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Seniors Satisfied with Education: Only Half Pleased with Frosh Year

By Jennifer Lane
Staff Reporter

Three-quarters of the seniors that responded to last spring's senior survey were satisfied with their undergraduate education while only 52 percent were satisfied with the freshman academic experience.

The initial results of the senior survey also show that over 80 percent of the respondents were satisfied with their living group experience.

The 10-page long survey, mailed to the seniors last April, was sponsored by the Educational Studies Working Group in conjunction with the Undergraduate Academic Affairs Office, according to Alberta G. Lipson, assistant dean for research in the UAAO. This was the first time that the Institute ever conducted a formal survey of graduating students of this kind.

The survey covered a variety of topics including attitudes toward the student's major, freshman year, living group experience, student activities, and employment, Lipson said.

Questions also covered future plans, pressure, financial aid, and the extent to which students felt their MIT experience improved upon various types of knowledge and abilities.

Four hundred and sixty-one seniors replied for a response rate of 42 percent. "The response rate was very substantial," Lipson said. "MIT students usually don't respond to surveys in great numbers."

Demographically, the survey responses matched fairly well with the make-up of the senior class, Lipson said.

High pace, pressure

According to the survey results, over 90 percent of the respondents rated the pace and pressure of MIT as high. Fifty percent said that the pressure was good for them.

High sources of pressure included trying to maintain a high grade point average and living up to faculty and subject demands. Seventy-one percent of the students responded that their pressure was self-imposed to a great extent. Fewer than 30 percent said peer pressure and competition were a source of pressure.

Within their major, students were most satisfied with academic computing resources, opportunities for doing research, intellectual excitement, and their department's undergraduate academic office.

Students were least satisfied with the quality of advising, personal contact with instructors, availability of tutoring and other help, and opportunities for class discussion.

Students felt that their MIT education improved their problem-solving skills, intellectual curiosity, ability to work in a team, and design skills. Knowledge of social and political issues were the least improved skills.

Dissatisfaction with first year

Only 30 percent of seniors were satisfied with the main aspects of their freshman year, such as the quality of instruction, enjoyment of subjects, intellectual excitement of subjects, and the quality of freshman advising.

Fewer than 20 percent were satisfied with opportunities for class discussion and personal contact with instructors outside the classroom freshman year.

"I cannot take a whole lot of comfort in seniors' recollection of freshman year," said Travis R. Merritt, dean for undergraduate academic affairs.

Both Merritt and Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs, said that the dissatisfaction with freshman year is an issue that needs to be looked at in more detail.

"One suggestion was to have a sophomore survey to focus on dissatisfaction in freshman year," Smith said. Still, it is too early to tell what actions will result from the survey or how or when they will be carried out, Smith said.

"I hope the results of the survey will energize departments and the institution as whole to talk to students a lot more," Smith said. "The real question is: Now we have the data, what are we going to do with it."

"I hope we will get a lot of students and faculty reaction to the survey that will help us know where to go next," Smith said.