Are Math Readiness and Personality Predictive of First-Year Retention in Engineering

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The Journal of Psychology, 2011, 145(3), 229–245
Copyright C 2011 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

Are Math Readiness and Personality
Predictive of First-Year Retention
in Engineering?
East Carolina University

ABSTRACT. On the basis of J. G. Borkowski, L. K. Chan, and N. Muthukrishna’s model of academic success (2000), the present authors hypothesized that freshman retention in an engineering program would be related to not only basic aptitude but also affective factors. Participants were 129 college freshmen with engineering as their stated major. Aptitude was measured by SAT verbal and math scores, high school grade-point average (GPA), and an assessment of calculus readiness. Affective factors were assessed by the NEO–Five Factor Inventory (FFI; P. I. Costa & R. R. McCrae, 2007), and the Nowicki–Duke Locus of Control (LOC) scale (S. Nowicki & M. Duke, 1974). A binary logistic regression analysis found that calculus readiness and high school GPA were predictive of retention. Scores on the Neuroticism and Openness subscales from the NEO-FFI and LOC were correlated with retention status, but Openness was the only affective factor with a significant unique effect in the binary logistic regression. Results of the study lend modest support to Borkowski’s model.

Keywords: calculus readiness, college retention, engineering students, Five Factor Model, Locus of Control, STEM fields

THE NEED FOR TRAINED ENGINEERS IN THE U.S. WORKFORCE is constantly increasing, and the number of students graduating from engineering programs is not keeping up with this demand (Duderstadt, 2001). Even though students are applying to engineering programs at rates that match those of other college Address correspondence to Cathy Hall, 214 Rawl Building, Psychology Department, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858, USA; (e-mail). 229


The Journal of Psychology

programs such as medicine and law, the retention and graduation rates for engineering students remain low (Duderstadt, 2001; House, 2000; Whalen & Shelley, 2010). While the number of applicants to engineering programs is growing, there are still not enough engineers to meet the workforce demand (Morton, 2007). Countries outside of the United States are beginning to see increased numbers of applicants to their engineering programs (Morton, 2007). China and India are using engineering technology to enhance lives with research and development. The numbers of graduates in these countries are astonishing with about 500,000 graduates in 2004–2005 for China and 170,000 graduates in 2005 for India (Morton, 2007). The United States and United Kingdom are nowhere near these numbers in undergraduate degrees awarded for engineering. While the number of individuals considering engineering as a field is increasing, the United States and United Kingdom are falling short of meeting current and future demands in the workforce (Morton, 2007).

One of the concerns with the engineering programs in the United States is that while applicant and acceptance rates have remained constant over the past few years, the retention rates for these programs are low (Daempfle, 2003; Morton, 2007). House (2000) found that “only 35% of students who began college in SEM (science, engineering, and mathematics) majors persisted to eventually graduate from SEM disciplines” (p. 207). The retention rates are the lowest for women and ethnic minority students. Ethnic minorities make up approximately one-third of the school-age population, yet they are less likely to graduate from engineering programs than nonminorities (Tsui, 2007). The numbers of ethnic minority students pursing a degree in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are increasing, but African Americans, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Americans represent only about 11% of those employed STEM...
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