The most gender-balanced computing program in the USA: Computational Media at Georgia Tech
Jennifer Whitlow here at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech just posted enrollment statistics about our undergraduate degrees, BS in Computer Science and BS in Computational Media (a joint degree between Computing and the School of Literature, Media, and Communications in our Ivan Allen College of the Liberal Arts). (You can read student impressions about CM here.) We’re now at 1665 undergraduate majors, the largest ever.
This is a huge table — click on it to make it bigger.
The gender diversity in the BS in CS is improving significantly — from 9% in 2004, up to 19.91% this year. But it’s the CM major that I find most intriguing. It’s gone from the 25-30% female up to 45.32%. At 45% female, I believe that it may be the most gender-balanced ABET-accredited computing undergraduate major at any US state university. (Private schools with more control over admissions could be higher.) That’s really something — dramatic and important. CM graduates are getting good jobs (in the top starting salaries coming out of Georgia Tech undergrad, well into six figures). My son just graduated with a CM degree in May, and has now started a CS PhD — evidence that the degree is getting respect at CS departments too.
But there’s an interesting research question in here, too. CM is shrinking.
CM was at its largest in 2010 with 300 majors. Today it has only 214 majors. The number of women in CM has continued to increase every year until this last. It’s obvious what’s going on: we’re losing men.
Computational Media at Georgia Tech may be the only computing program in the country that is wondering, “Where did the men go?” CM is clearly doing the right things to recruit, engage, and retain women. Why are we losing men? What is having a differential impact in terms of gender, that started about 2010?
One hypothesis is that it’s because of competition with the BS in CS, and in particular, with our threaded curriculum with threads available like Media and People. But Threads started in 2005, same as the CM major, and CM grew while CS shrank from 2005-2011. While the faculty know from hiring statistics that CS and CM are neck-and-neck in terms of starting salaries and jobs offered, it’s not clear that the students know this. It’s not clear why any competition with CS would suddenly rise in 2010, and then impact men more than women.
Another hypothesis is that CM is perceived as being easy — it’s “CS lite.” You can see that perspective in the student comments I linked to earlier. The hypothesis has two parts (a) that CM is perceived as easy, and (b) that men are more dissuaded by a degree being labeled easier than women. Both are empirical questions, and I don’t know the answers to either. If we’re looking for changes in the CM program that might have triggered change, it is true that we recently made CM harder. Two years ago, we found that CM students were struggling too much in graphics, so we added a new requirement: a challenging course in data structures and algorithms — the same one that the CS majors take. CS and CM are virtually identical for the first two years. Did making CM harder drive away men without driving away women? Seems unlikely, but it’s possible.
Here’s yet another hypothesis: CM has become “feminized.” See http://brookekroeger.com/the-road-less-rewarded-as-professions-become-female-dominated-status-and-pay-seem-to-slip-now-researchers-are-asking-why-and-turning-up-some-surprising-conclusions/ for some discussion of what happened in psychology as it became female-dominant, a UNESCO report on the feminization of education, or see a more detailed and academic consideration here:
When a field becomes feminized, it is perceived as “softer” and less-desirable by men. CM enrollments started declining in 2011, after the percentage of females in CM passed 30%.
So here’s this wonderful result, that CM is nearly at gender-parity, with this strange additional observation — men are less interested in CM now. We’d rather have gender balance and stable (or preferably, growing) numbers of both genders. The success of CM is the major story here, and we want to keep women in CM. It’s an interesting question of where the men went. Can we keep the successes of CM, and get men interested, too?
Matthew Guzdial, Jane Margolis, and Lecia Barker reviewed earlier drafts of this post and gave me very useful comments that I have incorporated. My thanks to all of them! I did not however use all of their comments, so hold me alone responsible for these comments.