STEM

Computer Science Major Counts Up Second Year in a Row

More students are majoring in computer science for the second year in a row, increases that counter the steep decline the field saw during the latter half of the last decade. According to the Computing Research Association, enrollment is up 5.5 percent over the previous year. However, the association also reported that fewer computer science Ph.D.s (7 percent ) have been issued in the last year.

The association reported these trends as part of the 2008-2009 CRA Taulbee Survey, which annually documents trends in student enrollment, degree production, employment of graduates, and faculty salaries in Ph.D.-granting departments of computer science, computer engineering, and IT in the United States and Canada.

"This upward surge proves that computer science is cool again," said Eric Grimson, chair of the association. "Computers, smartphones, and online social networks are a daily part of young people's lives. It should come as no surprise that today's students want to learn more about computing."

Data was collected in fall 2009 from the computer departments of 185 Ph.D.-granting universities. Specific findings include:

  1. Total enrollment by majors in computer science is up 5.5 percent over last year. Computer science enrollment increased 14 percent cumulatively over the previous two years, reversing a decline that started in 2002.
  2. The number of new students majoring in computer science in the fall of 2009 increased by 8.5 percent over last year. Computer science graduation rates should increase in two to four years as these new students graduate. However, bachelor degree graduations currently continue to decline, a result, the report stated, of decreased enrollments in previous years.
  3. Women made up 11 percent of bachelor's graduates in computer science, and minority students 10 percent.
  4. Total Ph.D. degree production decreased by 6.9 percent from last year to 1,747 degrees. This is the first decline in seven years, suggesting last year's total represented a recent peak in Ph.D. degree production. Fully 99 percent of recent Ph.D. graduates surveyed are employed in academic or industry computing jobs.

Job prospects for graduates in computer fields look promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer science graduates earn higher than average salaries; employment growth in computer science is expected to be much "faster than average"; and job prospects should be "excellent." The BLS also projected that computing occupations are likely to grow by 22 percent between now and 2018, the fastest-growing cluster of all professional occupations.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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