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Motivations of Low-Income Engineering Transfer Students Influencing Choice and Pursuit of Baccalaureate Degree Attainment


The transfer pathway in engineering disciplines, especially for low-income students, is often seen as an opportunity to expand the science and engineering workforce, particularly when transferring from a two-year community college to a four-year institution. This study focused on low-income engineering transfer students’ motivational factors that led them to choose and continue to pursue an engineering baccalaureate degree.

This studied used Eccles's (1983) expectancy-value theory of motivation as the guiding theoretical framework to show the relationship between competence and value beliefs as the motivated actions towards earning an engineering degree. This theory relates competence to, “Can I earn an engineering degree?” and task value beliefs to, “Do I want to earn an engineering degree?” Twenty students (12 first-year and 8 second-year low-income engineering transfer students) were interviewed about their experiences in engineering for this study. Additionally, these twenty students completed a survey collecting data on their demographics, recognition, social belongingness, performance, and value beliefs. Results showed that students mainly chose to pursue a baccalaureate degree in engineering due to the financial reward, family influences, faculty support, and early interest. Furthermore, students’ motivation to continue to pursue an engineering degree was attributed to prestige, engineering experiences acquired, financial and academic support, faculty, and peer support, and gain of engineering knowledge throughout their academic journey.

Limitations of the study were: a) a set of small samples of data was analyzed, and b) examination of students belonging to a specific cohort. This cohort was provided with financial and academic support to navigate through their studies. Future studies regarding low-income engineering transfer students could consist of various topics. For example, a longitudinal research study is required to track students’ motivation and how that motivation transitions over time. Also, a study that compares two-year community college students transferring to a four-year institution who received financial support by applying for it versus students that were provided with a full financial tuition package. Furthermore, a research study about low-income engineering transfer students who do not belong to a cohort and are not receiving financial support are topics that can be further researched. Overall, this study intended to further explore low-income engineering transfer student’s experiences, in terms of motivation, which led them to choose and continue to pursue engineering.

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