Degree program changes and curricular flexibility: Addressing long held beliefs about student progression
In higher education and in engineering education in particular, changing majors is generally considered a negative event - or at least an event with negative consequences. An emergent field of study within engineering education revolves around understanding the factors and processes driving student changes of major. Of key importance to further the field of change of major research is a grasp of large scale phenomena occurring throughout multiple systems, knowledge of previous attempts at describing such issues, and the adoption of metrics to probe them effectively. The problem posed is exacerbated by the drive in higher education institutions and among state legislatures to understand and reduce time-to-degree and student attrition. With these factors in mind, insights into large-scale processes that affect student progression are essential to evaluating the success or failure of programs. The goals of this work include describing the current educational research on switchers, identifying core concepts and stumbling blocks in my treatment of switchers, and using the Multiple Institutional Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development (MIDFIELD) to explore how those who change majors perform as a function of large-scale academic pathways within and without the engineering context. To accomplish these goals, it was first necessary to delve into a recent history of the treatment of switchers within the literature and categorize their approach. While three categories of papers exist in the literature concerning change of major, all three may or may not be applicable to a given database of students or even a single institution. Furthermore, while the term has been coined in the literature, no portable metric for discussing large-scale navigational flexibility exists in engineering education. What such a metric would look like will be discussed as well as the delimitations involved. The results and subsequent discussion will include a description of changes of major, how they may or may not have a deleterious effect on one's academic pathway, the special context of changes of major in the pathways of students within first-year engineering programs students labeled as undecided, an exploration of curricular flexibility by the construction of a novel metric, and proposed future work.
Ohland, Purdue University.
Public policy|Science education|Curriculum development
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