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EECS Sees Decrease In Freshman Majors

By Beckett W. Sterner


The percentage of freshmen declaring electrical engineering and computer science as a major decreased dramatically this year.

Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) declarations dropped by 12 percent of the class, and Course XV (Management) dropped by 4 percent, compared with the class of 2004.

Both courses have seen the number of declared sophomores fall in the last two years, based on a comparison of fifth-week sophomore majors with the data from freshmen this spring.

The percentage of sophomores declaring Course VI has decreased from a relatively constant 34 percent for the classes of 2001 to 2004 to 22.6 percent for the class of 2006, a decrease of more than 100 students. Management reached a peak of 10.8 percent with the class of 2004 and is now 6.8 percent for 2006.

The Course XXII (Nuclear Engineering) seems to have bucked the trend, however, growing from two sophomores from the class of 2004 to 17 freshmen this spring. Department Head Jeffery P. Freidberg said that he was “virtually certain” that the 17 freshmen are the largest class the department has ever had.

The size of all other majors has remained relatively constant, with the variations between this year and last appearing to be consistent with past fluctuations.

The freshman major data are based on the 908 students who turned in their forms by the April 18 deadline. There are 32 students who chose not to declare a major and 39 who have yet to turn in the form, leaving 7.7 percent of the class effectively undecided.

Numbers likely linked to economy

The freshmen data are also subject to freshmen choosing to change majors over the summer.

Jeffrey A. Meldman, associate dean of undergraduate education for course XV, said that “we [usually] see a rise between freshmen declaration and fall of sophomore year.”

“We don’t usually get a good number until first week of fall,” Meldman said. He said that reason for the increase may be that sophomores believe they need to get priority for the course lottery by declaring before fall, but that priority in fact does not play an important role for the normal sophomore classes.

Meldman said that for “the last few years we’ve been slowly growing,” but “we expected to see [a decrease] before now” because of the weak economy.

Course VI Department Head John V. Guttag said that “my guess is that [the decrease in majors] is not so much a trend but a reflection of the economy.”

“The long-term trend is up” for the department, he said, “but with significant cycles that in many ways corresponds to economic cycles.”

Guttag said that a decrease in the number of Course VI undergraduates “will be better for the students and the faculty” because of the increase in the faculty-student ratio, which, for example, may make the normally intense competition for advisors easier this summer.

He said that the number of faculty in the department should not decrease during the cycle. He noted that the department has 12 percent of MIT’s faculty but more than 12 percent of its undergraduates.

“It’s going from way more than our share to more than our share,” Guttag said.

Course XXII increases recruiting

Freidberg said that the nuclear engineering department has been “working a lot harder to recruit” students. “We’ve worked very hard to streamline the curriculum,” he said, bringing all the classes into a “single unified track.”

In addition, he said, there is “a huge shortage of nuclear engineers in the power industry,” leading to a starting salary among the highest of all engineering disciplines.

Freidberg said that in the past many students entering MIT had never heard of nuclear engineering or didn’t know the department included fusion and applied nuclear technologies for medicine and biology.

After the drop to two students for the class of 2004, he said, the department decided to work harder to make personal contacts with current and prospective majors. “There’s nothing like talking to other students to be convincing,” Freidberg said.

EECS stands out with sophomores

Course VI comprises a historically more consistent 29.5 percent of sophomore-standing first year students’ majors.

This is the first year that sophomore-standing students form a sizeable subset of freshmen, with 121 choosing to advance this year compared with only 12 last year. Iria J. Romano, assistant registrar, said that the freshman major data include sophomore-standing students.

The other majors were approximately consistent with the overall distribution in the freshman class, except for the Course VXIII (Department of Mathematics), which took in twice the percentage in the sophomore-standing group than it did overall.