Why They Leave: Understanding Student Attrition from Engineering Majors
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A large number of students leave engineering majors prior to graduation despite efforts to increase retention rates. To improve retention rates in engineering programs, the reasons why students leave engineering must be determined. In this paper, we review the literature on attrition from engineering programs to identify the breadth of factors that contribute to students’ decisions to leave. Fifty studies on student attrition from engineering programs were included in the primary part of this literature review. In the second half of the work, an additional twenty-five studies that focused on methods of increasing student retention, were examined. Six broad factors driving students to leave engineering were identified by examining the attrition literature: classroom and academic climate, grades and conceptual understanding, self-efficacy and self-confidence, high school preparation, interest and career goals, and race and gender. Evidence from the retention studies suggests that successful efforts to increase retention act on one or more of these factors. A clear gap in the literature is that of economics: the costs associated with losing students, and the costs associated with implementing retention strategies, are virtually unmentioned.
This article is from International Journal of Engineering Education 29 (2013): 914–925. Posted with permission.