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Don Dodge, formerly of AltaVista, provides some commentary from Daniel Hastings, MIT's Dean of Undergraduate Education.

I'd like to comment on one bullet point:

"Why aren't these professors fired? How is it acceptable that 50% of students drop out? Why are the Deans and Professors of these schools still employed? Some wear it as a badge of honor. Engineering is supposed to be tough and it is expected that students will drop out. However, MIT, Olin College, and other elite engineering schools have dropout rates of less than 2%."

Heh. Professors, especially tenured ones, are not required to pass a given percentage of students. That's not what they are primarily evaluated on. They are there to do research. The higher quality research, the better. That generally involves getting published, and getting their PhD students published, on the way to earning their doctorates. (Publish or perish.) I've even heard professors say they'd like to get out of teaching undergrad classes if they could. One even told a grad student that getting an undergrad TAship was a waste of time.

Another item for the "why engineering is hard" folder.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 8th, 2008 10:24 am (UTC)
I'd also add that most engineering faculty have spent their entire careers in academia and have no idea what engineers working in industry actually do.
Dec. 8th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC)
How is it acceptable that 50% of students drop out?

Acceptable? At many, perhaps most, schools, it is considered desirable. They're deliberately weeding those people out.

The elite schools don't do it (at least not to nearly the same degree) because at those schools, admission to the university in the first place is the weed-out. At schools where it's relatively easy to get in, they want some guarantee that students in the higher-level classes are smart enough and have enough quantitative ability to hack it (since by the time a student gets to that point, they've invested a fair amount already in training that student, and don't want to lose them), so they put them through what is essentially a hazing ritual early on, before the engineering school has significantly invested in them.

The whole thing about the profs not being evaluated on teaching is true, but not at all restricted to engineering. That's a research university vs. liberal arts college issue, not an engineering vs. non-engineering issue.
Dec. 8th, 2008 08:25 pm (UTC)
There are probably more than two basic educational strategies, but the ones I've seen the most are: weeding and educating.

In the first, weeding, you make things as hard as humanly possible, with as little support system as possible in order to force people to either sink or swim. If this is your goal, then a 50% drop out rate is your aim, because then you can say that you are forcing people to be the elite and hype up your educational process as being somehow better because it's harder.

The other is educating. Wherein, drop out is not your goal. Making sure that your students understand the material is your goal. This format tends to involve a /lot/ of resource investment on the part of the professor, since it involves supporting and interactive learning environments where you go out of your way to make sure that your students have the resources they require to earn a passing grade in your class and that they come out the other end of it with a solid understanding of the course material. I think this approach often gets dismissed as grade inflation.

My physics prof brought these points up. She was research faculty at Yale, which is a weeding school, and was adjuncting at my college, which was an educating school. Yale has more prestige, but ultimately, I think I got a better education out of my college's approach. Well, I certainly got the /cheaper/ education. :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )