Development of an Instrument to Measure Perspectives of Engineering Education among College Students

Article excerpt


The number of engineering students has been declining for decades and attracting qualified students has become an urgent task for engineering schools in The United States. Perspectives students hold towards engineering play an important role in their college major selection. An effective standardized instrument measuring general perspectives about engineering among college students is designed in this project and survey development, instrument administration, and factor analysis are presented. The statistical analysis reveals that college students in general agree that engineering is beneficial to the society, however, they tend to believe that it takes too much effort to gain an engineering degree and that engineering is a demanding career. Further, they are neutral about the personal benefits of pursuing a degree in engineering, and finally, they do not feel that studying engineering or making engineering as their profession is particularly interesting. These findings provide a good explanation to the declining enrollment and increasing dropout rates in engineering schools in the United States.

Keywords: expectancy values, instrument design, perspectives about engineering


Engineering education has been facing serious challenges in in recent years. According to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the enrollment in undergraduate engineering in the United States has dropped at a disturbing rate in the past two decades, while during the same period, the market demand for engineering graduates has increased (National Science Foundation, 2004). Furthermore, approximately only one-half of the students entering colleges as engineering majors complete degree requirements (French, Immerkus, and Oakes, 2005). Given such a situation, attracting and retaining qualified students has become a critical issue to engineering educators in the United States. On the other hand, it is also well understood that in order to keep a nation's competitiveness in the global market, maintaining its leading position in advanced technology plays a key role. Engineering education provides essential expertise in the development, growth, and maintenance of various advanced technical systems. The two-decade-long decline in the number of engineering graduates thus also becomes a serious concern to industries and the government in the United States.

There are many reasons behind the low enrollment and high attrition rates in engineering schools. Some of these reasons arise from external competitiveness. For example, the pay in engineering companies is relatively low compared with that in management consultation in current markets (Career Journal, 2007). Others are due to internal problems within engineering education. For example, most current engineering curricula have made few substantive changes in the last half century and they can no longer provide students with the direct skills needed in modern industries (Dym, 2004). Further, due to the change of the demographics of engineering students, with more students relatively weak in science and mathematics making up a large percentage of student population nowadays, many engineering students feel that engineering subjects are too demanding (Felder and Brent, 2005).

The reasons responsible for the decline of engineering graduates can be interpreted as involving both cognitive issues and noncognitive issues. Cognitive issues in engineering education are related to the development of engineering knowledge and technical skills, whereas non-cognitive issues are associated with the cultivation of the attitudes and perspectives that students hold towards engineering and engineering education. Research on non-cognitive factors indicates that students who most likely choose engineering majors and complete degree requirements are those who hold positive perceptions toward engineering (Besterfield-Sacre, Atman, and Shuman, 1997,1998), have self-efficacy for the study of engineering (Besterfield-Sacre, Atman, and Shuman, 1997, 1998; Burtner, 2005; Hutchison, Follman, Sumpter, and Bodner, 2006), and have interests in science and technology (Besterfield-Sacre, Atman, and Shuman, 1997, 1998; Hutchison, Follman, Sumpter, and Bodner, 2006). …