Examining undergraduate engineering students' knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes regarding affirmative action admissions policies: a hierarchical regression analysis

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Affirmative action is an education policy adopted by higher education institutions in the 1960s, where an applicant’s race is taken into account to some degree when being evaluated for admission to a college or university. The practice of affirmative action,

Affirmative action is an education policy adopted by higher education institutions in the 1960s, where an applicant’s race is taken into account to some degree when being evaluated for admission to a college or university. The practice of affirmative action, or race conscious-admissions, has been repeatedly challenged in the legal system and remains a controversial and polarizing topic amongst the general public, campus leaders, and policy makers. Despite a vast amount of research on the effects of affirmative action policies on student and institutional behaviors and outcomes, such as college applications and enrollments, considerably less research has examined students’ attitudes towards race-conscious admissions policies. Even less research has focused on students in academic disciplines, especially STEM or engineering. Likewise, there is a paucity of research that explores students’ perceptions and knowledge of how affirmative action is implemented in practice. To address these gaps, this study investigates undergraduate engineering students’ knowledge of and attitudes towards affirmative action admissions policies in higher education. The Student Attitudes Towards Admissions Policies Survey (SATAPS) was designed to assess students’ knowledge of and attitudes regarding affirmative action practices in higher education admissions. This survey was administered to undergraduate engineering students and a comparison group of education students at 42 colleges/universities in the United States. Data were analyzed utilizing confirmatory factor analysis and hierarchical regression. Results demonstrated that students have low levels of knowledge about affirmative action, and have misconceptions about how the policy functions in practice. There was no difference in engineering and education students’ level of support for affirmative action; however, underrepresented minority students in engineering were more supportive of affirmative action. Results also indicated that students’ beliefs and values were the strongest predictors of attitude towards affirmative action, so much so that this negated the significance of demographic and personal characteristics, which was observed in the majority of previous studies. Results highlight a complicated relationship between demographic characteristics, personal variables, knowledge, institutional context, beliefs/values, and attitude towards affirmative action admissions policies in higher education.