Campus Units

Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Publication Version

Published Version

Publication Date


First Page


Conference Title

2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Conference Date

June 24-27, 2018


Salt Lake City, UT


Not everyone is meant to be an engineer, but more could be. The failure rate for engineering students is unparalleled. A staggering 40% of students in engineering do not make it through the first year and of those who make it, 30% would fail in many of its fundamental courses. Engineering is not, nor should it be, an easy program. Traditionally, many researchers have argued that the primary reason why students fail in these courses is a lack of preparedness for the high level of academic rigors in engineering. They have also argued that beyond the rigors of the material is the time commitment required outside of the classroom. While the average college course requires 2 hours of outside study for every one hour in the classroom, engineering courses require an estimated 4 hours. In addition, engineering instructors more extensively employ extensive lecturing in their classroom and grade on a curve, two practices that create educational disadvantages for engineering students. Although the systems in place that run many engineering colleges around the country work fairly well for the traditional engineering student –the teenager who shows up on campus ready to dedicate the next four years of their lives to school, a chunk of undergraduates in commuter schools do not fit this profile. These students are juggling classes and a job or family or both. Most of our education system is not built to cater to their needs, and its results are extremely wasteful.

This paper presents initial results of a research project on failure rates in an engineering commuter school–where 40% of our students work more than 10 hours per week while going to school full time. We focused on 3 fundamental engineering courses: mechanics of materials, dynamics, and introduction to circuit. This pilot research is addressing the question of "What do failure rates in these courses really measure?”


This proceeding is published as Boylan-Ashraf, Peggy C., and John R. Haughery. "Failure Rates in Engineering: Does It Have to Do with Class Size?" Paper ID #22857. 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. Salt Lake City, UT. Posted with permission.


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American Society for Engineering Education



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