Is the (Biological) local that different from the (Computational) national?

January 20, 2011 at 9:20 am 11 comments

I saw this quote in Georgia Trend magazine (with the subheading “The best job prospects are in healthcare, but logistics and biotech are opening up”), and was surprised.

“Our No. 1 area of enrollment, as well as employment, is in the field of health sciences, and that is what we as a college have dedicated ourselves to doing: providing programs in as many options in the health science field as possible, because there are so many jobs out there, and there are more coming,” says Bartels [President of Gwinnett Technical College].

“Health sciences are about 50 percent of our enrollment and about 50 percent of our budget.” To underscore the demand for studies in the health sciences field, Bartels cites one particular course of study. “Last year we had 2,700 people apply for our RN [registered nurse] program, and we had 40 slots open,” she says. “Last year [2009] we had right at 12,000 students that applied for one of our health sciences programs, and currently we can serve about 700 people in that program. We had 1,800 apply for our radiologic technology program, and we had 35 slots there.”

via Georgia Trend.

I was surprised, because I’d seen this Graph that Eric Roberts has put together, based on current enrollment and 10 year trends from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This suggests that Engineering is just slightly over-subscribed (which Eric says is fine — you don’t want the lowest quartile students building your bridges), physical sciences is okay, and biological sciences are WAY over-subscribed.  There are far more people studying biological sciences than there are expected jobs.  The reverse is true in Computer Science.

Is this Georgia technical school President not looking at the same data?  Maybe it’s different in her local community?  Or maybe she’s looking at the wrong data.  She’s mostly talking about how many students want those classes, and how many classes she has to offer.  That’s not the same as measuring who is getting what jobs.

If she’s wrong, that’s really scary.  But it’s an interesting question: how much variance are there in these numbers, and can the local situation be that different from the national picture?

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mark Urban-Lurain  |  January 20, 2011 at 10:02 am

    The big enrollments in biology at the B.S. level is primarily pre-med wannabes. Of course, not all get into medical school, so they they go other places. It’s not uncommon for Ph.D.’s in biology to do multiple post-docs while competing for limited numbers of faculty positions (I have 2 bio post-docs; one it’s the 2nd post-doc position, the other it’s the third.) It’s really a shameful situation in which we wring our collective hands about shortages of STEM graduates but those that go this route wind up as indentured servants for decades.

  • 2. Erik Engbrecht  |  January 20, 2011 at 10:27 am

    I suspect the CS job openings bar reflects a very large number of IT or web design type jobs that in no way, shape, or form require a CS degree, but none-the-less are lumped with CS because they all involve computers in one form or another.

    It’s also important to remember that even for jobs were CS really is legitimate preparation, a CS grad will quite likely be competing with people from other fields of study or with no degree at all. Some of the people from other fields will be “self taught” in CS, most will have no clue and actively subvert attempts to apply CS principles.

  • 3. Bonnie MacKellar  |  January 20, 2011 at 10:39 am

    What is the definition of “biological sciences”? Does it include the kinds of majors that you typically find at a technical college? For example, many schools offer a health information management (HIM) degree, and count that as one of the healthcare majors. But does the Bureau of Labor Statistics file that one under biological sciences, computer science, or someplace altogether different? How about healthcare administration, another one of the standard healthcare majors? Those are the majors that are growing, and in demand in the job market.

  • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  January 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I think that your interpretation of the numbers is wrong, not hers.

    There are a lot of openings in health care. Of course, most of them don’t call for a biology degree, but specific certification in some type of health care (nursing, occupational therapy, medicine, … ). I’m not sure, but I believe that Gwinnett specializes in some of these programs.

    Just as most of the “computer” jobs are not aimed at CS majors, most of the health care jobs are not aimed at Bio majors. I do believe that biology is vastly over-producing students (at all levels). I think there are 2 drivers for this: the social pressure on many students to want to be doctors or vets (even though they lack the skills to do well at either) and the perception that biology is the easiest of the STEM majors (which it shouldn’t be, if it weren’t watered down by the huge, unprepared cohorts).

    There are other fields that are vastly over-subscribed also, like psychology, which here is the field of last resort for students who haven’t the ability to pass in any other major. At other institutions, other majors have (willingly or unwillingly) taken on the role of being the field of last resort. As long as universities are judged on their 4-year and 5-year completion rates, and as long as admissions to the university are imperfect processes, there will be pressure for someone to take the students who aren’t really doing college-level work. I hope that desire for large enrollments does not push CS departments into that role.

