July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Minorities in Engineering
Traditionally, undergraduate education was mostly reserved for White, upper- and middle-class, 18-22-year olds, and the vast majority of these students attended Predominantly White four-year institutions. However, the demographics of the United States continue to shift toward becoming a country that is majority racial and ethnic “minority” groups, with Americans over 35 years old being mostly White and Americans under 35 being mostly non-White and/or Hispanic (Schaeffer, 2019). In parallel, increasingly more undergraduate students are gaining access to college with characteristics that are not “traditional”: first-generation collegians, community college/transfer students, individuals over the age of 24, students with parental responsibilities and/or students who work their way through college.
We note that historically institutional systems have tended to be shaped around traditional students, yet the country’s demographic shifts suggest the importance of reevaluating those systems. By more intentionally directing institutional support toward nontraditional undergraduate populations, engineering can reach a more demographically diverse group of students while shifting in a way that mirrors anticipated changes in the student population. In order to define what institutional support actually looks like for nontraditional students in engineering, however, innovative studies that produce new data on this group of undergraduates are necessary.
This work-in-progress paper makes a case for and discusses initial pilot data exploring the experiences and persistence of non-traditional students in undergraduate engineering and computing majors at a large Minority Serving Institution. First, we present a review of three literature bases that overlap this topic: 1) the higher education literature on non-traditional college student pathways, 2) the STEM and engineering education literatures on discipline-specific challenges for persistence and success, and 3) the Minority Serving Institution literature on institutional factors that support minority student success. At the intersection of these three literature bases, we suggest a working conceptual framework to help address non-traditional student success in engineering and computing.
Second, we present pilot study findings related to non-traditional student success and persistence at a specific large Minority Serving Institution with a considerable population of commuter students, transfer students, part-time students, and adult learners. In the quantitative portion of our mixed methods study, institutional data is examined to present descriptive statistics and rates of persistence for specific non-traditional student groups. These statistics are complemented by one-on-one interview data to help understand the sources of challenges and opportunities for the populations of interest.
In future work, we propose further study of non-traditional engineering undergraduate student needs, challenges, and opportunities and comparison with institutional contexts in which non-traditional students are a smaller proportion of the population. By focusing attention on both the individual student and the institutional context, we hope to provide micro and macro-level insights on challenges and support strategies that may prove useful across the country.
Schaeffer, K. (2019). The most common age among whites in U.S. is 58 – more than double that of racial and ethnic minorities. FactTank: News in the Numbers. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/07/30/most-common-age-among-us-racial-ethnic-groups/
Secules, S., & Berhane, B. T., & Long, H., & Caringella, A. T., & Pinto, A. (2021, July), Understanding Non-Traditional Students in Engineering and Computing (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37961
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