The Veenstra Student Retention Model

Why is the average 5-year graduation rate among engineering colleges 50% (ASEE Connections (DataBytes), Feb 2016)?   Many factors affect students' abilities to earn an engineering  degree in 5 years. 

The Veenstra Student Retention Model, derived from the research literature, helps us understand how multivariate the process of student retention is. This model explains freshman engineering retention based on pre-college characteristics.  It can also be applied to freshman STEM college retention.  

A high engineering college graduation rate usually begins with a high level of student engagement in the freshman year, leading to a high first year retention rate.  The freshman (first year) retention rate can be viewed as an upper limit for the graduation rate in 5 years of the entering freshman class.   

The Veenstra model encompasses nine pillars for student retention:  

Pillars for Student Success and Retention

  • High School Academic Achievement
  • Quantitative Skills
  • Study Habits
  • Commitment to Career and Educational Goals
  • Confidence in Quantitative Skills
  • Commitment to Enrolled College
  • Financial Needs
  • Family Support
  • Social Engagement




Key to most entering freshmen graduating in 5 years is a program that encourages student engagement and provides plenty of student support and mentoring. A college must establish a first year culture that is both process-oriented and supports engaged, positive learning experiences for its students. Consistent with the model, the successful college provides student support programs  and a student-centered culture to help students use their strengths to overcome weaknesses and complete their degree.  

More detail on this model is available in the ASEE Advances in Engineering Education article, (Winter 2009) " A Model for Freshman Engineering Retention"  It includes an extensive bibliography.