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Undergraduate Advising Study Results Show Varying Quality Among Departments

By Eun J. Lee

ASSOCIATE FEATURES EDITOR

The quality of undergraduate academic advising varies enormously in different departments, according to a survey presented by the UA Subcommittee on Advising and Faculty-Student Relations at the Undergraduate Association meeting yesterday.

“There’s no absolute way to quantify the quality of advising, but this is definitely a step in the right direction,” said UA President Peter A. Shulman ’01.

In the survey conducted by the subcommittee, 480 upperclassmen registering for classes in Du Pont Gymnasium on Feb. 5 were anonymously polled on the quality of their academic advising. The newly released report shows the results from six of the eight questions in the survey. It also ranks departments in order from highest to lowest in overall student satisfaction.

The Departments of Nuclear Engineering, Urban Studies and Planning, Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Civil and Environmental Engineering consistently ranked among the top in student satisfaction.

Students in the departments of Economics, Ocean Engineering, and Brain and Cognitive Sciences ranked the quality of their advising significantly below other departments.

“What we were trying to get out of all this was an overall ranking of the departments of where they stand in relation to each other,” said Ekta M. Desai ’03, a member of the subcommittee.

One alarming aspect of the report is that 80 percent of the students polled from MIT’s largest department, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, believe that their advisers do not know them well enough to write a recommendation for them.

“I was disappointed in the results of the survey, since I believe EECS has some of the strongest advisers at MIT,” said Anne M. Hunter, administrator of EECS’s undergraduate and Master of Engineering Programs.

Each academic department separately administers its own advising program.

“We saw this as a very important issue since academic advising has never been looked at across the Institute. This study was a logical first step,” said Jason H. Wasfy ’01, head of the subcommittee.

UA hopes to improve advising

The UA passed legislation at Monday’s meeting to continue the work of the subcommittee.

“The purpose of the legislation is to give a direction to the subcommittee for the next step, which is to work with the departments, the Committee on Undergraduate Program, and the Dean of Undergraduate Education,” Shulman said.

“There were several departments that consistently ranked highly. We need to see what they are doing right and come up with standards for the Institute as a whole to improve advising,” Desai said.

“We still haven’t really decided where to go from here,” Wasfy said. Several possible steps to be taken in the future by the subcommittee include surveying more students, asking broader questions, and working with problematic departments for improvement.

“I hope this will open the debate. I am really glad this is a big priority in the UA, and I hope it is as important in the administration,” Wasfy said.

The subcommittee will release more detailed and extensive data from the survey later in the semester.

Survey methodology questioned

One weakness that Wasfy pointed out in the study was the inclusion of students from the Sloan School of Management, who have a different registration schedule.

“We only got about four percent of the department to respond,” Wasfy said.

“If you look at the questions where we [EECS] did poorly, they were all very narrow and specific. I would have preferred a broader question asking students how well (on a scale) their advisers gave them what students asked them for,” Hunter said.

Several departments such as Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Linguistics and Philosophy, and Humanities programs were not included in the report due to the lack of undergraduate majors.

“It was naturally difficult to conduct the study with the smaller departments,” Wasfy said. “Overall, I think our methodology was pretty strong.”