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Survey Reveals Student Satisfaction, But Many Results Differ By Gender

By Jennifer Lane
News Editor

A report analyzing the results of the 1994 Senior Survey shows that MIT has a senior satisfaction rate comparable to the rate at other research universities.

The report, conducted by the Educational Studies Working Group, was released last month. The ESWG had previously released only mini-reports composed of portions of the data to various departments and other groups around the Institute.

It is now "easier to see the whole thing together," said ESWG Director Norma McGavern, director of UROP. "We're showing people what is so that they can plan what should be."

The survey showed that 73 percent of seniors were satisfied with their overall undergraduate education.

This puts overall perception in line with other schools. The Consortium on the Financing of Higher Education conducts a senior survey in 27 schools periodically. Data from four of these schools which are distinguished research universities and have large science and engineering programs was compared with the results of the MIT survey.

In the COFHE survey, there was a 74 percent overall undergraduate satisfaction rate.

Results vary according to gender

One of the results of the senior survey that has incited discussion is the gender disparity in several of the statistics, said ESWG Director Alberta G. Lipson.

Women were less satisfied with their overall experience at MIT and many aspects of their freshmen year. They were also more likely to see the academic pressure at the Institute as detrimental.

Women were less likely to see improvement in their academic self-confidence, self-esteem, and creativity. The differences are still apparent when compared with the COFHE data.

Although the COFHE data was taken from science and engineering majors, it was not restricted to only science and engineering schools, so it is possible that the gender discrepancy reflects a difference in women's attitudes in the environments of the different communities.

Another hypothesis for the disparity is that women have traditionally been uncomfortable with the environment at MIT because they represent a minority, Lipson said. But as the numbers of women at MIT increase, the statistics may begin to change.

"This is certainly on the agenda of the new Dean's Office. To look at data and ask ourselves, OK,we changed our admissions policy. How does the experience of women's students look now?'," said Dean for Undergraduate Education Rosalind H. Williams.

Indeed, a 1995 survey asking sophomores to evaluate their freshman year experience no longer showed as many gender differences. Women appeared equally satisfied with their freshmen year. However, gender differences in self-esteem persisted, Lipson said.

While 88 percent of seniors considered self-esteem to be very valuable, only 35 percent said their self-esteem had improved during their undergraduate career.

Forty-two percent of men said their self-esteem had improved, versus 23 percent of women.

"There are elements of the MIT culture that very deliberately undermine self-esteem," Williams said..

GPAcolors students' experience

Another finding was the correlation between students' GPAs and their attitudes about themselves and their college experiences.

Eighty-four percent of those with GPAs ranging from 4.57 to 5.0 were satisfied with their undergraduate years, compared with 53 percent of seniors with GPAs lower than 3.88.

Students with high grades were also more satisfied with their major and had more self-esteem and academic self-confidence.

"I was absolutely amazed about how the GPA is like a lens that students look through," Lipson said.

Participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program was also strongly linked to several perceptions.

Eighty-six percent of seniors reported having participated in UROP, making its popularity as an activity second only to living group activities.

Seventy-nine percent of seniors who participated to a large extent in UROP were satisfied with their undergraduate experience, versus 52 percent of those who did not participate in UROP.

UROP students were also more likely to go to graduate school.

Further surveys, like a survey planned for alumni in 1999, will bear out the long-term effects of UROPand "help to determine which is the chicken and which the egg,"McGavern said.

Students satisfied with housing

Despite the rush to choose housing during a hectic Residence and Orientation Week, over 82 percent of seniors were very satisfied or generally satisfied with their living groups.

Ninety-three percent of seniors in living in independent living groups were content with their living groups, versus 80 percent of those in dormitories and 72 percent of those living off campus.

The discrepancy may be the result of ILGs' strong community-building events and structure, Lipson said.

Fifty-one percent of seniors planned to go on to further degrees, and 23 percent had found employment.

This just shows that "MIT students have very bright futures ahead," said Undergraduate Association President Richard Y. Lee '97.

The ESWG hopes that the release of this report will generate more discussion, both formal and informal, among members of the MIT community, Lipson said.

The UA would also like to see this data spur discussion among students, perhaps in e-mail lists, Lee said. Lee hopes to provide copies of the guide for UACouncil members or other students to review.

Another senior survey is planned for 1998, which will be taken by the same class of students that responded to the 1995 sophomore survey.

This survey will be able to reflect how MIT is changing. Many of the same questions will be asked, but others may be added if members of the ESWG request them to be, Lipson said.

There is, however, a motivation to keep the survey short in order to encourage a high response rate, she said.

The response rate of 42 percent for the survey is in the middle of rates for other schools and their response rates for surveys, Lipson said. In order to get a higher rate, the survey would have to become "a regular part of what students do when they graduate,"Lipson said.