Date of Award

Fall 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Education

First Advisor

Matthew W. Ohland

Committee Chair

Matthew W. Ohland

Committee Member 1

Karl Smith

Committee Member 2

Lisa Lattuca

Committee Member 3

Phillip Wankat


The preparation of technically excellent and innovative engineering graduates urges for a reform of the engineering curriculum to meet critical challenges in society (National Academy of Engineering, 2005). An examination of the current engineering curricula is needed to offer a baseline to further discuss if the curriculum reform meets the critical challenges. Meanwhile, concern about engineering retention prioritizes a review of the first-year engineering curricula. The existing literature does not include a nationwide examination of the first-year engineering curricula and introductory engineering courses. This study aspired to fill the gap by providing a detail description of the composition of first-year engineering curricula and introductory engineering courses of all ABET EAC-accredited programs. Furthermore, this study investigated the degree to which first-year engineering curricula and institutional characteristics varied by the matriculation policies of engineering programs. ^ To this end, this study analyzed the recommended first-year course sequences of 1,969 engineering programs and descriptions of 2,222 first-year engineering courses at all 408 U.S. institutions with ABET EAC-accredited programs. Keywords extracted from the engineering course descriptions were classified using a revised First-Year Engineering Course Classification Scheme (Reid, Reeping, & Spingola, 2013). In addition, institutional characteristics of 408 institutions grouped by matriculation models were examined. ^ There were five major findings. First, engineering courses took up 14-17% of total credit hours in the first year. Most first-year engineering courses were mandatory instead of elective or optional. Mathematics and science still formed the basis of the early engineering curriculum by accounting for more than half of the first-year credit hours. Second, the composition of first-year engineering curricula, the composition of first-year engineering courses, and the time when the first engineering course was required all varied by matriculation models. Third, topics related to engineering technologies and tools were listed most frequently in first-year engineering course descriptions, followed by topics related to design and the engineering profession. Topics related to global interest were seldom listed. Fourth, while first-year course composition varied by matriculation model, the most frequently listed topics were shared by programs with varied matriculation models, suggesting that content selection of first-year engineering courses was homogenous nationally. Lastly, institutions with different matriculation models had distinct characteristics, demonstrating the existence of relationships between institution-level and unit-level variables shown in the Model of Academic Plans in Context (Lattuca & Stark, 2009). ^ Findings of this study addressed fundamental questions of engineering education research, and had the potential to help program administrators and instructors with program and curriculum planning purposes.