Asee peer logo

Leaving Engineering: Gender Differences

Download Paper |


2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Undergraduate Retention Activities

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.884.1 - 10.884.28



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Moshe Hartman

author page

Harriet Hartman

Download Paper |

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

Leaving Engineering: Gender Differences

Harriet Hartman, Moshe Hartman Rowan University/Ben-Gurion University


The paper focuses on retention in an innovative undergraduate engineering program with many “female-friendly” features despite its design as best practices for all students. Both male and female “stayers” in the program are compared to “leavers” on a variety of characteristics, including pre-college and family background, grades, satisfaction with the Rowan program, engineering self-confidence, and future expectations about their engineering major and career. Data come from a special 2000-1 survey of all Rowan engineering students.


Student retention in engineering is problematic. Estimates of the loss in undergraduate students who begin engineering and either switch to another major or drop out altogether range from 40% to 70% (depending on who is considered a beginning student in engineering and what institution is considered).1,2,16,21 This low rate of retention is not unique to engineering students: as Astin & Astin2 and Adelman1 show, students completing the major they start out with average approximately 42%. What does characterize engineering in particular is the gender gap in completion rate nationally. The retention rate of female engineering students is consistently about 20 percentage points or more below that of males1, even when the female students have as high or higher academic achievements as males. Studies of why students migrate out of engineering have identified several factors at work. They include both “push” factors out of engineering (including poor academic performance, inadequate preparation, unwillingness to work) and “pull” factors attracting students into another major (summarized in Seymour & Hewitt21). However, of more relevance to the present project, some of the reasons for switching out of engineering pertain to the very pedagogy with which engineering is traditionally taught: hard “weeding out” classes rather than a nurturing environment; a lack of social and ethical context surrounding the academic work; a strong emphasis on individual competition; lack of warm and close interpersonal relationships with faculty and peers7,21. Astin & Astin2 contribute the insight that interaction with engineering faculty may actually backfire and prove to be negative influences on persistence in the major. Adelman1 further refines the insight by showing that compared to students who stay in engineering, students who leave engineering display a higher degree of dissatisfaction with academic and work preparation aspects of their experience. Thus, high achievers may switch out of engineering because of the way it is taught and the interpersonal climate, even though had they continued they might have contributed highly to the field as engineering professionals. Huang & Peng11 reinforce these findings with their conclusions that, relative to men, women in

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Hartman, M., & Hartman, H. (2005, June), Leaving Engineering: Gender Differences Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15496

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: © 2005 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