Author(s): James Margolis, Daria KotysSchwartz
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Attrition issues with undergraduate engineering students, while concerning, are well documented. However, little research has explored post-graduation attrition. U.S. Department of Labor statistics suggest that as many as 45 percent of workers with engineering degrees are not employed in engineering jobs. As China and India increasingly compete with the U.S. in the production of engineers and enrollment in U.S. engineering programs continues to lag behind other four-year degrees, training a consistent number of quality engineers is a critical issue for the American workforce. Anecdotal evidence of problematic post-graduation attrition—that is, attrition related to controllable factors in students’ educational experiences that push them away from engineering careers, as opposed to attrition of students who wish to creatively apply their skills in other occupations—coupled with the need for engineers in the workforce motivated this research. This study investigated the post-graduation plans of senior level mechanical engineering students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Over the course of one year, two surveys were administered to 169 students, a mix of graduating seniors and students in a Senior Capstone Project course. Students were classified into four groups based on their post-graduation plans: 1. Pursuers (35% of total sample): students pursuing an engineering career immediately after graduation without reservations or plans to leave the field in the future. 2. Returners (22% of total sample): students not pursuing an engineering career immediately after graduation but with plans for an engineering career in the future. 3. Pursuers with Reservations (34% of total sample): students pursuing an engineering career immediately after graduation who currently had reservations about their career choice and/or planned to leave the field in the future. 4. Leavers (9% of total sample): students not pursuing an engineering career immediately after graduation with no plans for an engineering career in the future. The results indicated that 65% of the sample had, at least, some reservations about pursuing an engineering career. Results also suggested five factors that may influence post-graduation attrition: 1. Feeling prepared to pursue an engineering career, 2. Internship experiences, 3. Senior Capstone Project course experiences, 4. Satisfaction with the quality of instruction in the engineering program, and 5. Career values related to financial rewards and enjoying co-workers.
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This article was published in The American Society of Mechanical Engineerings
and referenced in Journal of Hotel & Business Management