Leaving Engineering: A Multi-Year Single Institution Study


University of Missouri, 303 Townsend Hall, Columbia, MO 65211; rmarra@missouri.edu.

Department of Social Sciences at the City University of New York, 199 Chambers St., New York, NY 10007; krodgers@bmcc.cuny.edu.

Independent Consultant Working for the University of Missouri.

Penn State University, 212 Earth-Engineering Sciences Building, University Park, PA 16802; bbogue@psu.edu.



As estimates continue to indicate a growing demand for engineering professionals, retention in engineering remains an issue. Thus, the engineering education community remains concerned about students who leave engineering and must work to identify the factors that influence those students’ decisions.

Purpose (Hypothesis)

Our purpose was to identify a set of factors describing the experiences of students’ in a college of engineering that are strong influences on decisions to leave and study how those factors are related to both predictor variables (e.g., high school preparation) and future behaviors (e.g., new major chosen).


We solicited survey data from students who had recently transferred out of a large engineering college. We conducted exploratory factor analysis to determine the main factors for leaving engineering and then used these factors to answer the research questions.


Results indicate that both academic (e.g., curriculum difficulty and poor teaching and advising) and a non-academic factor (lack of belonging in engineering) contribute to students’ decisions to leave engineering. We did find differences for some factors between majority and non-majority students; however, there were no gender differences.


Both academic and non-academic factors contribute to students’ decisions to leave engineering; however, our sample indicated the non-academic factors may be a stronger influence. Implications for educators focus on addressing both academic and the belonging factor and include examining pedagogical activities that may be less welcoming to a wide variety of student groups, providing opportunities for meaningful faculty interaction and other activities designed to support students pursuing engineering degrees.