Motivation of Students Who Switch from Engineering to Engineering Technology

Nichole Ramirez, Purdue University


A set of studies is reported describing the demographics, outcomes, and motivations of students who start in engineering and switch their major to engineering technology. There has been extensive research in engineering persistence, but little focus has been given to the “T” in STEM. Most research combines technology with other science and mathematics fields, ignoring the unique characteristics of this population. Exploring this population at the intersection of Engineering and Engineering Technology is particularly valuable as the lines between the disciplines are blurred. For example, the Engineering Technology Council of the American Society for Engineering Education markets the tagline: “The Degree is Engineering Technology, the Career is Engineering.” With engineering technology enrollment on the rise, we may expect to see more changes in engineering technology education. For example, Purdue’s Polytechnic Institute (a 2015 rebrand from the College of Technology) is part of an initiative to open a technology-focused high school as a direct pathway into Purdue. In this particular situation, it has yet to be seen where students will go – engineering, technology, or somewhere else. This research helps inform policy decisions related to such a pathway. The goal of this research was to determine why students choose to matriculate in engineering and then decide to change majors to engineering technology. Using a mixed methods approach, this work includes three studies focused on academic outcomes and student motivation. The studies draw upon Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) and Expectancy-Value Theory (EVT), focusing on intrinsic factors like interest and self-efficacy and extrinsic factors like social influence and career goals. The first study employs data sampled from the Multiple Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development (MIDFIELD; to determine demographic and academic factors associated with leaving engineering and switching to technology as well as their graduation outcomes. The next study focuses on motivation constructs related to SCCT and EVT. A survey instrument was e-mailed to Purdue students who switched from engineering to engineering technology, and it was also used as a recruitment tool for the third study. The third and final study employed a thematic analysis to explore the reasons why students switched from engineering to engineering technology. Statistical methods include regression analysis of longitudinal data, correlational analysis of theoretical constructs consisting of Likert-scale survey items, and thematic analysis of open-ended survey responses and semi-structured interviews. Based on data from MIDFIELD, students disproportionately switched to ET than any other major, comprising over 40% of all students who leave engineering went to technology. Self-reported survey data from students who switched from engineering to engineering technology at Purdue University revealed that students rated themselves higher on general self-efficacy than on engineering self-efficacy. These students were also intrinsically motivated and still identified with engineering. Of those survey respondents, thirteen participated in interviews as part of the third study. Themes that emerged from their surveys and interviews included pre-college expectations, parental input, alternative paths to career goal, and barriers to persist in engineering and to switch to engineering technology. Students sought engineering technology as an alternative pathway to their engineering-related career goal when their college engineering experience did not match their pre-college expectations. Because of that, students faced barriers to persisting in engineering, like their academic performance. They also faced obstacles to pursuing ET, including the stigma others associate with switching. Gathering input from their parents helped them in their decision-making process. The results support findings from other studies and provided context for students’ motivations to switch. Ultimately, students maintain their engineering interests and career goals but accomplish their goals through a different context. This work has implications for students, advisors, parents, and policy makers. Advisors in high school and college can improve their ability to identify the reasons why students switch and which students may be likely to switch. This set of studies is the first step towards understanding students who start in engineering and switch their major to engineering technology.




Main, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education|Engineering|Higher education

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