Friday, September 23, 2011

Top engineering schools ranking

US News and World Report recently released its annual ranking of the best colleges and universities across the United States. The usual suspects topped the national ranking: Harvard and Princeton tied for first with Yale following. Among the top schools making up the national ranking, two that are STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-focused made appearances: California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

These two STEM schools also ranked among the top engineering schools in the country where a doctorate is the highest degree. Their reputations shine so their placement on the ranking is little surprise. Both are excellent schools that are well known, as were all the schools on the ranking (see below). Their names ring bells not only with engineers but with teachers, doctors, admins, sales guys — just about anyone.

Reputation does help attract some of the brightest in the country as professors and students, but how much does a name weigh in on a budding engineer’s decision to go to, say, a Berkeley?

And should it given that when it comes to actual education one could get a fine education at a smaller, lesser known school? As EDN moves ahead on the Mentor Meet-up networking event scheduled for ESC Boston next week, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering some smart but smaller schools that fly lower on the radar than nearby MIT. For example, Franklin W Olin College of Engineering, ranked among the top engineering schools where doctorates are not offered, has about 350 students enrolled at its campus in Needham, Mass, according to US News.

Smaller schools with smaller class sizes may also offer more access to hands-on learning than a larger university simply based on lab class size, ie less kids working on a project means each kid does a little more. With the US News report survey based solely on the peer judgments of deans and senior faculty who rated each program they are familiar with, one has to wonder how much direct emphasis was put on the “doing” part of an engineering education.

This isn’t to say that MIT, Caltech, and the other larger schools noted by US News don’t make the effort for hands-on learning and that such learning isn’t boosted with the resources their budgets can offer. MIT certainly wouldn’t be able to do things like work on a new MEMS device that generates energy from small vibrations without putting its students in hands-on-learning type situations. And to be true, beyond the excellent educations that these schools have justifiable reputations for, having an MIT listed in your LinkedIn’s education section sure doesn’t hurt your employment opportunities.

What do you think? If you were entering college now or advising a next-generation engineer entering college, how would you weigh reputation and hands-on opportunities? With prices high all around, where do kids these days get the most bang for their tuition bucks? Knowing what you know from building your careers, if you could do college over again would you go to a larger school or smaller school? Share your opinions below.

Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs (where doctorate is highest degree)

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2. Stanford University

3. University of California–Berkeley

4. California Institute of Technology

5. Georgia Institute of Technology

6. University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign

6. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor

8. Carnegie Mellon University

9. Cornell University

9. Purdue University–West Lafayette

Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs (where doctorate not offered)

1. Harvey Mudd College

1. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

3. United States Military Academy

4. Cooper Union

5. California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo

5. United States Air Force Academy

5. United States Naval Academy

8. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

9. Bucknell University

10. Villanova University

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