Retention Surveys

Students Persisting in Engineering
Students Leaving Engineering

Students Leaving Engineering

Description | What does the instrument measure? | Sample Survey Items | Can the instrument be modified? | When is it best to administer the instrument? | IRB approval | Using the Results

Downloads: Students Leaving Engineering Survey | Leaving Instrument Instructions | Students Persisting in Engineering Survey | Persisting Instrument Instructions


Retention of students in engineering continues to be of concern. To best address this area, we need to know what contributes to both students persisting in engineering and what contributes to their leaving.  We may know that a student is leaving engineering but not have a good idea of why. This instrument—which is designed to be used in conjunction with the Students Persisting in Engineering—measures both male and female student’s reasons for transferring out (or planning to transfer out) of engineering programs. The resulting data, especially when combined with comparative data from the Students Persisting in Engineering instrument, can help your entire academic unit identify areas where support activities or other changes may be warranted that could impact retention.

What does the instrument measure?

The survey measures student reasons for deciding to transfer out of engineering either into another campus academic unit, a different higher education institution or deciding to drop out of school completely.

Specifically the instrument measures:

  • Initial commitment to and preparation for studying engineering

  • Impact of course workload, climate, advising, teaching, etc. on decision to leave

  • Other factors /events that contributed to decision to leave

  • Participation in academic and in extra-curricular activities

  • Retrospective confidence in finishing a degree in engineering

  • Confidence in completing a(nother) degree

  • Post graduation plans

Sample Survey Items

This multi-part item is designed to ascertain the factors that influenced the student’s decision to transfer out of engineering. In the complete instrument, a wide array of factors are presented ranging from financial to curricular.

Can the instrument be modified?

The survey questions have been tested and validated, thus they are not changeable in the downloadable documents. If you do change them, they are no longer validated, nor are they valid for national comparative data. However, in order to meet your specific objectives, you may add additional questions to the survey such as institutional information and specific, activity-related questions.

When is it best to administer the instrument?

The Students Leaving Engineering Survey takes approximately 10-15 minutes to complete.

To administer the instrument, you must be able to identify and contact students who have decided to transfer out of the college. To gain this information, you should first determine where this information about students leaving engineering is collected in your unit.

When you examine these data you may find there is a point in the curriculum when students typically transfer out. This is often when they officially declare for a major (for institutions in which students enter with a general engineering designation) or when they begin to take the “hard core” major courses.

These are the optimum times to administer the survey. You may also administer the survey as soon as you are informed of a student’s decision to transfer out of the college of engineering.

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  • Contact your college’s advising or enrollment offices to gain access to notifications of students transferring out of your college.
  • Or, contact your campus student services offices to find who holds this information.

Note: You may find out that this information is not currently collected in one place or reported; be persistent, the information will be worth the effort!

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Does this instrument require me to get Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval?

Contact the IRB at your institution - they must answer this question for you. As with all AWE instruments, a complete review and approval from your institution’s Institutional Review Board may be required prior to implementation of this survey. A good rule of thumb is that if you any data that will be reported outside your organization, you need IRB approval.

IRB requires that when you administer surveys, you must educate participants about possible risks and benefits involved in taking surveys, obtain their consent before involving them in your research and keep them informed about how data will be used. This is called the "informed consent process."

Visit The Institutional Review Board (IRB) Process page for more information about the informed consent process and to see examples of informed consent documents.

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Using the Results

Use the results to determine the reasons that students are leaving engineering. Specifically, you can:

  • Identify major factors that contribute to students’ decision to leave.

  • Differentiate these factors between student groups (e.g. men / women, majority / minority students).

  • Quantify students’ initial commitment to completing engineering degree.

Once collected these data will provide you with powerful evidence for effecting change in your program activities and also, more systemically, in departmental curricula and / or teaching practices in order to address the issues your data reveals.

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Download the Instrument



Developed by The Pennsylvania State University and University of Missouri
Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)