Who leaves and who stays? Retention and attrition in engineering education

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Engineering Education 2010: Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers, EE 2010, 2010
Issue Date:
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At a time of high demand for engineering graduates, the mean graduation completion rate of engineering undergraduates in Australia has been identified as approximately 54% (with considerable variation across institutions and sectors). This proportion of non-completions has been viewed as an excessive loss to the qualified workforce of Australia. Broad brush, government-collected statistics do not, however, provide the level of detail required to understand who leaves, when and why they leave, and where they go. This paper reports on a pilot study undertaken to precede and inform final decisions on research design and methodology for a multi institutional project seeking to understand and reduce student attrition from engineering degrees across Australia. The aim of the project is to produce guidelines on curriculum formulation and delivery strategies to reduce attrition in engineering programs while meeting outcomes. The pilot study was conducted at an institution which has a relatively diverse range of students, a high proportion of whom study part time, and engineering degree structures incorporating traditional and internship-based degrees. Results from a cohort analysis, tracking pathways to completion or non-completion of the degree for the cohorts from two specific entry years will be presented. From this analysis, groups of students who "persisted over long periods", "switched to another degree" or "withdrew from the university" were identified and interviewed. Their experiences and stories, were an essential ingredient for a better understanding of the dynamics of retention/attrition and factors which required further questioning before proceeding with the multi institutional study. © 2009 Authors.
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