females had the same probability of graduation after leaving engineering.


Understanding major selection and academic success among engineering students who leave engineering for other disciplines can lend useful information to various people who have an interest in or are affected by such an academic phenomena. It is intuitive that a student’s academic success prior to leaving engineering (such as grade-point average) has some impact on whether they leave engineering as well as that student’s post-engineering academic success. In fact, many research studies have explored these relationships. In a landmark study, Astin showed that majoring in engineering had a negative effect on both grade-point average and chance of graduation.1 Seymour and Hewitt documented a three-year study in which they interviewed students about their decision to leave the sciences.2 While there were no major differences among different types of institutions in regard to the problems described by their students, students at all types of institutions cited structural or cultural reasons, lack or loss of interest, poor teaching, and pace and workload concerns. Besterfield-Sacre and colleagues studied the predictive value of freshman engineering attitudes.3-4 Other studies build on these in studies of students at a single institution or multiple institutions.5-8

Padilla, M. A., & Anderson, T. J., & Ohland, M., & Zhang, G. (2005, June), Gender Differences In Major Selection And Academic Success For Students Leaving Engineering Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14943

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