    • 5. Erik Engbrecht  |  January 22, 2011 at 10:59 am

      I think you’re right.

      What’s funny, as it relates to CS, is that there probably isn’t a shortage of CS graduates. There’s probably a shortage of top CS graduates. There may also be a shortages in various markets for technicians and administrators to fill IT roles. A lower rung CS graduate likely doesn’t have the capacity to fill the needs in CS, and will have difficulty competing with with students from community or technical colleges that taught specific technologies to prepare people to be technicians.

      Increasing CS enrollment could make both shortages worse, by diluting the standards for CS graduates and drawing people away from technician-track education.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Milton Ramirez, mkoetke. mkoetke said: Another reason why computer science should be more prevalent in schools: Full article at . […]

  • 7. Ana Abad-Jorge  |  January 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I would agree with the college president’s statement that the demand for jobs in the healthcare sciences field is growing. This would include jobs as not only physicians and nurses, but pharmacists, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology and nutrition and dietetics, just to name a few. How these healthcare professions as well as more technician related jobs in radiology, medical labs etc translate or fall under the broad category of “biological sciences” is unclear. Strict “biological science” majors often this choice as a major for applying to medical school, as the traditional “pre-med” major is no longer as common, or as a foundational undergraduate major for pursuing other healthcare practice degrees, i.e. physician’s assistant, physical therapy etc. Available positions in “biological” sciences are indeed low if they are not including healthcare related jobs, which are indeed plentiful. It’s difficult to make judgments on whose projections are right or wrong, when the definitions under the categories of job positions is unclear.

  • 8. Mark S  |  January 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    I’m not sure I understand your chart. The exact source statistics are unnamed and the y-axis is unlabelled. Not to mention, the selection of profession categories appears to be complete wizardry. I am frightened if this is considered collegiate level research.

    The chart shown in the link below from the BLS itself shows the top 30 professions with the highest projected job openings in the period 2008-2018. It paints a bleaker picture of America than your graph as most jobs created/open require no education at all, other than on-the-job training.

    Looks like what we need more than anything are cashiers, retail associates, wait-staff, and customer service employees. What is congruent with President Bartel’s statement is that the #1 profession in terms of openings which also requires a degree is nursing. Computer Science is no where on this list. This seems to only make sense as the largest segment of the American population will be over the age of 45 in short order (US Census projections). By 2035, there will be nearly two people over the age of 45 for everyone individual in the 18-45 age bracket.

    Notice, this segment of the population –also known as the children of the baby boomers– will also need to take care of their children –a somewhat smaller, but also sizable chunk of the population, approximately 75% the size of 18-45 year olds.

    Therefore, in this light, it is interesting that teaching makes an appearance on the BLS statistics page as well. Elementary, post-secondary, and secondary openings are all listed in the Top 30. This seems like a more pertinent question for this forum. How will we train the next generation of teachers?

    What America is going to experience in the next 20-30 years is nothing short of a complete reordering of society. Due to low birth rates and low immigration, Gen X and Millineals will be faced with some very serious challenges.

    • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  January 23, 2011 at 6:03 pm

      Mark S., I said that Eric Roberts created the graph. I did not claim it was a research result, nor a peer-reviewed publication. The source he provides in his talk is: “Adapted from a presentation by John Sargent, Senior Policy Analyst, Department of Commerce, at the CRA Computing Research Summit, February 23, 2004. Original sources listed as National Science Foundation/Division of Science Resources Statistics; degree data from Department of Education/National Center for Education Statistics: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Completions Survey; and NSF/SRS; Survey of Earned Doctorates; and Projected Annual Average Job Openings derived from Department of Commerce (Office of Technology Policy) analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics 2002-2012 projections. See” I got his talk slides from “” which has the citation: “Why programming matters,” invited keynote address at NACCQ 2009, Napier, New Zealand, July 2009.

    • 10. Trent  |  March 1, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      I realize this is an old post, but your math is a little off.

      “By 2035, there will be nearly two people over the age of 45 for everyone individual in the 18-45 age bracket.”

      According to the third spreadsheet in your link, the 2035 18-45 bracket will be about 34% of the population, while the 45+ bracket will be about 42%. That’s not nearly “two for every one”, as you suggest.

  • […] we should offer more Biology-inspired CS1-level courses like the great one at Harvey Mudd.  Biology has way too many students for available jobs, and it’s female-majority.  Let’s provide all those Biology students (who won’t […]


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