Computer Science Major Gaining Popularity

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

March 19, 2009

The number of computer science majors has increased significantly for the first time since 2002.

Network World reports that a study released this week by the Computing Research Association found that the number of undergraduates signed up as computer science majors rose 8.1 percent in 2008. Moreover, total enrollment in computer science classes, including majors and pre-majors, was up 6.2 percent.

"We're seeing more jobs in the field, especially at the undergraduate level. Computer science is becoming a more interesting place to be," said Peter Harsha, director of government affairs at CRA, who was quoted in Network World. "When you compare the demand for jobs with the production of computer science undergrads, we're way short. It's clear there's an opportunity here."

"We're seeing amazing increases in enrollment," noted Eric Roberts, a computer scientist at Stanford University, who was quoted in The New York Times. "It's not that people have forgotten about the offshoring of jobs, but our competition isn't what it was. There are fewer places to go, and we don't have Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Citibank to compete with."

USA Today reports that Jeff Hollingsworth, associate chair at the University of Maryland's computer science department, agreed that many students who once considered business and finance majors are now focusing on computing.

Another report released this week by IBM and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion indicated that eight in 10 college students see a growing need for more IT professionals as technology advances. That demand will probably increase, as President Barack Obama's stimulus package is expected to create nearly 1 million new tech jobs.

Harsha noted in Network World that another reason for the growing interest in computer science degrees is due to the allure of popular technologies. "The iPhone and Web 2.0 reinforces the excitement," he said, "and that attracts the best students."

"There's definitely a coolness factor," agreed Prof. Michael Heath, interim head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in an interview with Network World. The school has seen its enrollment rise 15 percent in each of the last two years.

Similarly, Prof. Peter Lee, head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, told Network World that the school received 2,600 applications for 130 openings in the program-an increase of 11 percent from last year.

Not all of the news was optimistic. One area that did not show improvement was with regards to diversity: The CRA study found that the vast majority entering the computer science field are white or Asian, and male.

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