Archive for February 4, 2015

Could our CS enrollment boom and bust cycle be the result of inability to manage the boom?

I wrote my Blog@CACM post for January on the rising enrollment in computer science and how that is making irrelevant our advances in retaining students (see article here). Retention is simply not the problem in US CS programs today.

But thinking about the 1980’s and today (as described in this blog post), I began wondering if our boom-and-bust cycles might be related to our inability to manage the boom.

  • First, we get a huge increase in enrollment due to some external factor (like the introduction of the personal computer).
  • Then, we have to manage the rise in enrollment. We try to hire faculty, but we can’t bring them in fast enough. We stop worrying about high-quality, high-retention education — we need the opposite! We set up barriers and GPA requirements.
  • Word gets out: CS is hard. The classes are too difficult. It’s too competitive. Minority group students suffer from the imposter phenomenon and leave faster than majority students.
  • Result: Enrollment drops. Diversity decreases.
  • Then the next external factor happens (like the invention of the graphical Web browser), and we start the sequence again.

If we could give everyone a seat who wanted one, and we continued to focus on retention and high-quality education, might we actually have a steady-state of a large CS class? Could our inability to manage the load actually be causing the bust side of the cycle?

February 4, 2015 at 7:36 am 6 comments


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