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Keywords:

  • persistence;
  • risk of attrition;
  • student experience

Background

Research on student attrition from engineering has focused on a variety of factors including demographics, campus climate, interactions with faculty and peers, and learning experiences. It remains unclear, however, whether qualitative differences in risk of attrition response patterns exist among students.

Purpose (Hypothesis)

The following research questions are the basis for this study: (1) What can be learned about the risk of attrition from engineering by grouping students using a novel method and multiple measures? (2) How are individual characteristics, student experiences, and perceptions related to qualitative differences among students in their risk of attrition?

Design/Method

Latent class analysis identifies qualitative differences among engineering students on measures of risk of attrition. A variety of covariates predict membership in each class using multinomial logistic regression.

Results

Three latent classes are identified with varying degrees of commitment to degree completion and interest in their engineering major. Individuals who are less confident, experience negative interactions with peers and instructors, and hold negative perceptions of engineering are less likely to be committed to engineering and more likely to be interested in other majors. Student experiences mediate the effects of key individual characteristics.

Conclusions

Certain types of student experiences are pivotal for a student's commitment to the major and commitment to degree completion. The risk of attrition is sensitive to a combination of student characteristics, experiences, and perceptions. The mediated relationships between risk of attrition and individual characteristics re-iterate the importance of including student experience variables to control for the context of a college.