Technical nontraditional student college attrition: The student's perspective

Harvey Fredric Hoffman, Fordham University


This study explored reasons nontraditional students selected and entered an engineering program of study leading to a baccalaureate degree and then withdrew before graduation. The findings of this study can be grouped into three categories: reasons for entering the engineering baccalaureate degree; barriers to completing the engineering baccalaureate degree; and support for completing the engineering baccalaureate degree. In order to identify the data that would provide insight into the stated questions, the following themes were explored: (a) motivation to enter engineering, (b) the image of engineering, (c) the respondent's view of their role, (d) the socialization process within engineering programs, (e) career employment possibilities, (f) employer and peer influences, (g) situational, institutional, and dispositional barriers, and (h) other possible influences on completion of the program such as college preparatory courses. A qualitative research methodology was chosen for this study because of a desire to explore from the students' viewpoint reasons men and women enter and then withdraw from an engineering degree program. Understanding the participants' perspective required a research design that permitted an open expression of ideas, perceptions, understandings, experiences, feelings, and memories. Semi-structured interviews were used. Nine respondents were interviewed, six males and three females ranging in age from 27 to 40. All nontraditional students attended Fairfield University's BEI School of Engineering located in Fairfield, Connecticut and represented students enrolled in three different engineering programs (electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and information systems engineering). Several observations and conclusions may be drawn from this study. Every student interviewed interrupted their undergraduate education career multiple times. Since program interruptions are so common, a 1-year study time frame may be insufficient to offer a true view of nontraditional student college attrition and retention. Every respondent attended more than one undergraduate traditional 4-year college or community college in pursuit of their degree. Students took courses at institutions offering lower tuition and/or the availability of the required courses at the times required by the student. Students did not necessarily inform the primary degree granting institution of their decision to take a course at another institution. The interaction of several factors influenced the attrition/retention decision.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Higher education|Educational software

Recommended Citation

Hoffman, Harvey Fredric, "Technical nontraditional student college attrition: The student's perspective" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9839508.