Interest in and Attrition From Engineering

Attrition from engineering seems to be a particularly acute problem given that nearly 50% of the students who start the major do not graduate hi it. The two most common explanations are poor performance in "weeding out" courses and poor self-perceived fit with the prototypical engineer. A study in the Journal of Psychological Type (Thomas, Benne, Marr, Thomas, & Hume, 2000) examined whether personality type and fit predicted interest in and attrition from engineering hi a sample of engineering majors at Georgia Tech. The researchers looked at 195 students (72% male) enrolled hi a known "weeding out" engineering class (electricity and magneticism), where 30% of the students traditionally receive grades below a C. The students completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) (Myers, 1962) in a laboratory session. Thomas et al. predicted MBTI scores would be related to score on the final exam, grade for the course, and withdrawing from the course.

As might be expected, results showed that as a group, the students were over-represented on the Thinking (75%), Introversion (57%), and Judging (56%) scales. More importantly, students who withdrew from the course had high scores on the Extraversión and Feeling scales, with 96% of the dropouts scoring high on either extraversión or feeling. Interestingly, personality type was not related to course grades. In addition, Thomas et al. found that students who were most likely to drop out were exactly the opposite types of those who were least likely to enter engineering to begin with. This result supports the congruency or fit theory of persons and organizations, which states that those who do best in certain professions are those whose personality type matches closest with those aheady in the profession (Schneider, 1987).

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