How many credit hours should first semester engineering freshmen take?
The first semester of a freshman engineering program is a difficult transition even for the best-prepared student. During orientation sessions, most freshmen receive guidance on the schedule needed to establish a solid foundation for the engineering curriculum. Due to differing student and advisor backgrounds, schedule recommendations vary widely. This study quantitatively examined the performance of first semester freshman engineers (N=1274) to determine who performed better: students with light loads (12-14 hours), medium loads (15-17 hours) or heavy loads (≥18 hours). Previous research at other large universities indicates that the students who take more hours have the best grade point averages (GPAs). However, these studies did not focus on engineering students, who arguably take a more rigorous series of classes than students in other majors. Also, previous research has not focused on the impact of GPAs and credit hour loads for students with below average SAT scores (i.e. the perceived "weaker" students who might need more time). Using a multiple regression model (SAS), this study showed that the credit hour load was a strong predictor of first semester GPA. This relationship also was true for those perceived "weaker" students with below average SAT scores. Previous research suggests that the student course load is an indicator of perception of ability, motivation, and commitment, and thus those students with more hours will be more dedicated towards successful completion. This study supports this theory.
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