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The Role Of Academic Performance In Engineering Attrition

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Knowing Our Students III

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1324.1 - 11.1324.16



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Paper Authors


Guili Zhang University of Florida

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Guili Zhang is research assistant professor in College of Engineering, University of Florida. She received a Ph.D. in Research and Evaluation Methodology at the University of Florida. She also received a B.A. in British and American Language and Literature at Shandong University, China, and a Master of Education degree at Georgia Southern University. Previously, she served as a staff development specialist and researcher at Jinan District Education Commission, China, and took part in the writing and revision of the National Unified Text Books and Teacher’s Reference Books. She published extensively and won numerous awards at the national level in the area of educational research in China. Her research interests are Robust Statistical Methods, Categorical Data Analysis, Structural Equation Modeling, Longitudinal Data Analysis, and Multilevel Modeling.

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YoungKyoung Min University of Florida

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Young Kyoung Min is a Ph.D. student in the Research and Evaluation Methodology program, Department of Educational Psychology at University of Florida (UF). She received her M.S. in Management and M.S. in Statistics with the concentration of Biostatistics at UF. She is working as a statistician for the College of Engineering at UF. Her research interests are Biostatistics including Survival Analysis, Categorical Data Analysis, Structural Equation Modeling, and Longitudinal Data Analysis.

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Matthew Ohland Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Matthew W. Ohland is an Associate Professor in Clemson University's General Engineering program and is the President of Tau Beta Pi, the national
engineering honor society. He received his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering with a minor in Education from the University of Florida in 1996. Previously, he served as Assistant Director of the NSF-sponsored SUCCEED Engineering Education
Coalition. His research is primarily in freshman programs and educational assessment.

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Timothy Anderson University of Florida

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Tim Anderson is a Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs at the University of Florida. He received a Ph.D. at the University of California-Berkeley in 1980. Tim is currently editor of Chemical Engineering Education, member of the editorial advisory board J. SMET Education, and served as director of the SUCCEED Engineering Education Coalition. His discipline research interests involve electronic materials processing.

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

The Role of Academic Performance in Engineering Attrition

I. Abstract

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. 10.18260/1-2--782

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