Women and Men Rate MIT Equally SatisfyingBy Laura McGrath Moulton
For the first time, MIT women are as satisfied with their undergraduate experience as MIT men, according to the recently released results of the 1998 Senior Survey. In addition, 78 percent of participating seniors say that they were “generally satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their MIT education.
However, those results were tempered by criticism by seniors of the advising in their majors. Seniors also said that MIT did little to help improve their communication or personal skills.
The 1998 Senior Survey is the second such survey to be conducted by Office of Academic Studies and the Educational Studies Working Group. The first was administered to the class of 1994.
The results of the 1998 survey will be compared with the 1994 results as well as a survey given to the class of 1998 on the freshman experience during the first semester of their sophomore year. About 200 students filled out both class of 1998 surveys.
Alberta Lipson, Associate Dean for Research in the Office of Academic Services, said that the office is planning alumni surveys for the classes of 1994 and 1998 in 1999 and 2003, respectively.
These “longitudinal” surveys will allow MIT to measure trends over time, Lipson said. Few trends are evident so far, however, since the results in 1994 and 1998 were “strikingly similar,” Lipson said.
The main weaknesses revealed by both surveys revolved around personal communications skills, such as writing and self-esteem. Three-quarters of students said that their MIT education improved their awareness of ethical issues not at all or a little, and 62 percent said the same of their writing skills. By contrast, 95 percent of students said that their MIT education had improved their analytical and problem-solving skills.
Lipson said she was concerned that MIT students felt such a lack in “the skills you need throughout your life.”
Kip V. Hodges PhD ’82, dean for undergraduate curriculum, said that he was “struck” by the students’ sense that “their communication skills have not improved markedly at MIT, and... that the MIT curriculum did not nurture their creativity.”He said that “faculty at MIT value both of these characteristics very highly.”
Currently, Hodges said, both the Committee on the Undergraduate Program and the Educational Design Project are using the survey results to revise the communications requirement at MIT.
Advising a major weakness
Another weakness revealed by the survey was departmental advising. Only 30 percent of students were “generally satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the quality of the advising in their majors. More disturbingly, 55 percent said that their departmental adviser did not know their “professional and personal attributes” well enough “to write a good letter of recommendation for graduate school or for an employer.” Thirty percent said the same of their UROP supervisors.
Lipson said that the departments were “concerned about advising, which is a critical issue.” She said that she will be going to each department ask them about how useful the survey has been to them and what areas should be covered in the future.
On the positive side, 80 percent of respondents were generally satisfied or very satisfied with their livinggroup experience, and 79 percent said the same about their major. 69 percent either probably or definitely would recommend MIT to a high school senior like them.
Lipson said that she looks forward to the next Senior Survey, scheduled for 2002, which will reveal how the changes on campus have affected the student body.
In the meantime, Hodges says that the survey delineates a number of important problems which “we can solve through a collaboration between students and faculty.”