June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Educational Research and Methods
22.1252.1 - 22.1252.16
Retention: Quantifying the Apples and OrangesASEE recently formed an Undergraduate Experience Committee under the auspices of theEngineering Dean’s Council. Its mission is to foster discussion, collaboration and action for thebenefit of the undergraduate experience. A high priority topic identified by the committee isretention of engineering students.In recent years, students’ paths to engineering program admission and to graduation havebecome increasingly complex. To address this complexity, institutions have begun to rethinkretention rate calculations for their programs. To date, however, a clear review of the issues,ideas, and methods being tried has been missing. Representatives of the ASEE UndergraduateExperience Committee are involved in addressing this topic by clarifying what retention means,how it is measured and identifying best practices. It becomes clear that quantifying retention in ameaningful manner is a non-trivial problem, due to the variety of ways in which students cometo engineering programs.In this paper, the standard terminology and “outer bound” methods for defining and calculatingretention, including that used for U.S. Department of Education reporting, will be reviewed.Using these approaches as a baseline, the co-authors propose-- through discussions andsurveying of committee colleagues who represent a wide variety of public and private, large andsmall, institutions-- to review the gamut of admission and enrollment management systems, andconsider how retention in engineering might be defined in a manner more meaningful tomeasuring progress than the two simplistic “outer bounds” calculations explained below. Whileit is not likely that a single definition and approach will ever be universally adopted, the authorsintend to propose a taxonomy of definitions and methods that could better serve the assessmentof retention.Today’s accepted approaches include at least two “outer bound” methods. The most familiar is totake a cohort of entering fall freshmen and simply track how many are still in a program invarious years and on through to graduation. This is a common approach to U.S. Department ofEducation reporting, but is known to have limitations as only a portion of entering students arecounted.The second “outer bound” calculation is to compare the sheer numbers of juniors, seniors, orgraduates to the number of freshmen in the corresponding prior year. This measure ignores thefact that these are not all the same people, but is argued to provide some aggregate measure of aninstitution’s effectiveness in producing engineering graduates.Several major weaknesses in the “outer bound” methods are identified in this study. Consideringonly the entering fall freshman cohort accounts for losses from that group, but does not capturethe group of later “joiners.” Depending on the policies and practices of the institution, students“enter” an engineering program, or declare a pre-engineering major, in a number of ways. Theseinclude, but are not limited to, delayed admission, change of major, transfers, and dual majors.Furthermore, among these later joiners, there is again a group retained and a group not retained.Therefore, realistically tracking engineering student retention can become a complicated,unsteady mass balance problem, with students coming and going on a daily basis.For schools with secondary admission systems, there can exist other paths: such as “round trips”in and out of the cohort, where students declare an engineering major, are required to change toanother major when they do not attain secondary admission (access to upper level courses), butmay be admitted at a later date. Finally, students may enter at a variety of starting math courses,and this is known to be a significant factor.Drawing on the results of its survey of ASEE Undergraduate Experience Committee memberinstitutions, this paper summarizes how institutions have addressed the increasingly complexissue of student retention in a summary of emerging definitions, policies, and calculations foraddressing retention rate.
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