Application of Systems Engineering Analysis Methods to Examine Engineering Transfer Student Persistence

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Virginia Tech

The demand for engineering graduates in the United States continues to grow, yet the number of students entering post-secondary education is declining, and graduation rates have seen little to no change over the last several decades. Engineering transfer students are a growing population and can help meet the nation's needs, however, there is little research on the persistence of this population after they transfer to the receiving institution.

Student persistence is dependent on a complex set of interactions over time. Management systems engineering provides a framework for working with complex systems through system analysis and design, with a focus on the interactions of the system components. This research includes multiple management systems engineering analysis methods used to define and develop a systems view of engineering transfer student persistence.

This work includes a comprehensive literature review to identify factors affecting engineering transfer student persistence, an empirical analysis of an institutional dataset, and development of a simulation model to demonstrate the throughput of engineering transfer student. Findings include 34 factors identified in the literature as affecting engineering student persistence. A review of the literature also highlighted two important gaps in the literature, including a focus on post-transfer success almost exclusively in the first post-transfer year and a significant interest in vertical transfer students, with little consideration given to lateral transfer students. The empirical analysis addressed the gaps found in the literature. Vertical and lateral engineering transfer students were found to experience different levels of transfer shock which also impacts their 4-year graduation rates. The analysis also found transfer shock was not unique to the first post-transfer term, it was also present in the second and third post-transfer terms, and reframed as transfer adjustment. The simulation model uncovers leaving patterns of engineering transfer students which include the students leaving engineering in the second year, as well as those graduating with an engineering degree in the third year.

Overall this research identifies explicit factors that affect engineering transfer student persistence and suggests a new systems engineering approach for understanding student persistence and how institutions can affect change.

systems engineering, system dynamics, systematic review, regression, engineering transfer student, persistence