Factors that predict success and persistence of Hispanic -Puerto Rican students in engineering programs

Jose E Vazquez-Barquet, University of Pennsylvania


Over the last decade, student participation and graduation rates in engineering programs have declined, even though overall student participation in college programs has increased. Our nation continues to rely on foreign born talent to meet our economy's ever-growing demand for scientists and engineers. In particular, women and ethnic minorities continue to display low participation rates in these programs. Hispanics, which is the main subject of this study, have overall college participation and graduation rates that are significantly below the nation's average, and are grossly underrepresented in science and engineering fields. Using a private, medium-sized institution of higher education in Puerto Rico specialized in undergraduate engineering programs, a longitudinal study is made to determine those characteristics that are prevalent in persisting students. The methodology of survival analysis is utilized, observing three cohort groups over time. In its application to higher education, survival is akin to persistence, and the methodology is utilized here to understand the relationship between student characteristics and their persistence over time. Factors that point out students at risk of dropping out are also identified. Utilizing Cox regression, a variety of independent variables were utilized, such as incoming high school and demographic characteristics, time-varying covariates, and event-descriptive variables. Of these, a student's early level of college academic performance, age upon entering college, and socioeconomic background defined by family income proved to be significant factors in predicting future dropout behavior. The methodological approach of survival analysis is presented as an effective tool that can be applied to retention research. A number of recommendations are outlined that can be utilized by the institution to identify students at risk. The research may also shed some light on the issues confronted by Hispanics engaged in science and engineering academic fields.

Subject Area

Higher education|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Vazquez-Barquet, Jose E, "Factors that predict success and persistence of Hispanic -Puerto Rican students in engineering programs" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3138085.