Surveys can be inaccurate, of course. But when they reach similar conclusions year after year, it's probably safe to assume there's more than a hint of truth to them.
Recently, as it has for the past 15 years, The Princeton Review published the results of its college student survey, and once again, engineering schools fared poorly, especially with regard to quality of life issues.
We wrote about this subject a year ago (Engineering Education's Unhappiness Quotient), and the similarities between this year's results and last year's are stunning. For example, in a category called “least happy students,” the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology, Stevens Institute of Technology and Case Western Reserve were among the worst 20. If you add government academies — such as the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and U.S Air Force Academy (all of which have high engineering populations), you could say that engineering had seven of the worst 20, including the worst three. Last year, the number in the “least happy students” category was also seven. In another key area — “professors get low marks” — engineering schools again dominated the rankings, with five of the worst 10, just like last year. (To see more of the lists, visit the Princeton Review, or check out The Princeton Review's book, Best 361 Colleges.)
It's ironic this situation persists, especially considering the efforts made by engineering organizations and universities to spark interest among American kids. Some in the engineering community have even used the word “crisis” to describe the future of engineering education in this country (see our 2005 story, “America's High-Tech Quandary”)
Those concerned about a crisis, however, might do well to consider The Princeton Review's findings, especially since they are a reflection of the opinions of more than 100,000 college students. In particular, they might want to listen to Robert Franek, publisher of Best 361 Colleges.
“Many students are now looking at liberal arts schools because they are bombarded by the campus extras, from great athletic facilities to connectivity in the residence halls to outstanding food on campus,” Franek says. “Those kinds of things are significant because they do impact the quality of a student's life.”
In its surveys, The Princeton Review defined quality of life in terms of living facilities, dorm food and campus attractiveness. Too often, Franek says, engineering schools came up short in those areas. In a category titled, “campus is tiny, unsightly, or both,” for example, engineering schools comprised four of the worst seven. In another category called, “dorms like dungeons,” engineering schools were again among the worst.
There's little doubt that engineering students have heavier workloads than their liberal arts counterparts, and that the pressure-cooker environment wreaks havoc with their happiness. But if The Princeton Review surveys are an accurate indication, maybe lighter workloads aren't the issue. If engineering schools hire teachers who are good communicators (i.e., speak recognizable English) and pay more attention to quality of life issues, they might go a long way toward addressing that “crisis.”
After all, it's supposed to be an education, not a fraternity hazing.