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How Science Course Performance Influences Student Retention A Statistical Investigation

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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

Knowing Students: Diversity & Retention

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.670.1 - 9.670.10

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Paper Authors

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Brian Thorndyke

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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

Session 1430

How Science Course Performance Influences Student Retention - A Statistical Investigation

Guili Zhang, Brian Thorndyke, Matthew W. Ohland, and Timothy J. Anderson

Educational Psychology Department, University of Florida / Department of Physics, University of Florida / Department of General Engineering, Clemson University / Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Florida


Identifying science courses that influence retention of engineering students should be useful in suggesting approaches to improving student success by focusing the attention of educational reforms on the areas of greatest need. The purpose of this study is to statistically identify those required science courses in engineering degree programs that have a significant influence on retention and estimate the magnitude of their impact. We draw our inferences from a database of all engineering students at the University of Florida between Spring 1996 and Spring 2002. Defining retention as either graduation or current enrollment in the final year of the database, a series of logistic regression models are formulated to estimate the effect on retention in engineering by core science courses in three major areas: mathematics, physics and chemistry. Odds ratios on retention are reported and rank ordered as an indication of the strength and relative importance of each course’s impact, and we find that the student performance in only a fraction of the core courses has predictive value on engineering retention. These results raise questions about the relationship of the core courses to the later curriculum, and suggest that curriculum development and academic advising should reflect the variation within the science core and resist the temptation to treat the core uniformly.

I. Introduction

Most engineering programs require students to take a set of first- and second-year science courses as core requisites, and often these core courses are independent of the engineering specialty. At the University of Florida, we require all engineering undergraduate students to successfully pass a set of science courses chosen from mathematics, chemistry and physics. Implicit in this curriculum requirement is that these courses are fundamentally important to students’ success in engineering, as they develop the basic tools of mathematics and scientific

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

Thorndyke, B., & Anderson, T. J., & Ohland, M., & Zhang, G. (2004, June), How Science Course Performance Influences Student Retention A Statistical Investigation Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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