Academic Pathways Study (APS)

More Information

Enabling Engineering Student Success >>

CAEE Final Report, Section 2.0 contains detailed APS findings

Final Report section 2.10 >>

Summary of APS findings about students

An Overview of the Academic Pathways Study: Research Processes and Procedures >>

Details about design and implementation of the APS, including surveys and interview protocols

APPLE Survey Technical Report >>

Findings from the Broader National Sample survey

APPLE Survey website >>

Information for participants in the APPLE Survey

The Academic Pathways Study created a revealing portrait of the learning experience of today's engineering undergraduates through a series of studies relying on both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Descriptions in the students' own words increase the impact of the results.

The APS consisted of longitudinal and cross-sectional studies of engineering undergraduates’ learning experiences and the transition to work. Research methods and data sources included surveys, structured interviews, semi-structured interviews and observations, an engineering design task, small focus groups, academic transcripts, and exit interviews.

More than 5,500 students, faculty, and early career engineers participated in the different parts of APS. The research team included over 130 faculty, research scientists, graduate and undergraduate research assistants, and staff representing twelve universities and six national organizations.

Research Questions

  • Skills: How do students’ engineering skills and knowledge develop and/or change over time?
  • Identity: How does one’s identity as an engineer evolve? More specifically, how does student appreciation, confidence, and commitment for engineering change during the undergraduate educational experience? How do these changes impact student decisions about pursuing engineering after graduation?
  • Education: What elements of students’ engineering educations contribute to changes observed in their skills and identity? What do students find difficult and how do they deal with the difficulties they face?
  • Workplace: What skills do early career engineers need as they enter the workplace? Where did they obtain these skills?

Study Samples and Methods

Longitudinal Cohort

An exploration of the learning experience of 160 engineering undergraduates on four campuses over four years using quantitative and qualitative methods that included the Persistence in Engineering (PIE) survey, structured interviews, ethnographic interviews and observations, and engineering design tasks. (2003-2009)

Broader Core Sample

A cross-sectional study of over 800 engineering undergraduates at the four Longitudinal Cohort campuses that used a shorter version of the PIE survey, the Academic Pathways of People Learning Engineering Survey (APPLES). The Broader Core Sample served as a pilot for the Broader National Sample. (2006-2008)

Broader National Sample (the "APPLE Survey")

A cross-sectional study of over 4,200 engineering undergraduates at 21 campuses across the U.S. that used the Academic Pathways of People Learning Engineering Survey (APPLES). Participating campuses were selected to ensure a broad range of size, mission, demographic makeup, and geographic location. Results specific to the Broader National Sample are presented in more detail in the APPLE Survey Technical Report. (2007-2009)

Single-school Cross-sectional Sample

A two-phased study of undergraduate engineering students on a single campus. A fall semester survey targeted 160 students, approximately 40 in each of the freshman through senior classes. A second survey administration in the spring added transfer students and was supplemented by smaller-scale focus groups. (2005-2006)

Difficult Concepts Study

An investigation of engineering learning that focused on concepts that engineering students often have trouble with, e.g., force and voltage. Nineteen engineering seniors on one campus participated in hour-long interviews that probed their knowledge of the concepts relevant to their major. The interview questions were developed using a Delphi process that involved 23 faculty on several campuses. (2004-2006)

Transition to the Workplace Studies

A set of independent, cross-sectional studies, using interviews and observations, of 101 early career engineers and 15 of their managers who were employed by both private companies and public agencies. (2006-2009)