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Why Undergraduate Students Choose and Discontinue an Aerospace Engineering Degree

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The aerospace industry is a major powerhouse for economic and scientific growth, encompassing billions of dollars in sales and millions of jobs worldwide. The scale of this industry requires many college graduates with Aerospace Engineering (AE) degrees. However, AE student enrollment is lower than that of other engineering disciplines, and its graduation rate is also low. The motivation for students to discontinue their AE degree is not understood in the current literature. Despite several studies on persistence in STEM, there is scant literature on persistence in AE or on AE students’ reasons for not persisting with their undergraduate degree. To fill this gap in the literature, this study uses a survey of 231 current and former AE students at a Midwestern university in the United States. It finds that the students’ main reason for choosing AE is a passion for aerospace-related vehicles, and they leave AE because of negative interactions with professors and advisors and a perceived career limitation with an AE degree. Further, students with an unclear motivation to enroll in AE are more likely to not persist. To improve the persistence in this field, AE programs can enhance their teaching and advising and showcase the AE field and its job opportunities realistically. By understanding the issues faced by AE students, programs can graduate more qualified AE engineers annually to continue fueling the large aerospace industry.
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Persistence; Retention; Attrition; Aerospace Engineering Education; Motivation; Survey

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