Academic journal article
By Bernold, Leonhard E.; Spurlin, Joni E.; Anson, Chris M.
Journal of Engineering Education , Vol. 96, No. 3
In spite of considerable research about the poor retention rate of undergraduate engineering students, we still have an inadequate understanding of the factors that affect students' decisions to remain in engineering programs and their ability to perform well enough to be retained. Although continued study is needed of external factors such as curricular requirements, admissions criteria, and test scores, we also need to know much more about the relationships between curricular experiences and students' learning styles, habits, and attitudes. The work presented in this paper was designed to enhance educators' understanding of the factors that underlie the concern about student retention in engineering. By observing 1,000 engineering students during their first three years in college, the research team generated a large database on the students' academic and non-academic characteristics as well as their successes and failures. The traits discovered not only support many findings from previous studies but also reveal some new relationships that could prove essential to designing an educational environment that will prepare engineers for success in the future.
Keywords: retention, gender, underrepresented minorities
In the introduction to a new book about student retention, Alan Seidman stresses that "to retain students, colleges have provided programs for the economically disadvantaged, programs for underrepresented students (minorities), programs and services for students with disabilities, [and] women .... In spite of these programs and services, retention ... has not improved over time. Logic dictates that the addition of programs and services should improve the retention of students, but in reality this seems not to be the case" . It is also well documented that two obvious measures of success in college-grade-point-average (GPA) and academic ability-are not always predictive of retention or preparation. Tinto  concluded that the vast majority of students who leave college prior to completing their degrees withdraw voluntarily. Seymour and Hewitt  showed that there is little difference in academic ability between the ones who graduate and the ones who do not. They emphasized the fact that "women often leave Science, Mathematics, and Engineering (S.M.E.) majors with grades which are as high, or higher, than the averages of men who remain. Students competent to complete S.M.E. majors are often lost, and these losses include some highly talented students" . As Seidman indicates, universities have spent a lot of money to initiate change that did not provide the results they were hoping for. Most recently, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE)  renewed its urgent call for change in engineering education but made no specific recommendations: "Only 40 to 60 percent of entering engineering students persist to an engineering degree, and women and minorities are at the low end ofthat range. These retention rates represent an unacceptable systems failure to support student learning in the field .... Without refocusing and reshaping the undergraduate engineering learning experience, America's engineering preeminence could be lost [by 2020]." The issue of the gender imbalance is dramatically highlighted in the National Survey of Student Engagement: The College Student Report 2003 by the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University Bloomington  and summarized in Table 1.
Slightly up from the previously reported 1.5 percent, in 2003 only 2 percent of the women entering college as freshmen did so in engineering compared to 13 percent of the men. According to this survey data, the few women students maintained their enrollment percentage while the men lost 1 percent.
Clearly, engineering education continues to face a significant challenge in retaining qualified students, especially those who bring creativity and innovative thinking to their studies but are disaffected by their pedagogical experiences in the early stages of the engineering curriculum. …