Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Education

Committee Chair(s)

Ning Fang


Ning Fang


Oenardi Lawanto


Kurt Becker


Cathy Maahs-Fladung


V. Dean Adams


This mixed-methodological study determined which factors contributed to undergraduate student attrition, and evaluated reasons ten undergraduate engineering students failed to complete their engineering degree at a major western research university. Institutional data were collected on engineering students over a multi-year period. These data were separated into groups of engineering students who persisted to the Junior year of their undergraduate engineering program (persisters), and those students who left their engineering program before their Junior year (nonpersisters). A quantitative analysis comparing these two groups of students uncovered significant predictors of persistence/nonpersistence in the engineering program. Qualitative inquiry was used to identify factors leading to nonpersistence from the perspective of ten nonpersisting student volunteers from the institutional data population. Together, the quantitative and qualitative methods of inquiry formed a mixed-methodological study which provided a vivid picture of the challenges facing a major western research university regarding persistence of engineering undergraduates.

Descriptive and inferential statistical analysis of the institutional data collected on engineering undergraduate students uncovered several factors predictive of persistence/ nonpersistence. These include projected age at graduation, high school GPA and ACT scores, residency status, scholarship, and financial aid.

Common themes for ten students who dropped out of engineering included individual factors such as poor academic performance, feeling unprepared for demands of the engineering program, difficulty fitting into engineering, and institutional factors such as disappointment with engineering advising. New concepts uncovered in this paper, which were not prevalent in existing research, include a deeply emotional attachment between participants and the concept of being an engineer, a deeper understanding of student’s sense of loss and failure, and their easy transition from engineering to another major.