While some academic programs at Tech moved up into the top of the lists, the Institute’s overall rankings did not change from last year, posing some questions about what should and should not be changed in the future to make Tech a better place for students and ranking systems alike.
One feature in which Tech performs poorly is our student-faculty ratio. Effective teaching and open communication can be lost to the open expanse of Tech’s large lecture halls. Efforts to attract top researchers and maintain a high proportion of faculty with terminal degrees may end up hurting students who do not receive enough attention from their professors. In such cases, hiring instructors who are better equipped to teach lower level courses may be more beneficial to students’ education than a simple percentage number.
By the same token, the Institute’s retention rates are significantly lower than other similarly ranked institutions. The rigorous reputation of our curriculum should be maintained, and admissions should be selective enough to ensure that incoming students are well prepared to take on the challenges of a Tech education. Adequate support services should also be made available to students at all levels. The success of Freshman Experience offers a helpful model for second-year students, whose retention rates have dipped in recent years and continue to be the lowest. At the same time, some of the retention issues in the second year may be caused by overcompensation during the freshman year, such as in the prevalence of grade substitution policies.
On the other hand, our low four-year graduation rates are not a good indicator of the quality of our programs. Tech has the largest voluntary co-op program in the country, and as many of our students take advantage of this and other opportunities to gain industry experience, the numbers do not reflect the reality of our student experience. Another reason for Tech’s low graduation rates stems from a failure of students to identify with a given class, such as sophomore or senior, leading many students to graduate during the summer and fall terms. Of course, greater credit hour requirements and failed classes are also factors, but this is where the quality of teaching plays an important role.
Rankings are a definite indicator of the quality of a school, but they do not offer the final word. Many schools at Tech that did not appear in the rankings still offer high-quality programs, while some that made it into the top slots may partly be benefiting from the fact that relatively few universities offer that major. Ultimately, cultivating a strong, lasting reputation outranks any percentages or numbers.