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Computer Science Sees Surge in Undergrads, Researchers Say

For the first time in six years, the number of undergraduates majoring in computer science has increased, according to new research from the Computing Research Association. However, according to the research, diversity in computer science programs "remains poor."

CSA, which represents computer science and engineering departments on American campuses, released the findings in its "2007-2008 CRA Taulbee Survey: Computing Degree and Enrollment Trends" (PDF here). It found a 6.2 percent increase in computer science enrollment in the 2007-2008 academic year (the most recent studied) compared with the previous year. CSA described the increase as a "surge."

"The upward surge of student interest is real and bigger than anyone expected," said Peter Lee, incoming chair of CRA, in a statement released today. "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."

However, the research also found an ongoing disparity in gender and ethnic equity within the major. For the period of the study, women made up just 11.8 of bachelor's degree recipients in computer science and computer engineering. White, non-Hispanic students made up nearly two-thirds (65.8 percent) of all computer science and computer engineering bachelor's degree recipients. Students of Asian descent made up 14.7 percent of degree recipients; black students made up 4 percent; and Latino students made up 6.1 percent of recipients. Non-resident aliens accounted for just 6.2 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science.

The disparity also exists at the master's degree level but is less pronounced. Women received 21.2 percent of master's degrees in computer science in 2007-2008 (down slightly from the previous year's 22.7 percent); whites received 33.7 percent; Asian Americans received 10.7 percent; Latinos received 2.1 percent; and black students received 1.8 percent. Non-resident aliens received 55.8 percent of master's degrees awarded in computer science.

The story was similar at the Ph.D. level, with women receiving 20.6 percent of degrees awarded. In terms of ethnicity, whites received 28.8 percent of Ph.D.s awarded in 2007-2008; Asians received 11.7 percent; blacks received 1.5 percent; and Latinos received 1.4 percent. Non-resident aliens received 55.5 percent of Ph.D.s awarded.

At all levels, American Indians or Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders made up less than 1 percent of degree recipients--less than 0.5 percent at all levels except the undergraduate level.

Further information, including a PDF copy of the complete report, can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the executive producer for 1105 Media's online K-12 and higher education publications and electronic newsletters. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. He can now be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEJournalDave (K-12) or http://twitter.com/CampusTechDave (higher education). You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192.

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