For decades, student retention has been a big challenge for engineering and technology universities. Maartje van den Bogaard spent five years researching the factors that play a part in the success of first-year engineering students.
Prior to Van den Bogaard’s PhD defence ceremony on 13 February, the Leiden- Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning hosted its second Innovation Room, a symposium in which two renowned researchers shared their views on study success.
Depending on the faculty, about 20 to 50 percent of students at Delft University of Technology drop out in the first year. On average 63 per cent of the student cohorts 1988 to 1998 eventually managed to earn a Master's degree. The graduation percentages for bachelor courses are more favourable, on average 70 per cent. Engineering and technology universities worldwide have similar rates.
Action-oriented research needed
At Delft University of Technology, attempts to lower the dropout and study delay rates have hardly been successful. "At the same time, researchers have often focused on describing and explaining study success as a scientific phenomenon, placing little to no emphasis on actual solutions," says Van den Bogaard. She and the speakers at the Innovation Room all agreed on one thing: to improve student success rates, research must be action-oriented.
Motivated, competent and belonging
Jeroen van Merriënboer, an internationally renowned Dutch researcher at the Graduate School of Health Professions Education in Maastricht, started researching learning processes in the nineties. During the symposium, he discussed the three components of Self-Determination Theory as possible predictors of study success: according to available research, students who feel motivated, competent and part of a community are less likely to drop out.
However, Van Merriënboer points out that most research on study success is correlational and that it has not provided strong evidence for possible effects of the self-determination theory on dropout rates. "Our next step must therefore be drafting hypotheses based on available research and testing these in practice using experimental research designs," he suggests.