Is CS now “the hottest major on campus”?

November 29, 2011 at 9:37 am 10 comments

I completely believe that the “elites” are having a major up-tick in CS applications.  Is everyone?  I am not hearing the same level of optimism at all colleges and universities.  When I visited Melbourne last week, I learned that CS applications for next year’s undergraduate class are down 10% for the entire state of Victoria.  Enrollment is a big issue there.

I don’t have data that says that CS isn’t growing nationwide, but more to the point, I don’t think anyone has data that can tell us.  We only have data from the Taulbee Report.  We need Taurus.

The nation’s best undergraduate computer science programs are bracing for a record number of applications this fall, as more high school seniors are lured by plentiful jobs, six-figure starting salaries and a hipster image fostered by the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Early admissions are piling up at elite tech schools, including Carnegie Mellon University, Harvey Mudd College and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology – all of whose undergraduate computer science and engineering programs are rated tops by U.S. News & World Report, the de facto college ranking in the United States.

via Hottest major on campus? Computer science.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Trip report on Australia visit: The Higher Ed Times are a-changin’ Computer Science across the Curriculum – How do we get there?

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  November 29, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I think it is actually a problem that there is so much attention paid to the top CS schools and not enough to the “long tail.” Now don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of a lot of the larger big name schools. But at the same time I think the quality of many smaller schools, even without PhD programs, is really good. For many undergraduates the level of attention and access to faculty means they can do better and get a stronger start in some of these other schools. But without big company attention or acceptance of these students into good graduate programs they will struggle for enrollment. Of course as the product of a small school I may be biased but on the other hand I have been pretty successful in the long term of my career. I doubt I would have had the oppertunities at a large school that I had at a small one. There is an advantage to being a big fish in a small pond over a small fish in a large pond sometimes.

  • 2. Bonnie  |  November 29, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    We are not an elite school, but we have seen a very definite uptick in CS enrollment over the past two years.

  • 3. Andy Kuemmel  |  November 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    According to the article, “Many high schools don’t offer computer science courses, so these courses aren’t a pre-requisite at even the highest-rated undergraduate programs.”

    As a high school CS teacher, this kind of thinking drives me nuts. Parents and students listen very carefully to what selective colleges “want.” I would much rather see a quote from an admissions representative saying “if your high school has CS, take it. If it doesn’t, tell the principal to offer one!”

    It seems to me that most universities have given up on high school computer science, and the article mentions that colleges recommend students take online courses or teach themselves. Instead of going around us, how about a little help getting OUR numbers up?

    • 4. Alfred Thompson  |  November 30, 2011 at 11:01 am

      Andy, I think a lot of universities have given up on HS CS. This is both because there are so few HS CS program and because a good many of the HS CS programs are not that good. I have heard stories of university faculty complaining about having to re-teach students or for students to have to “unlearn” things from HS. In my opinion the proper response is for universities to help make HS CS programs better. And many are doing that. The rapidly growing CH4HS program that started at Carnegie Mellon for example. Workshops and outreach efforts like those at Georgia Tech are another get thing. I could list many more. The biggest problem though is still institutional support from the high schools themselves. They could be doing more to provide incentive for teachers to get more training. They could provide more money for travel to training for example. But there are many teachers for whom CS is not a passion but something they need to do to stay full-time. It’s real hard to get some of those teachers to improve their practice.

  • 5. Bonnie  |  November 30, 2011 at 8:39 am

    I honestly do not see why high school CS should be a prerequisite to the major. It was not a prerequisite back when I majored in it and it has never been a prerequisite at any school where I have taught. In fact, it is very rare at my university to see an incoming CS major who has taken a real CS course in high school. And yet, many of them end up doing quite well in the major. The reason so many students are unsuccessful at college level CS is not because they haven’t had CS in high school, but because they lack the aptitude, or the study skills, or both. I don’t mind getting students who have never touched a computer in their lives as long as they are good, analytical readers and have some ability to handle abstractions. I can teach the computer skills, but I can’t teach the reading skills.

  • 6. Alfred Thompson  |  November 30, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Bonnie, I don’t think that CS in HS should be required for CS majors but I do believe it can be very helpful in several ways. I have heard some discussion that one of the reasons that CS has a higher drop out rate then some other majors, especially non engineering majors, is that incoming university students don’t really understand what is involved in CS. The same is true of some of the engineering majors where again students are not exposed to it in HS. Students come in thinking “I love computers so this will be fun and easy” and find out that they are not well prepared for it or don’t have the aptitude they think they do. With some preparation in HS more students will know what they are getting into as well as having a head start on some of the basics. In theory this should help with retention.
    The other area where HS CS can be helpful is in building awareness and interest. This is the other side of students arriving at university not knowing about CS. They may not know that they have an aptitude for CS and so may assume that it is just not for them. I took my first CS course as a gen ed requirement and discovered my life’s career. Had I discovered this earlier, in HS, I would likely have made some decisions that would have made me even more successful academically in CS in university.

  • 7. Bonnie  |  November 30, 2011 at 11:31 am

    I do realize that exposure to CS in high school can help some students decide that it is not for them. However, that still puts it in the category of “nice to have” rather than “essential”. I don’t want to see high school CS become a de facto requirement to the CS major, because I think that will shut out even more students.

  • 8. Bri Morrison  |  December 1, 2011 at 10:02 am

    For high schools, I think it’s more an argument of access. There are less than 3000 high schools *in the entire United States* that offer an AP CS class. Given the requirements of the future careers that these students will be involved in, won’t most (all?) of them need computing devices to be successful? And not just as consumers of technology. Would they not be stronger employees (and possibly more successful) if they could create their own computing solutions to the problems they are faced with?

  • 9. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  December 2, 2011 at 11:45 am

    The AP CS course, like most Java syntax courses, is not really a very good introduction to computer science. I’d like a CS in high school push better if it were pushing a better pedagogy (I reserve judgement on the CS principles course, which looks initially like a good high school class, but not suitable for AP credit).

    I’m glad that my son started programming in 4th and 5th grade, and that he has learned several programming languages by 10th grade. I think he’ll finally learn Java as his 8th (or more) language (after logo, Scratch, various Lego languages, Alice, C, Scheme, and Python, with bits of javascript and actionscript) next spring or summer.

    I have noticed a tendency for our university to alternate ratchet up and water down the entrance expectations of the CS students, maybe based on the roller coaster ride of CS enrollments. Currently, the requirements are very low, with students expected to take some extremely low level courses (well below the AP level). Personally, I don’t think that “the-computer-is-your-friend” courses should be counted for CS majors, much less required.

  • […] of engineers at all in the US. It feels like the problem of determining whether or not we have enough CS enrollment – what’s “enough”? What’s more, China’s tally of 350,000 was suspect […]


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