Maybe not-so-much for increasing enrollments

February 3, 2011 at 10:25 am 6 comments

CRA’s Taulbee report has been reporting increasing CS enrollments the last two years.  But CRA only reports on schools involved in computing research (specifically, as Andy Bernat pointed out: all PhD-granting departments of CS and Computer Engineering in the US and Canada).  With CS departments closing due to low enrollments, there’s reason to believe that the story isn’t the same everywhere.  A recent survey of SIGCSE liberal arts colleges was summarized by Bob Harlan:

We did have 23 respondents regarding freshmen CS enrollments, with St. Bonaventure making 24. We used trends over the period as a way of summarizing the data:

9 reported an uptrend (increases over 2008)

5 reported flat enrollments

3 reported a downtrend (peak in 2008 and lower enrollments since)

4 reported a bottoming pattern (freshmen CS enrollment lowest in 2009 with 2010 at least back to 2008 levels)

3 reported a topping pattern (highest CS freshmen enrollment in 2009, lower in 2008 and 2010).

Five of the nine schools reporting an uptrend had freshmen enrollments in 2009 and 2010 that were 15%+ greater than 2008.


* Robert M. Harlan, Ph.D.
* Professor of Computer Science
* Department of Computer Science
* St. Bonaventure University

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The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted What counts as code to criticize: Software studies

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  February 3, 2011 at 10:54 am

    This is probably at best a “parallel comment”.

    When the explosion of programs in computing started in US colleges and universities (I think of it as starting around 1978 with the big curriculum battle between “ACM and ‘ARPA’ “, which ‘ARPA’ lost), many thousands of institutions (between 2000 and 4000) set up programs, at a time when I could not count 500 bona fide computer scientists in the world.

    And most of them stayed where they were during the explosion.

    My question then was “Where are the “professors” coming from in all these places?” A gloomy theory as an answer did explain the general poverty of POV and curriculum that sludged across the land thereafter.

    I think this sludge from academia was one of several sources of the larger sludge that has crept into much of computing since 1980.

    The tenuous connection to Mark’s post might have something to do with a very large number of places that had little to no foundation when set up, and they might lack even more life to the ideas and processes today.

    Could the students actually be recognizing this? (I think a lot of the women students can feel it)



    • 2. John "Z-Bo" Zabroski  |  February 4, 2011 at 12:08 am

      Can you provide sources for this ACM vs. ARPA curriculum battle? I’m not familiar.

      I am familiar that the curriculum hasn’t really changed since the 1970s. But not that aware of how it was decided what to teach.

      • 3. Alan Kay  |  February 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm

        Hi John

        I’m not sure this struggle was ever written up. You can see what the winning side advocated by looking at the ACM curriculum standards (I think one of the main statements was put out in 1978).

        Those in the ARPA/PARC community who cared about these issues (as I recall the most vociferous were from MIT, CMU and PARC), took several positions:

        — the field had been changing and was changing (and that the 70s represented a enormous break with past traditions of computers, networks, programming languages, programming, etc.)

        — that Moore’s Law was going to stay exponential at least until the end of the century (and this would imply huge changes of scale, most of which no one knew how to deal with)

        — that the main job of computer science education was to create those who would constantly recreate the field (this was in the tradition of what ARPA-IPTO had done in the 60s).

        — that the actual center of computing was actual systems and not data structures and algorithms

        — that most official theories of concurrency were known to be bad

        — and so forth

        One of the undercurrents of this argument was that the ARPA-PARC community liked latebinding, loose coupling, full duplex, personal computing, graphical user interfaces, “live programming and debugging”, LISP and Smalltalk, AI, etc., and most of the rest of the field didn’t.

        So part of the argument from the ARPA/PARC side was “this is the new way things are going to be, so we should help students get into these ways of thinking”.



    • 5. John "Z-Bo" Zabroski  |  February 4, 2011 at 12:25 am

      Also, it is not really surprising no foundation is set-up, when the reasoning behind teaching things is completely laughable. Quoting Greg Morrissett, in 2008, on adding FP to ACM’s curriculum: “I strongly endorse the recommendation to include functional programming in the curriculum. The most important benefit is a change in the mode of thought that can strongly influence design at all levels, from hardware to distributed systems. If they are to be successful, students must be able to pick up and learn new languages. Without deep experience in at least two very different environments, they will be unable to do so.”

      Ultimately comments like this are thinly cloaked pleas to teach students design, and also a complete failure to realize that very few academics actually have enough design experience to do so effectively. Moreover, they are inculcated in bad habits that are hard to replace as they become overly educated in a particularly narrow discipline.

      Students recognize when they are not improving in their ability to design computer systems, meanwhile in their art electives they can suddenly do stencil drawing, line detail drawings, mosaics, collages, sculpting, etc. and be exposed to all of this design in one semester while also understanding how to critique art.

      It’s really that simple.

  • […] but not pervasive — it’s high-quality data, but only about research institutions.  The department closings in the last couple years suggest that not everyone is seeing enrollment increases. Never mind that […]


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