8.0 A Reputation that Pushes the Envelope

8.1 Philosophy

As MIT enters the 21st Century, its reputation will continue to define which students and faculty inhabit the Institute. Just as the world has seen dramatic change over the last 50 years, the probable career paths of MIT graduates have been significantly altered. In earlier epochs, the pursuits of science and technology were largely restricted to industrial and academic settings. In our time, the effects of scientific and technological activities are pervasive and profound, affecting all areas of human activity. The still-incomplete activity of our age is to integrate technical and scientific systems with natural and social ones to satisfy human needs and to increase human potential. Therefore, our graduates should be educated so as to fulfill their social responsibilities and capabilities. This requires an education which prepares them to handle dynamic, complex, integrated problems in all their dimensions. Only an integrated approach, learned through an integrated education, will allow our graduates to function effectively in the coming century.

Embracing the Educational Triad at an Institute-wide level provides a more flexible base for the Institute's reputation. Further, this educational schema will constitute MIT's competitive advantage over other educational institutions in the future. Historically, MIT has designed its educational processes so as to build its reputation almost completely around the research enterprise. MIT has succeeded in producing the highest quality researchers and engineers, yet many of its students lack the necessary skills to be good managers and leaders. This technical focus has created a damaging stereotype of students, and has led many to career trajectories that don't reflect their true potential.

While the accomplishments of MIT's graduates and faculty have been impressive, the potential for greater societal impact and leadership is large. MIT should develop its reputation based on its Educational Triad, increasing the reach of MIT's graduates while maintaining the Institute's classical grounding in the sciences and their application.

8.2 Recommendations

  • Build MIT's reputation around its educational processes in addition to the reputation built by our research enterprise.

  • Leverage the success of alumni/ae toward an active public-relations campaign to expand the image of MIT's capabilities, similar to the Bankboston study of MIT alumni/ae.

  • Market a public-relations effort which is reflective of the broader educational mission of the Institute.

  • Conduct surveys of first-year students (undergraduate and graduate) to identify their reasons for attending MIT. Survey longer-term students to identify MIT's areas of excellence and alumni/ae to evaluate the MIT experience and describe MIT's public image.

  • Feed this information directly into the public relations plan in order to make sure the plan reflects reality.

  • Implement an educational-assessment mechanism in order to justify claims of educational improvements and to benchmark progress.

    8.3 Justification

    More than any other measure, students and faculty rely on reputation as the decision making metric for attending a university. Large numbers of the best students are deciding to not even apply to MIT (much less attend) based on their negative view that an MIT education will limit their career options. This is evidenced by the fact that of the students who scored higher than 750 on the 1997 SAT Math and Verbal sections, respectively, 14.3 percent (2320 of 16244) and 7.5 percent (1138 of 15174) applied to MIT. This view that an MIT education will limit a career is inaccurate, and we believe that it will be decreasingly accurate in the future.

    Increasingly, incoming students are becoming more interested in the type of education that they will be receiving and how effectively it will prepare them for life. Therefore, continuing to offer an education that does not embrace the Educational Triad can be utterly destructive to MIT's reputation and consequently its future success. The belief that MIT's reputation will always derive mainly from its research enterprise is the largest inhibitor to change in its educational processes.

    8.4 Mechanisms

    In order to influence public perceptions of the Institute, one must identify which organizations shape MIT's public-relations position. We have identified five key sources of public-relations information, described as follows:

    President: The president has the opportunity and the obligation to tell the nation and the world about the diversity of our student body and how it affects our educational product. Historically, referring to the great scientific progress at the Institute has been sufficient to build reputation, but MIT's educational program and ideals are worthy of public note. By being a public spokesperson for the policy of putting education first, the president can take a leadership role in the educational process at MIT as well.

    News Office: The News Office now has the opportunity to push forward new types of stories about MIT. Some of this occurs already, but there are many opportunities to tout the accomplishments of MIT people beyond those achieved in the laboratory.

    Admissions: This office has tried to provide an up-to-date view of the Institute. Admissions should continue to improve the currency of its Viewbook and should improve efforts to entice members of the MIT community to become involved in the recruiting process.

    Career Services: This office has access to some statistics about alumni employment patterns, information that should be publicized at least within the MIT community. Information about changing career demographics can help the community understand where society is putting MIT graduates to use, and where students are finding opportunities for leadership.

    Alumni Association: This entity contains much of the information about the accomplishments and status of MIT graduates. The Association has the opportunity to push forward the same kind of information about career paths as Career Services. However, an additional public-relations responsibility lies with the Alumni Association: it is incumbent upon them that they educate the MIT community about the character of the alumni/ae population. This is best accomplished by bringing the alumni/ae back to campus and getting them involved with the community when they are here.