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Those That Leave — Assessing Why Students Leave Engineering

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Assessment and Evaluation in Engineering Education I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1490.1 - 12.1490.15



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Paper Authors


Rose Marra University of Missouri

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ROSE M. MARRA is an Associate Professor in the School of Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri. She is PI of the NSF-funded Assessing Women and Men in Engineering (AWE) and Assessing Women In Student Environments (AWISE) projects. Her research interests include gender equity issues, the epistemological development of college students, and promoting meaningful learning in web-based environments.

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Barbara Bogue Pennsylvania State University

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BARBARA BOGUE is Co-PI of AWE and AWISE and Associate Professor of Engineering Science
and Mechanics and Women in engineering. Her research interests include STEM
programming, career development and assessment.

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Demei Shen University of Missouri

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DEMEI SHEN is a doctoral candidate in Information Science and Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri - Columbia. Her research interests include social computing and motivation in web-based learning.

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Kelly Rodgers University of Missouri

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KELLY A. RODGERS, M. A. is a doctoral candidate in educational psychology at the University of Missouri - Columbia. Her research interests include motivational issues in minority student retention and the socio-emotional aspects of gifted minority adolescents.

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

Those Who Leave—Assessing Why Students Leave Engineering


This paper describes the results of a survey designed to uncover the reasons why students choose to leave engineering. The authors collected profile information hypothesized to be factors in retention or attrition (e.g. academic preparation, reasons for choosing engineering, participation in academic support and extracurricular activities) and measured the factors that influenced students’ decision to switch out of an engineering degree program. The reported results are from a data collection effort from five institutions in the U.S comprising 120 students who left engineering during the 2003 – 2004 academic year.

Introduction The latest figures1, 2, 3 show that attrition rates in the sciences and engineering are still an area of concern. Retention numbers are notoriously hard to pin down, the primary issue being how the data are collected. Cohort studies, in which individual students are tracked for retention, are the most effective but also the most complicated and expensive to mount. Existing cohort studies indicate that engineering students experience relatively high attrition and underrepresented students are retained at a lower rate than majority students.4 (Women typically are retained at rates similar to white men once they are in the major.5) A National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) longitudinal study of first-year S&E students in 1990 found that fewer than 50 percent had completed an S&E degree within five years.3 Furthermore, retention of engineering students is a primary goal of Women in Engineering (WIE) and Multicultural Engineering (MEP) programs.

Understanding why some students leave engineering to study another discipline at their university is an important factor in addressing low retention. Studies from Seymour and Hewitt6 and Brainard and Carlin7 provided our communities with results essential to developing an understanding of why students from those institutions during that time period chose to leave engineering. However, WIE, MEP, college of engineering administrators and faculty have an ongoing need for these data from their own institutions and the engineering education community has a need for current data to understand what factors precipitate students transferring out of engineering. This paper reports the results of a multi-institution study using a newly developed instrument from the NSF-sponsored AWE project ( for gathering data from students who have transferred out of engineering about their reasons for doing so. Results are discussed within a framework of retention in general, and in engineering and the sciences in particular.

Marra, R., & Bogue, B., & Shen, D., & Rodgers, K. (2007, June), Those That Leave — Assessing Why Students Leave Engineering Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1505

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