Black engineering and science student dropouts at the University of the District of Columbia from 1987 to 1991

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Virginia Tech

Black engineering and science students in colleges and universities have not been researched sufficiently to determine the reasons for their success or failure. This was an exploratory study focusing on those factors that influenced non-persistence of African-American science and engineering students at the University of the District of Columbia from 1987 to 1991.

The subjects for this study were eight (8) African-American students who matriculated at the University of the District of Columbia from 1987 to 1991. The students were enrolled in the College of Physical Science, Engineering, and Technology during that period of time.

A survey of 59 questions grouped into five categories was administered as an interview over the telephone and by mail. The survey revealed the following: (a) Students own experiences lead to mind changes about career aspirations, and these aspirations are not always in concert with parents; (b) academic success is no guarantee of persistence; (c) negative experiences do not dampen perceived need for further education; and (d) non-persistence is caused by lack of preparation, desire to transfer, disillusionment, financial difficulties, and changes in the environment.

In that the study involved only eight students, the data was not sufficient to warrant definitive recommendations for curriculum changes, program changes, or approaches being used by pre-college programs to interest African-American students in selecting science or engineering related disciplines. However, two areas have promise for future research: learned helplessness syndrome-- how it and students' natural fear of failure may be related to non-persistence; and contextual learning--how it addresses a learning style not utilized regularly in teaching quantitative subjects.

The data did point out the need for continued assessment of first-year students, as well as continuous monitoring of their concerns on a semester-by-semester basis. Individually oriented treatment is encouraged for these students.