Asee peer logo

Step-Outs to Stars: Engineering Retention Framework

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 2A: Using Alternative Measurements to Look at Students and Their Success

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Nora Honken University of Cincinnati

visit author page

Nora is an Assistant Professor in the Engineering Education Department at The University of Cincinnati. She holds a PhD in Educational Leadership and Organizational Development for the University of Louisville, a MS in Industrial Engineering from Arizona State University and a BS in Industrial Engineering from Virginia Tech. She also has extensive industrial experience.

visit author page


Patricia A Ralston University of Louisville

visit author page

Dr. Patricia A. S. Ralston is Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. She received her B.S., MEng, and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. Dr. Ralston teaches undergraduate engineering mathematics and is currently involved in educational research on the effective use of technology in engineering education, the incorporation of critical thinking in undergraduate engineering education, and retention of engineering students. She leads a research group whose goal is to foster active interdisciplinary research which investigates learning and motivation and whose findings will inform the development of evidence-based interventions to promote retention and student success in engineering. Her fields of technical expertise include process modeling, simulation, and process control.

visit author page


Thomas Tretter University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Thomas Tretter is professor of science education and director of the Gheens Science Hall & Rauch Planetarium at the University of Louisville. His scholarship includes collaborative efforts with science and engineering faculty targeting retention of STEM majors in entry-level STEM courses.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Step-outs to Stars: Engineering Retention Framework Expectancy value theory1, a motivational theory that attempts to explain individuals’ choice of behavior based on their expectation of success and the value they place on the task or outcomes of the task, has been used to explain college major and career choice2,3. Past research with college students has shown the importance of interest (a measure of value)4, 5 and performance (a measure of expectancy)6 on individuals’ decisions to choose and/or to persist in a certain college major or career. The purpose of this work was to create a retention framework for engineering students using a student’s level of interest in engineering and performance during his or her first semester of college. This paper describes the analysis completed to create the framework and demonstrates its use investigating the relationship between gender and retention.

Level of interest in engineering was gathered by survey responses from first year engineering students at a large metropolitan research institution (n = 352 students (82% of the cohort)). First semester performance data were extracted from student records. Logistic regression was used to determine at what level of interest in engineering the likelihood of a student being retained in engineering decreased. Analysis showed there was no statistically significant difference in the likelihood of being retained for students with very high or high interest. There was a statistically significant difference in the likelihood of retention between students with very low, low or medium interest and those with high or very high interest. Thus the interest side of the framework was divided into two sections: “high interest” which included responses of high and very high, and “low interest” which included responses of medium, low and very low interest. The performance side of the framework was dichotomously divided at GPA = 3.0. The rationale for this is described in the paper.

After the four quadrant framework was created (high/low interest, GPA greater than 3.0/GPA below 3.0), the percent retention of male and female students in each quadrant was investigated (see Figure 1). Analysis showed a statistically similar retention rate for males and females in each quadrant except the quadrant with low interest and high GPA. In this quadrant the retention rate of females was much lower, thus showing that females who lack interest and were performing well were more likely to leave engineering than male students with similar interest levels and GPAs.  

STEP-OUTS M (n=30) F (n=8) Retained in engineering 20% 25% Switched units 30% 25% Left university 50% 50% SEARCHER M (n=23) F (n=13) Retained in engineering 78% 46% Switched units 13% 46% Left university 9% 8%

STRUGGLERS M (n=79) F (n=23) Retained in engineering 63% 52% Switched units 14% 17% Left university 23% 30% STARS M (n=141) F (n=35) Retained in engineering 94% 94% Switched units 3% 6% Left university 3% 0%

Figure 1. Step-outs to Stars engineering retention framework for males (M) and females (F)

Since interest and performance are critical elements in many students’ decisions related to college major and career choice, the Step-outs to Stars engineering retention framework can be used to frame other research on retention. Also by understanding the number of students in each quadrant administers can better allocate resources to help improve retention.

References [1] Atkinson, J. W. (1964). An introduction to motivation. Oxford England: Van Nostrand. [2] Feather, N. (1982). Expectations and actions: Expectancy-value models in psychology: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc Inc. [3] Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (2000). Expectancy–value theory of achievement motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 68-81. [4] Honken, N. B., & Ralston, P. (2013). Freshman engineering retention: A holistic look. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research, 14(2), 29-37. [5] Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences. U.S.A.: Westview Press. [6] Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. M. (1997).

Honken, N., & Ralston, P. A., & Tretter, T. (2016, June), Step-Outs to Stars: Engineering Retention Framework Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25877

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: © 2016 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