North American CS Enrollment Rises for First Time in Seven Years
by Linda Dailey Paulson
For the first time in seven years, enrollments increased in computer science programs at North American universities in 2008, according to the Computing Research Association's annual Taulbee Survey.
This survey of student enrollment in computer science, computer engineering, and information studies programs at 264 United States and Canadian PhD-granting research universities last fall found that the average number of undergraduates signed up as computer science majors at each responding US school rose 8.1 percent compared to 2007.
During that same time, the overall enrollment in computer science classes rose 6.2 percent.
The study also showed a slowing in the ongoing decrease in the number of graduates of baccalaureate computer-science programs.
Moreover, the survey showed the number of PhDs issued in computer-related fields is continuing to rise, after several years of sharp increases, noted professor Stuart Zweben, associate dean for academic affairs and administration at Ohio State University's College of Engineering and also chair of the CRA Surveys Committee. This frequently happens during difficult economic times, as people try to improve their employment qualifications with more education, he noted.
The survey's results show that IT is becoming a more popular career for today’s young people, who are very interested and literate in computing technologies, he explained.
The enrollment increases are good because, contrary to what some people think, there will continue to be a shortage of qualified computer scientists—with new jobs in fields such as services science and cloud computing—as baby boomers retire, said Jai Menon, vice president of technical strategy and university programs and vice chair of the Academy of Technology at IBM.
Although the development is encouraging, he cautioned, it's too early to call it a trend or a boom.
The upswing parallels the expansion of IT beyond the data center and into noncomputing disciplines, such as municipal services, that make the field more appealing to many students, he said.
Novell spokesperson Ian Bruce said a combination of green computing, open source software, sustainable technology, and the rise of Web 2.0 have made computer-science-related careers more attractive.
Enrollment increases frequently occur when significant new platforms—such as cloud computing in this case—arise, explained Jim Spohrer, director of IBM's Global University Programs.
Professor J. Strother Moore, chair of the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Computer Sciences, said freshman enrollment in his department rose 8.5 percent in 2009, after significant decreases in previous years.
Moore said he is uncertain what prompted the changes but suspects it relates to work within the computer science community to promote careers, as well as the availability of jobs.
Corporations and universities have actively publicized the benefits of a computer science degree, according to Zweben.
For example, he noted, companies such as IBM and Microsoft are working with universities to promote computer science education and careers. In addition, he said, universities have reached out to elementary and high schools.
The Taulbee Survey found the total number of CS majors at Canadian universities dropped 4.4 percent from 2007 to 2008, but the number of new majors rose 10.7 percent.
The CRA has conducted the Taulbee Survey each fall since 1974.
News Briefs written by Linda Dailey Paulson, a freelance technology writer based in Ventura, California. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.