Asee peer logo

Persistence in Engineering: Does Initial Mathematics Course Matter?

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Persistence and Retention

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1225.1 - 26.1225.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Jennifer Van Dyken Clemson University

visit author page

Jennifer Van Dyken is a lecturer in the Mathematical Sciences Department and a graduate student in the Engineering and Science Education Department at Clemson University. She has a B.A. degree from Southwestern University in Mathematics and a M.S. degree from Clemson University in Mathematical Sciences.

visit author page


Lisa Benson Clemson University

visit author page

Lisa Benson is an Associate Professor of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in Bioengineering. Her research focuses on the interactions between student motivation and their learning experiences. Her projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers and scientists, and their problem solving processes. Other projects in the Benson group include effects of student-centered active learning, self-regulated learning, and incorporating engineering into secondary science and mathematics classrooms. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

visit author page

author page

Patrick Gerard Clemson University

Download Paper |


Persistence in Engineering: Does Initial Mathematics Course Matter?This study is situated within a larger project that seeks to understand how students that start inprecalculus and struggle in their math courses persist and complete an engineering degreeprogram. The specific aims of this study are to determine 1) how many students that start inprecalculus persist in engineering after one year and four years, 2) if the grade in engineeringstudents’ first math course or the level of that course indicate if they will remain in engineeringone year later, and 3) how many students that graduated with an engineering degree started in anon-college level (pass/fail) mathematics course.Prior research has shown that the grade a student earns in his or her first mathematics course ismore significant in predicting retention in an engineering program than the actual course level.At our institution, historical data shows that students who declare an engineering major andbegin in precalculus as freshmen are unlikely to complete an engineering program. Most of thesestudents will either leave the university or change majors before completing the goal they startedwith.Data was collected from academic records for all first semester engineering students (n=865) at asouthern land grant university in Fall 2010, including the mathematics course for which thestudents were registered that semester, their grade in that course, and their major at the end ofFall 2011. This data was collected and analyzed using statistical software JMP to address thespecific aims of the study. The results of the analysis showed that both the level and grade instudents’ first college mathematics course are significant predictors of retention in engineering:students starting out in a non-college level mathematics course and those making a D, F, orwithdrawing from their first mathematics course are less likely to still be in an engineeringprogram a year later than those that begin in a calculus course or those that made a C or better intheir first mathematics course. Of the 865 students in our study, 31 started in precalculus; 17 ofthese were enrolled in engineering one year later, and 6 were still in engineering four years later(Fall 2014).Additionally, we looked at the first mathematics course taken by engineering students thatgraduated in Spring 2014. Results showed that less than 12% of graduating engineers started in anon-college level mathematics course. Nearly 40% of graduating engineering students enteredthe university with credit for single variable calculus. Certain engineering majors, specifically,civil and industrial engineering, had higher percentages of students beginning in lower levelmathematics courses (19% and 26%, respectively).Future research will involve a case study of one of the former precalculus students who is aboutto graduate in engineering. This quantitative study of student trajectories when they start out inprecalculus was necessary to identify the subject(s) for the in-depth qualitative study, which willprovide a deeper understanding of the factors that contribute to students’ persistence inengineering when they encounter difficulties in college mathematics.

Van Dyken, J., & Benson, L., & Gerard, P. (2015, June), Persistence in Engineering: Does Initial Mathematics Course Matter? Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24562

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: © 2015 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