Asee peer logo

Understanding Factors Contributing To Retention In Engineering: A Structural Equation Modeling (Sem) Approach

Download Paper |


2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Modeling Student Data

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1295.1 - 14.1295.11



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Mark Urban-Lurain Michigan State University

visit author page

Mark Urban-Lurain is the Director of Instructional Technology Research & Development in the Division of Science and Mathematics Education at Michigan State University. Dr. Urban-Lurain's research interests are in theories of cognition, their impact on instructional design and applying these to the use of instructional technology. He is also interested in the role of technology in educational improvement and reform.

visit author page


Jon Sticklen Michigan State University

visit author page

Jon Sticklen is the Director of the Applied Engineering Sciences major, College of Engineering, Michigan State University. Dr. Sticklen also serves as the College Coordinator for engineering education research, and is an Associate Professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, MSU. Dr. Sticklen has lead a laboratory in knowledge-based systems focused on task specific approaches to problem solving. More recently, Dr. Sticklen has pursued engineering education research focused on early engineering; his current research is supported by NSF/DUE and NSF/ CISE.

visit author page


Daina Briedis Michigan State University

visit author page

Daina Briedis is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Michigan State University. Dr. Briedis has been involved in several areas of education research including student retention, curriculum redesign, and the use of technology in the classroom. She is a co- PI on two NSF grants in the areas of integration of computation in engineering curricula and in developing comprehensive strategies to retain early engineering students. She is active nationally and internationally in engineering accreditation and is a Fellow of ABET.

visit author page

author page

Neeraj Buch Michigan State University


Thomas Wolff Michigan State University

visit author page

Thomas F. Wolff is Associate Professor of Civil Engineering and Associate Dean of Engineering for Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in geotechnical engineering and reliability analysis. His research and consulting has focused on the design and evaluation of dams, levees and hydraulic structures, and he has been involved in several studies related to the failure of New Orleans levees in hurricane Katrina. As Associate Dean, he oversees curriculum, advising, career planning, study abroad, early engineering and other related initiatives.

visit author page

Download Paper |

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

Understanding Factors Contributing to Retention in Engineering: A Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) Approach Introduction

Retention of early engineering students is a nation-wide concern that will affect the strength of the future engineering workforce and, hence, the role of the United States as a dominant world player in engineering and technology1. Michigan State University (MSU) and Lansing Community College (LCC) were recently awarded a five-year NSF STEP grant (STEM Talent Expansion Program) to increase retention by 10% over current levels at our large, research- intensive institution. The project is titled Engaging Early Engineering Students to Expand Numbers of Degree Recipients (EEES).

The major research challenge in this project is to understand the interactions among the various components of the project. Our engineering curricula are not lock-step, so students may elect to participate in various programs and the interactions among the interventions may vary by student and the choices they make. These challenges make traditional statistical techniques difficult to use.

Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) is a multivariate procedure that supports hypothesis-testing of causal models in observational studies without the need for random assignment of participants to treatment and control groups. This paper outlines our project, introduces SEM and the models we are evaluating and discusses the data collection, management and analysis we are implementing to track the various components of the project. The methods are appropriate for other in situ studies of educational interventions.

Overview of EEES

EEES targets two groups of students who are at-risk for leaving engineering: 1) students who are academically capable of completing an engineering degree but perceive the education environment of early engineering as being unsupportive and not engaging 2-4; and 2) students who struggle with core prerequisite courses, mainly calculus and physics. Analysis of our past student retention patterns show that grades in these core courses are the best predictors of future admission to Engineering in the junior year. The goal of the EEES project will be achieved through the synergistic deployment of four components designed to involve engineering faculty in rethinking the structure of the introductory courses.

EEES has four components as shown in Figure 1. They are: 1) Connector faculty; 2) Peer Assisted Learning (PAL); 3) Course cross linkages; and (4) Diagnostic (DX) Driven Early Intervention. Details of these components of the EEES project are available in other papers5, 6.

EEES targets students in four key technical courses taken by early engineering students to prepare them for upper level disciplinary courses: pre-calculus algebra and trigonometry (MTH 116), calculus 1 (MTH 132), physics 1 (PHY 183) and computation-based problem solving (EGR 102). The four EEES components are shown in the bubbles in Figure 1. The dark boxes show groups of faculty or students who are part of the implementation of EEES. The dark bubble shows the target group: early engineering students.

Urban-Lurain, M., & Sticklen, J., & Briedis, D., & Buch, N., & Wolff, T. (2009, June), Understanding Factors Contributing To Retention In Engineering: A Structural Equation Modeling (Sem) Approach Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5128

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: © 2009 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