Environmental and personal demands and resources can significantly affect the academic success and degree persistence rates of engineering students. The present study adopted a demands and resources conceptual framework to identify and compare the most critical demands and resources, both internal and external, for academic success and well-being of traditional and second career undergraduate students, as well as graduate engineering students.
Participants in the current study were 342 engineering students, who completed an anonymous, online survey with 57 items for a 17.1% response rate. They were predominantly white (63.4%) and male (73.4%), with an average age of 25.85 years old (SD = 8.2). Traditional undergraduate engineering students represented 59% (n = 200) of the sample; 26% (n = 90) were graduate engineering students, and 15% (n = 52) met the criteria of second career undergraduate engineering students. Second career undergraduate engineering students were operationalized as currently enrolled undergraduate engineering students, who, before starting their engineering studies, reported coming from one or more of the following: a) military, b) vocational / technical school, c) full-time job, d) part-time job, or e) another academic major at ODU.
Internal demands were measured with eight variables consisting of 26 items, while external demands were measured with eight variables comprised of 34 total items. Internal and external resources were measured with four (8 items) and three (13 items) variables, respectively. Student outcomes were measured with seven variables comprised of 12 items.
Results showed that compared to second career undergraduate engineering students and graduate engineering students, traditional undergraduate engineering students reported significantly higher average levels of internal demands (e.g., performance avoidance goal orientation, procrastination, time management difficulties, difficulties paying attention, lack of persistence, and poor mental health) and external demands (e.g., academic demands, administrative demands, lack of campus resources, inadequate faculty support, school related financial demands, and other students / classmates). Second career undergraduate engineering students reported significantly higher levels of demands outside of school, such as lack of childcare, work interfering with school, and family responsibilities, compared to the other two groups.
Compared to traditional undergraduate engineering students and graduate engineering students, second career undergraduate engineering students reported significantly higher levels of self-efficacy. On the other hand, second career undergraduate engineering students tended to utilize administrative and campus resources less frequently. Finally, traditional undergraduate engineering students reported significantly higher levels of school burnout and lower levels of current and expected GPA than the other two groups, all undesirable outcomes.
Taken together, these results suggest that different populations of engineering students may have different needs, experience different barriers, and benefit from different types of supports and resources. Our findings offer practical guidance to administrators and educators in engineering for developing and implementing effective programmatic efforts and supportive academic environments.
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