Printer Friendly

Capturing the big picture: the 2015 Capstone Design Survey.

Although Capstone design courses are common in engineering programs, they vary substantially. In an effort to capture current practices, the first nationwide survey of Capstone courses was conducted in 1994. Another nationwide survey was taken in 2005 to update the data and capture trends over time. The 2015 Capstone design survey marked the continuation of a decennial data collection effort on many pedagogical and logistical aspects of Capstone design. Some highlights of the data are presented below.


A total of 522 respondents, representing 464 distinct departments at 256 institutions, participated in the 2015 survey, all but two of whom had a Capstone design course. Of the respondents, 14 were from agricultural and/or biological engineering programs; this represents one-third of U.S. institutions with ABET-accredited programs in agricultural and/or biological engineering. An additional 12 respondents noted that they involve agricultural and/or biological engineering students in their multidisciplinary Capstone design courses.

Course Information

Capstone design courses can be structured multiple ways, but the most common approach continues to be running the design projects and the class in parallel. The duration of Capstone design courses is increasing; more than half of the 2015 respondents reported a two-semester Capstone course, and some had even longer durations.

Pedagogy and Evaluation

Capstone courses typically cover a wide range of topics. The top five topics selected by respondents to the 2015 survey were written communication, planning/scheduling, oral communication, concept generation/selection, and team building/teamwork. A common debate in Capstone design circles is about "product vs. process"-- in other words, is the outcome more important than the approach used to achieve it? The 2015 survey shows a roughly normal distribution along the product-process spectrum, with the peak located between "balanced" and "slight emphasis on process." For evaluation of student performance, Capstone instructors provide the most input, followed by project coaches, industry liaisons, other students, and other faculty. Final reports, presentation, and product have the largest role in evaluation, but process and design reviews are also important.

Faculty and Students

Capstone faculty commonly have previous industrial experience in engineering design; more than half of the 2015 respondents had six or more years in industry, and many had 25 years or more. Capstone design is considered normal teaching activity for tenure and promotion by nearly all respondents to the 2015 survey, but few faculty members receive teaching credit for their involvement in Capstone; fewer than 10% of respondents provide Capstone-related teaching credit to all their departmental faculty. Meanwhile, student enrollment in Capstone design (like engineering enrollment in general) has increased from 2005 to 2015. The average Capstone enrollment in 2015 was 51, with some respondents noting upwards of 200 students per Capstone course cycle.

Projects and Teams

Capstone design projects are sourced from many places, most commonly industry, followed by faculty research. The prevalence of entrepreneurial and service learning projects has increased since 2005 as well. In keeping with rising enrollments, the number of projects per course cycle has increased in the past ten years; 25% of respondents in 2015 had more than 15 projects concurrently. Team sizes of three to five students remain most common.

Expenses and Funding

Typical expenses in Capstone courses include project supplies, hardware, and software, among others. While the range of expenses varies significantly by institution, discipline, and especially project, most Capstone courses have relatively low breakeven costs. Of the 325 respondents in 2015 who provided breakeven cost data, 300 were under $5000, 200 were under $1000, and 50 had no costs at all. The institution and external sponsors are the primary source for project funding. Students are less likely to fund Capstone projects now than they were in 1994 or 2005.


Sponsor funding spans as broad a range as project expenses, but 75% of programs that responded in 2015 receive less than $5000 per project from sponsors, and 50% receive less than $2000 per project, typically as gifts, grants, or reimbursement for expenses. The majority of sponsors are still located within 20 miles of the institution, but there has been an increase in international sponsorship since 2005.

Further Reading

These 2015 Capstone design survey data were highlighted in the keynote presentation at the 2016 Capstone Design Conference. Slides from that presentation as well as papers from the Capstone design surveys are available at the Capstone Design Hub ( and the Capstone Design Conference website ( Readers are encouraged to see how their Capstone programs compare with other programs around the country. These surveys are an important step in understanding, assessing, and ultimately improving engineering Capstone design education.

Stay tuned for the next decennial survey in 2025!

Susannah Howe, Senior Lecturer of Engineering and Director of the Design Clinic, Smith College, Northampton, Mass.,
COPYRIGHT 2016 American Society of Agricultural Engineers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:last word
Author:Howe, Susannah
Publication:Resource: Engineering & Technology for a Sustainable World
Date:Sep 1, 2016
Previous Article:Focus on the foundation: setting fundraising priorities.
Next Article:Stewardship on the frontlines.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters