Current Trends in Attrition Considerations of Graduate Engineering Students in the United States

Matthew Bahnson, Catherine G.P. Berdanier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Available attrition statistics for graduate engineering students do not adequately inform current attrition research because they focus on degree completion rather than attrition or early departure; aggregate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students; and reflect out-of-date data. While recently some work has begun to explore doctoral attrition qualitatively, the purpose of this study is to describe current trends in graduate engineering students' consideration of departure from their programs of study by capturing current numerical data specific to engineering about students' recent attrition considerations. This is important because, since the last studies were conducted, higher education systems have experienced a global pandemic, economic downturn, and sociopolitical turmoil in the United States. Graduate students (n = 2204) in the U.S. completed a survey. The sample includes master's (n = 535) and doctorate (n = 1646) degree-seeking students from 27 engineering disciplines and includes U.S. domestic and international populations. A majority of students considered leaving their degree program in the month before they took the survey: nearly 70% of Ph.D. and 39% of master's students, while 31% of Ph.D. and 16% of master's students seriously considered leaving their program without their degree. Descriptive statistics provide early departure considerations by engineering discipline, gender identity, race/ethnicity, nationality, and year in program by degree sought. Comparisons between groups are presented for gender, nationality, and career stage. It is essential to have an updated and discipline-specific benchmark of attrition considerations for continued engineering education research purposes, for mentorship, and for administrative purposes. Early departure from graduate school remains a threat to innovation and broadening participation in engineering and the professoriate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-29
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Engineering Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • General Engineering

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