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An Appropriate Designation:M.Eng. Students Deserve Their Status as Graduate Students

Venkatesh Satish

Recently, there has been discussion in The Tech's pages about the Master of Engineering degree and its implications for student life at the Institute. In particular, Brett Altschul '99 commented in a column ["Mastering an Undergrad Program"] that MEng students should not be classified as graduate students and suggested that undergraduates deciding to pursue the MEng degree be housed off campus.

Altschul argued that the structure of the MEng degree shows that it is only an extension of an undergraduate program and that it is not a valid graduate degree. He cited the fact that many MEng students attain their degrees simultaneously to illustrate his point further. He also claims that providing housing for these students places an unnecessary burden on the graduate housing system and deprives "real graduate students" of campus housing.

This point of view, which is shared by a growing number of students, concerns me because it ignores some key facts and is based, to a degree, on unsubstantiated generalizations. As a senior in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, I have learned a great deal about this department's MEng program from informational sessions and the various personal situations of my peers.

While it is true the MEng degree is not a garden variety graduate degree, it certainly is a graduate experience in that it requires students to take advanced courses and write a thesis. The initial philosophy behind the program was that it would integrate the undergraduate and graduate curricula, give students more flexibility in choosing courses, and allow for greater efficiency in the use of department resources.

Unfortunately, the Institute's policies prevent many Course VI students from earning their bachelor's degree on time without sacrificing the efficiency gain. For example, earning the bachelor's would force some students to meet all of their graduate requirements after earning the undergraduate degree. This explains the large number of students who choose to earn the bachelor's and master's degrees simultaneously.

In addition, forcing students out of campus housing after four years may seem equitable from a certain perspective, but there are a host of other issues that need to be considered. For example, many MEng students pay tuition, and the cost of renting an apartment may prove to be an excessive financial burden. Most other graduate students have assistantships that cover tuition and offer funds to cover costs of living. The EECS department notes that MEng students are often at a disadvantage when it comes to securing an assistantship. Considering this burden, it does seem more equitable to allow MEng students to make use of campus housing.

There is another reason to allow MEng students to use graduate housing. The MEng degree, at least in Course VI, allows students to finish their requirements earlier than students working towards a Masters of Science degree. The minor burden that MEng students place on the graduate housing system is offset by the fact that MIT will spend less on their educational expenses for an identical benefit to the student. It also seems foolhardy to deny housing to the graduate students who will use it for the least amount of time.

Also, pushing MEng students out of Institute housing would alienate them significantly. An MIT senior has spent almost four years of his or her life contributing to the community and footing the Institute's bill through major tuition payments. Kicking these students out of the dormitory system would leave them with a bitter taste in their mouths, and this may have a strong, negative impact on those individuals' donations as alumni.

Providing MEng students campus housing is the only sensible thing to do. Not only does this benefit support the efficiency and validity of the MEng degree, but it also helps many students cope with the financial burden of paying tuition. Denying students the privilege of graduate housing would only serve to worsen student satisfaction and would cause significant harm to the Institute.