Comp Sci Enrollments Up: Blip or Trend?


A story in the New York Times this morning says that major and pre-major enrollments in computer science programs in the US increased 6.2% in the fall of 2008 over that in 2007.

The Times story cites the Taulbee Survey, an annual survey conducted by the Computing Research Association that, according to its website, provides information on the "enrollment, production, and employment of Ph.D.s in computer science and computer engineering (CS & CE) and in providing salary and demographic data for faculty in CS & CE in North America."

The CRA press release says that (quoting here):

* Total enrollment by majors and pre-majors in computer science is up 6.2 percent per department over last year. If only majors are considered, the increase is 8.1 percent. This is the first time total enrollment increased in six years.

* The average number of new students per department majoring in computer science is up 9.5 percent over last year. Computer science departments are replenishing the freshman and sophomore ranks with larger groups than they are graduating as seniors. Computer science graduation rates should increase in two to four years as these new students graduate.

* Bachelor's degree graduation production in computer science was down 10 percent this year, compared to a nearly 20 percent decline last year. This is the smallest graduating computer science class in ten years.

* Total Ph.D. graduation production among responding departments grew to 1,877. This represents a 5.7 percent increase over last year.

The press release points out that according to the US Department of Labor, computer science graduates on average earn 13 percent more than the average college graduate; and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, future job prospects for computer science graduates are higher than for any other science or engineering field.

CRA chair Daniel Reed says that he believes that, "The fact that computer science graduates usually find themselves in high-paying jobs accounts for part of the reversal. Increasingly students also are attracted to the intellectual depth and societal benefits of computing technology."

I am not so sure that intellectual depth and creating societal benefits are very large motivators. I think what Eric Roberts, a computer science professor at Stanford University said in the Time article is closer to reality:

"Weâ''re seeing amazing increases in enrollment... Itâ''s not that people have forgotten about the offshoring of jobs, but our competition isnâ''t what it was. There are fewer places to go, and we donâ''t have Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns and Citibank to compete with.â''


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Robert Charette
Spotsylvania, Va.
Willie D. Jones
New York City