Every fall, RPI comes alive with prospective students and future potential at open houses and other events. The Institute tries hard to make these potential tuition-paying students feel that this campus is the one for them. We at The Poly remember our days of campus visits; student tour guides promoting the small class sizes and brand-new buildings such as the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. But how many of these facts have matched the average student experience?
We still see a disconnect between how RPI projects itself to the outside world and what it is really like for those who attend this school. Constant attempts have been made to improve appearances through initiatives such as the Clustered Learning, Advocacy, and Support for Students initiative; by building large and advanced buildings such as the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, EMPAC, and the East Campus Athletic Village; and publicizing the new deans to make the Institute seem like a fantastic place for higher learning. But how many of these facilities are accessible by the average student? How many students appreciate the implementation of CLASS instead of longing for the days when they could live where they wanted or could use housing scholarships for meal plans? And how many deans have come and gone recently?
For the past few years, it seems the RPI administration has been following their own path without much regard to the students. Instead of updating important buildings such as Sage Labs or Ricketts so they are more student-friendly and conducive to learning, new buildings promoting research were built; ones that are so highly specialized that only a fraction of the student population ever uses them.
Yes, we do need to attract bright students, groundbreaking research, and amazing faculty if we want to continue being a great institute, and we recognize that RPI has gone through significant and important changes these past few years. Raising the money it took to build these structures or to implement these programs was no small matter, and Biotech and EMPAC have definitely put RPI on the map. However, there needs to be a balance between raising RPI’s long-term prestige and making this a decent school to attend. We get it: One of the school’s main sources of income is through research grants, and you can’t conduct innovative new research in outdated buildings. However, we would like to know: If these initiatives were implemented to make the school more significant to the outside world, then why are our national rankings decreasing?
We wish we had been frankly told about how large our class sizes would be—especially if you are an engineering student—and how EMPAC would never be a place to just hang out for the average student. Every year, we see more disillusioned students conclude that the administration disregards their opinions once they’ve paid their tuition, because of the disconnect between their experiences at RPI and the publicity-friendly “Rensselaer” they saw on tour.
The Poly feels that it is important to show prospective students what RPI actually is like now, as opposed to solely showing what the Institute’s future could eventually be. It is important to advertise our school and highlight our accomplishments, but it is equally important to foster a positive environment for students and learning on campus. And having a fully-functional campus won’t look bad to prospective students, either.