Graduates of 2-year Engineering and Engineering Technician Programmes in the U.S. and the UK
Worldwide there is a shortage of engineers and engineering technicians. In the U.S. and the U.K., the demand for a skilled and educated workforce of engineers and engineering technicians is greater than the supply. Not only are there demands to fill newly created positions in the engineering sector, but there is also a need to fill existing vacancies that require a sub-baccalaureate degree at a minimum (Carnevale, Smith, & Melton, 2011). The need is greater than other sectors because the sub-baccalaureate programs prepare graduates with the fundamental knowledge and skills in at least eight types of engineering occupations (i.e., aerospace; civil; electrical and electronics; electro-mechanical; mechanical; environmental; industrial; survey and mapping). According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, the UK must graduate more than twice as many students, at least 1 million, in engineering and engineering technician programmes (Harrison, 2012). In the U.S., employment growth projections for engineering technicians in several disciplines through 2020 are as high as 30 percent, surpassing all other occupations (U.S. Department of Labor, 2014). Of the new and replacement engineering and engineering technologies jobs in the U.S., at least 25% will require an associate’s degree (Carnevale et al., 2011; Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010). This represents the largest proportion of any of the five STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) occupational subgroups requiring an associate’s degree in the U.S.
Postsecondary institutions in the U.S. that award associate’s degrees in engineering and engineering technologies will fail to meet job growth projections if trends of low and slow graduation rates continue. Comparing the 2000–2001 and 2010–2011 academic years, engineering and engineering technologies associate’s degree conferrals declined by 16% while other subject areas doubled their number of associate’s degree recipients (Aud, Rathburn, Flicker-Wilkinson, Krisapovich, Wang, & Zhang, 2013). Even more drastic was the overall drop in the number of female graduates from engineering and engineering technologies programmess (25.3%) (Planty, Hussar, Snyder, Kena, KewalRamani, Kemp, Bianco, & Dinkes, 2009). There is clearly a need to understand more comprehensively the issue of low completion rates in engineering and engineering technologies programmes.
Data on STEM education and the engineering workforce are often presented too broadly to positively affect reform and acute employment deficits (Hagedorn & Purnamasari, 2012). Hagedorn and Purnamasari (2012) maintained that what is missing from previous scientific attempts is a disaggregation of student background information following the identification of specific STEM-occupational shortages. The purpose of this paper is to identify the characteristics of attendees and graduates of 2-year, associate’s degree programmes in engineering and engineering technologies using a national dataset and determine whether and to what extent graduation from these programs is a function of specific student-related variables and institutional variables. The following research questions were pursued: (1) What are the characteristics of completers and non-completers of sub-baccalaureate degree programs in engineering and engineering technologies? (2) To what extent do student-related and institutional variables predict completion in sub-baccalaureate degree programs in engineering and engineering technologies? Implications are given to policymakers and administrators of U.S. programmes and advisement to European countries, namely the UK, facing the same problem of skills and workforce shortages in engineering and engineering technologies.
The theoretical framework for the study is rooted in Vincent Tinto’s seminal theory of student integration and organized according to Alexander Astin’s “Input-Environment-Outcome” (I-E-O) Model. Tinto (1993) described completion and attrition as a longitudinal decision-making process influenced by student’s demographic and pre-college attributes, finances, goals and commitments, institutional experiences, and integration (Tinto, 1993). Astin’s Input-Environment-Output (IEO) Model was modified into a conceptual framework examining the key student-related and institutional factors identified by Tinto (1993) on the Output of programme completion.
The quantitative study is an ex post facto design using secondary data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2004/2009 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:04/09). BPS: 04/09 provided nationally representative samples of the subpopulations of interest, in this case engineering and engineering technologies students, from which findings are highly generalizable (Greenhoot & Dowsett, 2012). BPS: 04/09 starts with a sample of 18,600 students who were interviewed at the end of their first year (2003-2004) in college in the National Postsecondary Study Aid Study. They were subsequently interviewed three- (2005-2006) and six-years (2008-2009) later. BPS:04/09 used the Postsecondary Education Transcript Study for transcript-level data collection and coding. Data were concluded reliable after random sample major/field of study data were recoded. The BPS:04/09 public-use dataset accessible in PowerStats (a web-based analytical tool on the NCES website) includes 16,680 respondents and 1,500 variables.
For this study the target population was students in sub-baccalaureate STEM-degree programmes. The BPS: 04/09 weighted student sample was reduced to 93 weighted participants of associate’s degree programmes in engineering and engineering technologies. In accordance with NCES’s standards to minimize the disclosure risk of personally identifiable data, the absolute sample size was modified through coarsening and weighting and was not disclosed. Student-related and institutional variables referenced in the literature and Tinto’s and Astin’s theories on graduation were explored. Student-related, independent variables included: Age first year enrolled, Grade point average 2003-04, Grade point average estimate when last enrolled thru 2009, Gender, Race/ethnicity, Marital status, Income group 2003-04, Job while enrolled 2004, Father’s highest level of education 2003-04, Mother’s highest level of education 2003-04, High school type attended, Highest level of high school mathematics, Degree goal, Attendance intensity pattern through 2009, Remedial course 2004, Aid package by type of aid 2003-04, Highest level of high school mathematics, Degree goal, Attendance intensity pattern through 2009, Remedial course 2004, Aid package by type of aid 2003-04. Institutional, independent variables included: Total enrollment size 2003-04, Percent minority enrollment 2003-04, Institution region 2003-04. The institutional sampling from the BPS: 04/09 limited the institutional variables in this study. The dependent variable was associates degree completion in engineering and engineering technologies. To answer the first research question, percentage distribution and averages tables were generated in PowerStats for the student-related variables. Logistic regression was performed in PowerStats to answer the second research question.
Descriptive statistics indicated, proportionally, engineering and engineering technologies graduates were mostly White, married, middle income, employed part-time, enrolled full-time, completed Trigonometry/Algebra II, had a father who’s highest education level was an associate’s degree, did not know their mother’s highest level of education, completed remedial coursework, and started college with the goal of an associate’s degree. Results showed a higher percentage of non-completers were from an under-represented racial/ethnic group, high or low income, unemployed, single, divorced, widowed, or separated, attended a foreign high school, completed Calculus, entered college without a degree goal, and had parents whose highest education level was the first-professional degree. Majority of attendants of associate’s degree programmes in engineering and engineering technologies were male (90.0%) with females in the minority (10.0%). While more males attended the programmes, graduation rates were comparable (28.4% of males and 30.0%) of females).
Results from the logistic regression indicated that the variables significant to completion in associate’s degree programs in engineering and engineering technologies were gender and enrolment size. Female students were more likely to earn the degree, and that the larger the institution, the more likely the student would graduate. However, given the small weighted sample size, the results of the study are inconclusive in terms of the extent to which the findings can be generalized to the larger population of students in 2-year associate’s degree programmes in engineering and engineering technologies in the U.S. While this part of the study fills a gap in the literature of what is known about engineering and engineering technician students in the U.S., the implications are such that caution should be used in analyzing national educational datasets to address national workforce shortages. A more accurate instrument that captures the target population of students in sub-baccalaureate programmes in engineering and engineering technologies is warranted.
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