Retention Surveys

Students Persisting in Engineering
Students Leaving Engineering

Students Persisting in 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 Persisting in Engineering Survey | Persisting Instrument Instructions | Students Leaving Engineering Survey | Leaving 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.  The persisting in engineering instrument is designed to measure both male and female student’s reasons for persisting in engineering programs. The resulting data is designed to be used in conjunction with the Students Leaving Engineering instrument and 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 persist in engineering. It is designed to be used in conjunction with the Students Leaving Engineering survey in order to compare characteristics of persisters and leavers.

Specifically the instrument measures:

  • Initial commitment to and preparation for studying engineering

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

  • Other factors /events that contributed to decision to persist

  • Participation in academic and in extra-curricular activities

  • Confidence in completing an engineering degree

  • Post graduation plans

Sample Survey Items

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

survey sample

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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 Persisting Engineering Survey takes approximately 10-15 minutes to complete.

To administer the instrument, you must be able to identify and contact students who have persisted in engineering. Recommended times are at the end of the second and fourth years.

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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AWE logoRecommends:

  • Compare results to students who leave engineering (See Students Leaving Engineering Survey) to identify key characteristics of each group.

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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 persisting in engineering. Specifically, you can:

  • Compare results to students who leave engineering (see Students Leaving Engineering Survey) to identify key characteristics of each group.

  • Identify major factors that contribute to students’ decision to remain in engineering.

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

  • Quantify students’ initial commitment to completing engineering degree.

  • Examine activity participation and satisfaction relative to students’ decision to leave.

  • Report results to key engineering administrators and faculty.

  • Use results to influence curricular and programmatic initiatives.

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)