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Abstract

A cohort of chemical engineering students has been taught in an experimental sequence of five chemical engineering courses, beginning with the introductory course in the Fall 1990 semester. Differences in academic performance have been observed between students from rural and small town backgrounds (“rural students,” N=55) and students from urban and suburban backgrounds (“urban students,” N=65), with the urban students doing better on almost every measure investigated. In the introductory course, 80% of the urban students and 55% of the rural students passed with a grade of C or better, with average grades of 2.63 for the urban students and 1.80 for the rural students (A=4.0). The urban group continued to earn higher grades in subsequent chemical engineering courses. After four years, 79% of the urban students and 64% of the rural students had graduated or were still enrolled in chemical engineering; the others had either transferred out of engineering or were no longer attending the university. This paper presents data on the students' home and school backgrounds and speculates on possible causes of observed performance differences between the two populations.