Engineering is typically plagued with lower graduation rates and larger achievement gaps compared to other majors; the projected demand for its future graduates lends to the urgency in reversing these trends. Holding a growth mindset, or a belief that intelligence is mutable, and a feeling of belongingness are keys to persisting in and graduating from college. In prior research, improvements in retention and graduation rates have been found following minor interventions, particularly among some underrepresented populations of students. The current study explored whether similar interventions could be effective in increasing retention and graduation rates among underrepresented populations of engineering and technology majors. It was conducted in an engineering college in a large, comprehensive, Hispanic-Serving, public university with a sizeable Asian population (40%), and 10-20% gap in the graduation rates of underrepresented and non-underrepresented minorities. The engineering college has a low percentage of women undergraduates (15%) and graduations rates for women are 5-10% higher than those of men. The results of this study may be applicable to other engineering schools with similar characteristics.
Following IRB approval, a control assignment or interventions designed to elicit a growth mindset and/or a belongingness mindset were administered in 25 sections of a required Introduction to Engineering course (441 students total), typically taken in the freshman year of all engineering-named and technology programs. Block randomization was used to distribute, as evenly as possible, the gender, ethnic background, and section instructor composition across conditions. Pre- and post-course surveys measured happiness, health, belonging, self-efficacy, and growth mindset, and student grades were collected at the end of the academic term. One year into a 6-year study in which students will be tracked through graduation, preliminary results suggest that the interventions can aid performance. Overall, students who received the belongingness intervention had higher average class grades than those in the control and growth mindset condition, controlling for instructor, HS GPA, and SAT math scores. Further analyses revealed that the interventions had different effects on different demographic groups. First, among women, the growth mindset intervention resulted in lower course performance compared to the control and belongingness groups. Second, among men, the belongingness intervention resulted in higher course performance than in the growth and control. Third, the interventions did not differentially affect course performance among under-represented minorities (URMs). Finally, among non-URMs, the belongingness intervention led to improved course performance compared to the growth mindset and control conditions.
Interestingly, prior to the interventions, underrepresented minority students exhibited higher growth mindset scores (effect size = 0.32) than non-underrepresented minority students and women exhibited higher feelings of belonging (effect size = 0.21) than men.
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