A comprehensive examination of the mathematics courses undergraduate engineering majors take in their first two years, and their success in those courses was conducted to determine the impact of course level and grade on student persistence in engineering. Six hundred fifty five, full-time freshmen enrolled as engineering majors at a major university in the Southwest United States participated in the study. Data was gathered from the 2007 freshman cohort. Students' grades for each of their first University mathematics courses were tracked, and used to gauge probabilities of subsequently persisting as an enrolled Engineering major. Participants were grouped into 9 categories representing 3 levels of course grade (A or B; C; and D, F, or W), crossed with 3 levels of course (Below Calculus I, Calculus I, and Above Calculus I). Student enrollment and graduation rates for each of these groups were examined for the next 5 years. A binary logistic regression with two main effects (Course and Grade) and one interaction was performed. Results show that if a student's first course was above Calculus I, they were 2.3 times more likely to be retained in Engineering than a student who took Calculus I. If a student took Pre-calculus or another course below Calculus I they were less than half as likely to persist in Engineering than those who took Calculus I (p<.001). Likewise, if a student received an A or B for their first mathematics course regardless of which course they took, they were 6.5 times more likely to persist than someone who received a D, F, or W in their first mathematics course (p< 0.001). The special role of Calculus as a gatekeeper, preventing engineering-intending students from obtaining an engineering degree, is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationProceedings - Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
StatePublished - Feb 17 2015
Event44th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2014 - Madrid, Spain
Duration: Oct 22 2014Oct 25 2014


Other44th Annual Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE 2014


  • Freshman retention
  • Mathematics
  • Persistence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Software
  • Education


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