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Multiple Starting Lines: Pre-college Characteristics of Community College and Four-year Institution Engineering Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

An Examination of Methods to Enhance Transfer Student Enrollment, Retenion, Persistence, and Outcomes

Tagged Division

Two Year College Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.926.1 - 24.926.23



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Paper Authors


David B. Knight Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education Orcid 16x16

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David Knight is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education and affiliate faculty with the Higher Education Program at Virginia Tech. His research focuses on student learning outcomes in undergraduate engineering, interdisciplinary teaching and learning, organizational change in colleges and universities, and international issues in higher education.

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Inger M. Bergom University of Michigan

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Inger Bergom is a Ph.D. candidate at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan.

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Brian A. Burt University of Michigan

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Brian A. Burt is a Ph.D. candidate in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan. His scholarly interests include graduate student learning, retention and persistence, STEM education, and the Black student experience. His current research explores what doctoral students learn from research experiences and how their experiences influence perceptions of and preparation for the professoriate.

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Lisa R. Lattuca University of Michigan

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Lisa R. Lattuca is Professor of Education at the University of Michigan. Her scholarship focuses on curriculum, teaching, and learning in higher education generally and in engineering programs. Her engineering education research focuses on organizational, curricular and instructional factors shape faculty work, students' learning experiences, and students' learning outcomes.

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Multiple Starting Lines: Pre-College Characteristics of Community College and Four-Year Institution Engineering StudentsIn response to the pressing need to expand and diversify the engineering workforce, there hasbeen a focus on using community colleges as pathways to four-year engineering programs. TheObama administration, for example, has emphasized expanding this pathway into STEM fieldsby leveraging and focusing resources on the community college sector. Although practitionersand researchers have considerable knowledge and understanding of the experiences andachievements of community college students, there has been little research on communitycolleges as a pathway to the bachelor’s degree in engineering. The purpose of our study is toinvestigate the potential for success via this pathway by comparing students who identify as“pre-engineering” in community colleges with students who have successfully navigated thefour-year undergraduate degree in engineering. By comparing students enrolled in thecommunity college to those who have successfully transferred to four-year bachelor’s programs,we may better understand the entering pre-college characteristics of community college studentsthat are likely associated with successful transfer to four-year engineering programs.Data for this study are drawn from a broader study funded by the National Science Foundation,entitled Blind for Review, which collected data from engineering undergraduates and alumni,faculty, program chairs, and associate deans in a nationally representative sample of 31 four-yearcolleges and universities and from pre-engineering students at 15 community colleges. For thispaper, we analyze data collected from three different survey instruments: 1) a survey of pre-engineering students enrolled in community colleges (n=1,306); 2) a survey of currently enrolledengineering seniors and “super-seniors” in their fifth year of undergraduate study (n=5,406); and3) a survey of engineering graduates surveyed three years after earning their bachelor’s degrees(n=1,420). Specifically, we examine the academic preparations and personal experiences (e.g.,sociodemographic characteristics, high school academic preparation and achievement, andpersonal and social experiences with which they arrive to college) that characterize students whobegin the path to an engineering degree in a community college and who plan to transfer to afour-year engineering program. We compare these students with two other groups: 1)community college students who successfully transferred to an engineering program in a four-year college or university who completed an engineering degree; and 2) students who begancollege at a four-year institution and are still enrolled in an engineering baccalaureate program.Findings demonstrate considerable differences between the entering characteristics ofcommunity college pre-engineering students, successful transfers, and students first-enrolling infour-year engineering programs for all three categories. Based on these empirical results, weoffer recommendations for programs to implement to work toward improving the communitycollege-to-four-year engineering program transfer pipeline.

Knight, D. B., & Bergom, I. M., & Burt, B. A., & Lattuca, L. R. (2014, June), Multiple Starting Lines: Pre-college Characteristics of Community College and Four-year Institution Engineering Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22859

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