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Course VI Chooses 60 Seniors For 5-Year Masters Program

By Eric Richard
Associate News Editor

Of the 106 seniors who applied to the new Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 5-year Masters of Engineering program, approximately 60 were accepted and 20 were placed on the waiting list, said Campbell L. Searle '51, chairman of the EECS committee on graduate admissions.

A vote on final approval for the MEng program will be held at the faculty meeting this December.

Unveiled in April, the program will eventually replace the bachelor's degree as the primary professional degree offered by the EECS department. According to the proposed plan, at the end of the junior year, all students in good academic standing will be automatically accepted into the MEng program.

"This program will represent a major change in the way that the Institute does business," Searle said. "Most of our students will go on to the fifth year."

In mid-September, Searle met with seniors to introduce the program and initiate the application process. He said that these students had to be informed of a decision as soon as possible since their acceptance into the program would determine whether they would have to write a senior thesis or a masters thesis next year.

Searle said that 106 was an unexpectedly large number of applicants -- especially since students were specifically told that the department would offer no financial support for the fifth year.

"This can be taken as nothing other than a very strong endorsement by the students that we are doing something that they feel is worthwhile," said Searle.

Acceptances based on GPA

Searle said that admission decisions were based almost entirely on cumulative grade point average. Students whose GPAs fell below a set cut-off were rejected. Searle said the department wishes to avoid a complicated admissions process.

"I know this sounds terribly grade-oriented," Searle said, "but I guess that is how it will wind up. If students wish to submit extra letters, I feel very strongly that there should be a built-in process by which they can appeal. This keeps the bureaucracy to a minimum, but protects those whose GPAs are not representative of their abilities."

"If you just base it on GPA it's not good," said Ali Alavi '93, who was accepted to the program. "It was based solely on GPA because they had to make decisions quickly, but I think the process will improve next year," he said.

Acceptance letters were mailed out in early October. Students accepted to the program do not have to immediately commit to enter.

Searle said he hopes this year's admissions will allow 25 MIT students to enter the graduate program above and beyond the normal 100 admitted through the EECS Internship Program (VI-A) and the EECS PhD program.

Searle said that by next year the program will hopefully allow an additional 75 students to enter the graduate program and that by the time the program is at full capacity, two years from now, a total of 100 additional spots will be opened up to MIT students.

If the program is approved by the faculty in December, "all juniors will receive a letter in May informing them of the program and inviting approximately 60 percent of them to enter," said Searle. "In the next one and a half years, we will be making the offer to 80 percent of the department's juniors, hoping that about 65 percent of them will actually enter."

Faculty to vote in December

At the December vote, faculty will vote whether to formally approve the creation of the MEng degree. Searle said those involved with the creation of the MEng program will attempt to fully inform the faculty about the program before the vote. "We are spending a lot of time meeting with each of the committees," Searle said.

Searle hopes that making sure everyone has a clear understanding of the proposed program will assure that the vote goes smoothly. He said that while "people are basically in favor of the vote," it is always possible that the vote could be shot down.

While Searle feels that the program as it stands would represent a strong move in the right direction, he also admits that there are long-term problems which have yet to be addressed. Searle explained that some people, including the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, would like to see the program expanded to deal with more real-world difficulties.

"One criticism of the program is that we do not require the students to take subjects in accounting, finance, oral communications, or ethics," Searle said.

Searle admitted that these are valid arguments, but said, "We have worked for five years to come up with the present proposal. We simply have not come up with a solution that we feel is good. Hopefully, we can take this jump first, and through continuing conversations we can come to solutions."