Working Group Says: Relocate Drop Date, Cut Athena Clusters

The Education Working Group of the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force released its final report on December 16. Its cost-cutting recommendations include modifications to Add and Drop Date, an increase to the number of undergraduates, and the elimination of Athena computers.

Recommendations made by the committee were separated into two categories: “higher impact” and “lower impact.”

Higher impact recommendations

The recommendation likely to save the most for MIT, reducing costs by a projected $30 million, is the recommendation to address inconsistencies in expected standard teaching loads and teaching assistant workloads across Schools, along with optimizing cross-School teaching, small classes, and time spent by teaching assistants creating new problem sets.

Included in this recommendation is a proposal for an increase in the Institute student-to-teacher ratio from 4.6 to 7 by decreasing “the number of people who help the faculty teach” or “replacing people with educational technology” such as OpenCourseWare. The report notes that these proposals must not sacrifice one of the educational principles defined by the working working group that calls for “constant and widespread faculty/student interaction.”

The Education Working Group also looked at MIT’s summer sessions and Add and Drop dates as possible sources of savings and revenue. Firstly, the report proposes a 10-week summer teaching program during which 12-unit “foundational” classes would be offered primarily to students outside of MIT. With a class tuition of $2,750, this proposal would bring in approximately $5.5 million per summer, assuming the two-hour courses would occur twice a week and 30 students would enroll in each course.

Secondly, the working group proposed a change in Add and Drop dates, either by moving them earlier in the term or moving the Drop date to the same day as Add date in the fifth week of the term. This way, approximately $1.3 million could be saved by a decreased waste in educational resources, such as staff members and space that are allocated based on initial enrollment.

A short-term plan to generate $4 million in revenue each year is to increase the number of undergraduates by 10 percent. The Education report looks closely at this recommendation’s impact on both large and small classes. To avoid overcrowding the most popular lecture courses, which can reach an enrollment of more than 200 students, the working group considered increasing the number of transfer students who have already received credit in these introductory courses.

Additionally, international students tend to place out of General Institute Requirements, and so an increase in the amount of these students, like transfers, would be “less likely to burden the science/math GIRs.”

The report also studied the effects on crowding within the dorms that the recommendation will inevitably bring. The Education Working Group offered a variety of solutions, from the “viable” solutions, such as placing undergraduates in graduate housing, increasing the number of undergraduates living in Fraternities and Independent Living Groups, to the “very unrealistic” options, including renting space in a nearby hotel and establishing temporary dorms in a location like Briggs Field.

Lower impact recommendations

Several lower impact recommendations from the Education Working Group would affect Athena clusters, special student admissions, and Freshman Alternative Programs.

According to the Education working group report, 95 percent of students at MIT have laptops, yet hardware for the Athena computers costs close to $900,000 and software licenses come in at $400,000. The Education Working Group proposed the elimination of all Athena computers or, as an alternative, a limit on printing either by implementing fees or providing utility programs. Aside from cutting back on the annual $300,000 cost of Athena printing, the Education Working Group found that this recommendation would reduce “obvious waste” and thus promote the “perception of being ‘green.’”

An additional lower impact recommendation calls for an increase in “the number of special students admitted to the Institute on a term-by-term basis.” This involves offering seats, without credit, in undergraduate classes to special students for $5,335 per seat and doubling the current number of special students from 150 to 300, but the Education Working Group notes that this recommendation could affect the classroom experience both positively and negatively. This recommendation is estimated to create $1.6 million in revenue per year.

Potential savings also lie in Freshman Alternative Programs. According to the report, 15–20 percent of freshmen participate in one of three programs: Experimental Study Group (ESG), Terrascope, and Concourse. In FY2010, the total budget for these programs will drop from $1.5 million to $1.4 million. These cuts would come from an approximate 50 percent reduction in the number of science instructors within ESG and Concourse, saving $240,000, and the possible elimination of Terrascope, saving $290,000. Terrascope could be integrated into the Earth and Planetary Science or Civil and Environmental Engineering departments or other freshman programs.

According to Nicole K. Bucala ’11, the undergraduate representative in the Education Working Group, it is difficult to compare these recommendations since “they will impact different people in different ways. Similarly, the financial savings will be felt differently by different people and at different times.”

Organization of the Education Working Group

The Education Working Group consisted of 25 members, including one undergraduate and one graduate student, and 2 co-chairs: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department Head W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 and Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel Hastings PhD ’80. The working group was split into four subgroups: Faculty and Academic Structure, Undergraduate Education, Graduate and Professional Education, and Pipeline and Co-Curricular issues.

According to Hastings, meetings for the entire working group and individual subgroups alternated each week.

Hastings said that, after the Preliminary Task Force Report was released in August, the working group “read all the feedback and reflected on whether we wanted to change what we said. Between the release of the Preliminary and Final Report, Dean Hastings said there was “no substantive change to the recommendations.”