Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering
Angela R. Bielefeldt
Jacquelyn F. Sullivan
To create a more competitive and creative engineering workforce, breakthroughs in how we attract and educate more diverse engineers are mandated. Despite a programmatic focus on increasing the representation of women and minorities in engineering during the last few decades, no single solution has been identified and is probably not realistic. But a systems approach, including changes in policy and practice, should be possible. Thus, a thorough understanding of the current climate of engineering admissions policy and practice is a necessity.
This research focused on evaluating ways current engineering admission practices and policies could be changed to broaden the pathways into engineering college for students from underrepresented backgrounds and for the next-tier of potential students, subsequently expanding the diversity of the engineering student population.
We hypothesized that engineering colleges’ overreliance on standardized test scores in the admissions process denies admissions to diverse students capable of successfully becoming engineers. Using large datasets including more than a million students, engineering admission practices related to these test score values were evaluated.
Diversity in engineering can be expanded, with data-supported confidence in engineering graduation rates, if engineering colleges aggressively admit more next-tier students who boast top high school performance—within the top quartile of high school grade point average of admitted students—yet have much lower standardized test scores (SAT or ACT) than typical at the institution.
Engineering education admissions practices’ overreliance on standardized test scores also led to a hypothesis that the pool of qualified students from backgrounds historically underrepresented in engineering was being limited by test score thresholds. A national and single-state investigation found that, using the current metric of standardized test scores and their associated values used for admission decisions, it is impossible to reach racial and ethnic parity in engineering education. Thus, our evidence suggests that engineering colleges need to take bold admission steps such as becoming test score optional, and alternatively relying much more heavily on students’ four-year high school academic track records.
Changes in admission policies and practices related to engineering colleges’ use of standardized test scores could significantly change who gains access to undergraduate engineering.
Myers, Beth Ann, "Evaluating Admission Practices as Potential Barriers to Creating Equitable Access to Undergraduate Engineering Education" (2016). Civil Engineering Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 27.