June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.971.1 - 15.971.15
Predicting Sophomore Retention
The first-year engineering program at the University of Notre Dame is a general, non-discipline- specific, two-semester course sequence intended to offer students exposure to cross-disciplinary projects that underlie the engineering approach, and to provide insight into their future study and work in the engineering profession. Course enrollments range from 300 to 400 students annually. Over seven years (Classes of 2005 through 2011, referring to the expected four-year graduation year of the entering first-year class), students have participated in in-class surveys three times during the course of the year: at the beginning and the end of the fall semester, and at the end of the spring semester. The survey questions related to, among other things, demographics, prior experiences, interests and future career goals. We analyzed the aggregate responses of these student cohorts for statistically significant differences, and evaluated the data in progressive regression models to predict student retention into the sophomore year (as determined by a student’s self-selection at the end of first year to continue in an ABET-accredited engineering discipline).
The survey analysis yielded several broad conclusions. First, certain aspects of a student’s pre- college experiences and preparation are statistically significant predictors of retention into the sophomore year. Second, students who enter the program with settled plans to pursue engineering-related goals after college are much more likely to be retained in the program than are students with unsettled or non-engineering-related goals.
These findings indicate the importance of prior experiences to continued engineering study, and indicate that exposure to pre-college programs that support or complement engineering, such as participation in science fairs, robotics teams or pre-engineering summer camps provides meaningful, formative experiences that lend to student exploration of and commitment to an engineering education. Additionally, those students that feel as though they have a firm plan for their future career path, even a plan not directly related to engineering such as pursuing an MBA, are more likely to continue. While not entirely surprising, these findings do reinforce the notion that students need multiple early exposures to engineering that will allow them to explore their interests and gain an understanding of their own professional identity as it relates to engineering.
Universities in the United States are known for the flexibility they afford students in educational pathways. As noted theorist Jeffrey Arnett explains, through the American college system, “young Americans are able to keep their work options open for a long time as they try out different college majors before choosing a specific direction,”1 and delay their transition to adulthood. A student’s choice of an academic field of study relates to career goals and, in many regards, to the student’s identity development as it pertains to a student’s level of exploration of and commitment to a certain path.2,3 Some entering first-year college students have already fully explored their options and are committed to a certain career path, while others are still grappling with alternatives.
Pieronek, C., & Meyers, K., & Skiles, S., & Kelly, S., & McWilliams, L. (2010, June), Prediction Of Sophomore Retention Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. https://peer.asee.org/16029
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