Persistence, Engagement, and Migration in Engineering Programs
Records from the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development indicate that engineering students are typical of students in other majors with respect to: persistence in major; persistence by gender and ethnicity; racial/ethnic distribution; and grade distribution. Data from the National Survey of Student Engagement show that this similarity extends to engagement outcomes including course challenge, faculty interaction, satisfaction with institution, and overall satisfaction. Engineering differs from other majors most notably by a dearth of female students and a low rate of migration into the major. Noting the similarity of students of engineering and other majors with respect to persistence and engagement, we propose that engagement is a precursor to persistence. We explore this hypothesis using data from the Academic Pathways Study of the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education. Further exploration reveals that although persistence and engagement do not vary as much as expected by discipline, there is significant institutional variation, and we assert a need to address persistence and engagement at the institutional level and throughout higher education. Finally, our findings highlight the potential of making the study of engineering more attractive to qualified students. Our findings suggest that a two-pronged approach holds the greatest potential for increasing the number of students graduating with engineering degrees: identify programming that retains the students who come to college committed to an engineering major, and develop programming and policies that allow other students to migrate in. There is already considerable discourse on persistence, so our findings suggest that more research focus is needed on the pathways into engineering, including pathways from other majors.