A Correlational Study of Belongingness and Persistence in Engineering Academies Students

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The growing number of U.S. engineering jobs signifies a need for more students to pursue engineering degrees. To increase access to engineering education, in 2015, Texas A&M University established Engineering Academies (EA) in cooperation with selected community colleges. The problem addressed in this study was a lack of knowledge about why Texas A&M EA students’ first-year retention has since 2015 consistently been about 10% lower than the rate for on-campus students. Researchers have suggested that sociological noncognitive factors such as belongingness may affect students’ decisions to persist or leave engineering. The purpose of this quantitative correlational study was to examine the statistical relationships for three separate constructs of belongingness: (a) the classroom, (b) the university as a community, and (c) the university as an institution in relation to EA student persistence. The study was framed by student integration and servant leadership theories to determine how belongingness influences the intention to persist. Data were collected from an internet-based survey of 155 first-year EA students. Three Pearson product-moment correlations revealed statistically significant correlations between students’ three constructs of belongingness and persistence with different strengths of associations (weak, medium, and strong). The findings suggest that leaders of Texas A&M University Engineering Academies should implement preentry intervention programs and college transition assistance to increase first-year retention. Recommendations for future research include determining if persistence for continued enrollment correlates with actual retention as well as assessing if preentry programs and college transition strategies enhance associations between belongingness and persistence for first-year EA students. Keywords: belongingness, persistence, retention, co-enrolled student, community college pathway program, engineering academies.