If you're a graduate engineer with strong feelings about engineering's educational process, then The Princeton Review has a website you should see (www.princetonreview.com). Although purveyors of the website didn't set out to tell us about engineering schools per se, their information is nearly irresistible to those who have opinions about engineering education.
Wading through The Princeton Review's lists and rankings, it's impossible not to notice that engineering schools dominate the bottom of the rankings in the areas that measure quality of life. In a category titled "Least happy students," for example, (http://rbi.ims.ca/4393-501), the New Jersey Institute of Technology is the worst, while Illinois Institute of Technology, Colorado School of Mines, Stevens Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Georgia Tech, and Rochester Institute of Technology round out the bottom 20.
After that, the results get worse. In a category called "Professors get low marks," engineering schools (Stevens Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Georgia Tech, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) make up five of the worst six. The bad news goes on in such categories as "Class discussions rare," "Professors make themselves scarce," "Dorms like dungeons," "Is it food?" and "Campus is tiny, unsightly, or both." (By the way, you'll need to register free of charge to see the survey results.)
Reading the surveys—which are based on input from more than 100,000 college students—you could easily conclude that engineering education is a form of medieval torture.
The question is: Why? What makes engineering schools different from other colleges? Theories abound (engineering schools are behind the times; they're in gritty urban neighborhoods; they have too many male students), the most likely reason may be a simpler one: workload.
"Workload has to be the No.1 thing to consider," says Robert Franek, publisher of The Princeton Review and creator of the surveys. "Maybe engineering students just don't have the time to take advantage of the quality-of-life programming on these campuses."
Nevertheless, if you take a hard look at the lists on the website you'll also notice there's a silver lining in this "quality of life" cloud. Sure, engineering schools aren't on the "Happy students" list, but they're also conspicuously absent from such lists as "Party schools," "Lots of beer," and "Reefer madness" (yes, there's a list for that, too). Most significantly, you won't find an engineering school on a list called "Their students almost never study."
That's probably not surprising to those who graduated with engineering degrees. Engineering students have always been overwhelmed and stressed out. They've always had high attrition rates (between a half and two-thirds of engineering students eventually wash out). And they've always worked harder than their counterparts at liberal arts colleges, who, coincidently, were among the happiest students in the surveys.
So . . . is this meaningful? Is student unhappiness an acceptable by-product of engineering's intense educational experience? Or should engineering colleges do more to ensure a better quality of life for students?
Let me hear your thoughts.
To comment, please reach Chuck Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.