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Improving Student Retention in STEM Disciplines: A Model That Has Worked

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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

22.837.1 - 22.837.8



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Paper Authors


Andrew Kline Western Michigan University

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Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering
Ph.D., Michigan Technological University

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Betsy M. Aller Western Michigan University

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Betsy M. Aller is an associate professor in industrial and manufacturing engineering at Western Michigan University, where she teaches first-year engineering and coordinates capstone design project courses. Dr. Aller’s research interests include professional development of students to enter and succeed in the engineering workplace, and enhancing engineering and technology-related experiences for women and minorities.

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Edmund Tsang Western Michigan University

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Edmund Tsang is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and Assessment, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Western Michigan University. Dr. Tsang received a B.S. (distinction) in Mechanical Engineering at University of Nebraska and Ph.D. in Metallurgy at Iowa State University. Dr. Tsang's professional interests include service-learning in engineering, curriculum development at lower-division engineering courses, and student success and retention.

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Improving Student Retention in STEM Disciplines: A Model That has WorkedIn 2003, a cross-disciplinary committee of faculty, administrators, and advisors from theColleges of XXXX and YYYY at ZZZZ University identified a strategy to increase the numberof B.S. graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by improvingthe retention of first-time, first-year students majoring in STEM disciplines. The multi-facetedstrategy involves clustering first-time, first-year STEM students in discipline specific learningcommunity cohorts in both semesters the first year; developing an Engineering House forfreshmen in the residence halls; making tutoring services available in the Engineering House;enhancing academic and career advising; early intervention by faculty and residence hall staff forstruggling students; and the formation of faculty learning communities for the exchange of bestpractices. Coordination of activities with other university programs, such as the Louis StokesAlliance for Minority Participation and freshman/parent orientation to promote student successwas also improved. An institutional data-collection system was created to track student progressto support assessment and evaluation activities for this project. The tracking system provides aunique code for every student in the learning community cohorts, and compiles reports eachsemester to determine STEM course enrollment; performance (grade and overall GPA); andcontinuing enrollment in a STEM major. Written student surveys collect information about otherproject objectives.This initial effort, concluding after the 2009-10 academic year, increased the first-year retentionrate to an average of 65% from the college’s historical baseline of 57%. The 65% retention rateexceeds the average of 62% for our peer institutions identified as “Moderately Selective” by theConsortium for Student Retention Data Exchange. Fourth-year retention for students enrolled inthe initial learning community cohort improved from the baseline of 33% to 46%.The next phase of this program, begun in Spring 2010, expands the Engineering House toformally include sophomores and transfer students, and has initiated a summer bridge program toimprove a students’ fall semester math placement. Currently, 50% of first-time, first-yearstudents are not ready to enroll in Calculus during their first semester. This slows their progressto degree as it is a pre-requisite for many other STEM courses. This paper will report on thesuccesses and challenges of the 2003-10 efforts, and can serve as a model to be transferred toother universities.

Kline, A., & Aller, B. M., & Tsang, E. (2011, June), Improving Student Retention in STEM Disciplines: A Model That Has Worked Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18118

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