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Qualitative Research Methods To Improve Engineering Retention

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.516.1 - 5.516.9



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Paper Authors

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Stephen Simms

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Jane M. Fraser

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

Session 2557

Qualitative Research Methods to Improve Engineering Retention

Jane M. Fraser, Stephen Simms University of Southern Colorado


The retention of engineering students is a major concern of most engineering departments. Students leave engineering at alarming rates. Where do these students go? And, more importantly, why are they going? Most studies of retention involve such quantitative data such as high school grades, ACT or SAT scores, and college grades but quantitative data can not answer questions that begin with the word “why.”

In this paper we argue that 1. The kinds of questions we need to answer to improve engineering retention require qualitative approaches. 2. Various qualitative approaches are available and are doable. 3. Some qualitative approaches have been used in engineering and these studies provide models for us to follow.

In order to support these arguments, this paper has three sections: 1. Questions. What types of questions do we need to ask and answer? 2. Qualitative approaches. What qualitative approaches are available? We also discuss examples in which these techniques have been applied in studies in engineering education, although not all are studies of retention. We examined all papers in the Journal of Engineering Education and the ASEE Proceedings from 1996 to 1999. 3. Three well known examples. We review the qualitative methods used in They’re not Dumb They’re Different,26 by Sheila Tobias, Talking About Leaving,24 by Elaine Seymour and Nancy M. Hewitt, and “Studying Students Studying Calculus,”27 by Uri Treisman.

While we focus on qualitative research methods for studying retention, Bengiamin3 argues that an assessment program for ABET 2000 should include quantitative and qualitative data analysis.

1. Questions

Quantitative study of retention is, of course, the appropriate way to begin study of retention at a university. Of an entering cohort of students, one examines how many have completed their degrees, how many have switched to other majors, and how many have left the university, within various specified time periods.

Simms, S., & Fraser, J. M. (2000, June), Qualitative Research Methods To Improve Engineering Retention Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8653

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