June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
Educational Research and Methods
11.1324.1 - 11.1324.16
The Role of Academic Performance in Engineering Attrition
The role of cumulative grade-point average (GPA) in student decisions to remain in or leave engineering is studied by comparing and contrasting the GPA distributions of engineering students who withdrew from the university or changed majors from engineering (leavers) to those of students who graduated in engineering (stayers). Student record data for 39,240 engineering students at the nine SUCCEED universities from 1987 to 2002 are used to compute the distributions, determine GPA differences between the two groups of students, identify the trends of each distribution, and study the difference between them over time. The cumulative GPAs of leavers and stayers are compared after completion of the same number of semesters. The population includes first-time-in-college undergraduate students who matriculated in engineering between Spring 1987 and Fall 1996 and either graduated in engineering or departed an engineering degree program prior to Spring 2002. The comparisons reveal clear and contrary evidence to other work that suggests that leavers and stayers are academically equivalent. The average GPA of leavers at the semester of departure was 2.31 compared to 2.99 for the stayers enrolled in the same semester. Further, the high percentage of students leaving engineering with GPA over 3.0, in the range 20% to 35% depending on semester of departure, suggests that approaches targeting aspects other than improving students academic performance are necessary to reduce attrition in that population. We note that students still leave engineering after eight semesters with a GPA over 3.0, pointing to the need for qualitative research of that population to learn if they are leaving because the early curriculum failed to give them an accurate impression of what lay ahead. There is also evidence that students who are the least likely to succeed in engineering are the least aware of their predicament, which has implications for engineering advising and academic policymaking.
II. Prior research on predicting engineering attrition
The graduation rate of undergraduate students who matriculate in engineering is not much different from that for the general student population, and the rate increases significantly after students reach a ‘threshold’ of progress in engineering.1 The pool of students graduating high school with sufficient momentum in science and mathematics for likely success in engineering, however, is limited, thus making improvement of graduation rate a focus for the engineering education community. As summarized below, previous studies have focused on the admissions criteria (i.e., understanding how pre-existing factors predict success) and on retention factors (i.e., understanding why students leave engineering).
There has been considerable study of pre-college factors that predict retention, including standardized test scores,2,8,9,10,11 academic performance in high school,2,4,10,11,12,13,14,15 gender,2,11,22 ethnicity,11,22 students age,10 rural or urban setting of high school, and parents education and economic status.37 Unfortunately, there has been less study of predictors of graduation or persistence in engineering after matriculation. A better understanding of the post- matriculation factors that influence student migration out of an engineering degree program
Zhang, G., & Min, Y., & Ohland, M., & Anderson, T. (2006, June), The Role Of Academic Performance In Engineering Attrition Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. https://peer.asee.org/782
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