Students concerned about demand for CS classes at Berkeley: First of many

September 14, 2015 at 7:26 am 7 comments

The article below is from the Berkeley student newspaper, but it’s not just a Berkeley issue.  Enrollment is surging, and schools have too few resources to meet demand.  Dealing with the enrollment surge was a big topic at the ACM Education Council last month.  Based on what I heard at last year’s meeting of the Ed Council, I predicted that the enrollment surge would like lead to less diversity in CS (see blog post here). This year, I came away with the sense that most attendees believe it’s quite likely.  The issue now is measuring the impact and seeing what resources can be marshaled once there’s evidence that there has been damage to diversity.  Both CRA and the National Academies are conducting studies about the impact of the enrollment surge.  Right now, action is more about studying the impact than responding to the need — people might be willing to respond, but we have so few options.  Google has funded several projects to invent new ways to respond (see blog post here), but those are just starting now.  We won’t know for months if they’ll work.

When the culture at UC Berkeley simultaneously stresses the importance of a computer science education and heightens GPA requirements for the major, barriers to entry become increasingly difficult to overcome. More and more students entering UC Berkeley feel pressured to learn basic computer science skills to meet the needs of the postgraduation job market — a notion that the campus and its highly ranked computer science department encourage…But the upsurge in enrollment means fewer resources for beginner students, especially in terms of access to teaching assistants and professors.

The computer science department recently changed its requirements for petitioning for admission to the major: Students who entered UC Berkeley before this fall needed a cumulative GPA of 3.0 in the seven lower-division course requirements, whereas students who came in this fall need to complete, specifically, CS 61A, 61B and 70 with a cumulative GPA of 3.3. These are arguably the more difficult “weeder courses” within the prerequisites, and increasing the average required GPA from a B to a B+ makes a real difference for many deserving students hoping to earn a computer science degree. In CS 61A, for example, the past average is a 2.84, or a B-. Holding beginners to such a high standard, especially given the amount of pressure from an increasingly technologically focused society, is a tool to sort students into winners and losers rather than educate them.

Source: Campus computer science program does not compute | The Daily Californian

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

I Won’t Hire CS Majors: I just want rich boys Statistics worrying about losing ground to CS: Claim that CS isn’t worthy

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  September 14, 2015 at 7:46 am

    How much of the slow response is because administrators are concerned about the demand being cyclical? I can see some being concerned that they will hire people and build facilities and not need them all in five years when some bubble bursts.

    • 2. Cynthia L.  |  September 14, 2015 at 10:07 am

      That’s what we’re hearing. Of course, our enrollments could fall by half and still be so large as to be totally out of proportion to other departments’ courses, so additional staff would still be justified.

  • 3. Bonnie  |  September 14, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    I have seen two previous CS enrollment bubbles form and burst (late 80’s bubble and late 90’s bubble). This looks like a bubble all over again.

    • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  September 14, 2015 at 2:26 pm

      I agree. While there are good reasons for more people to learn computer programming, much of the enrollment growth is not coming from those good reasons but from media hype about the shortage of programmers and cherry-picked information about stellar salaries. In 3 years the media will probably be reporting about how new CS graduates are not getting hired, and enrollments will drop precipitously.

      I don’t know why CS has so much of a media-dependent roller-coaster enrollment problem—other fields seem to hold fairly steady despite fluctuations in their job markets. The only damping in the feedback loop seems to come from CS course enrollment limits, so we might want to think twice about trying to removing those limits unless some other damping is provided.

      • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  September 14, 2015 at 4:00 pm

        I wonder if the damping effect of the enrollment limits actually causes the bubble bursting, as I suggested in this earlier blog post. We don’t have these enrollment limits during the bust periods. Could the enrollment limits and the weeder-class mentality actually be causing the bust?

        • 6. Bonnie  |  September 16, 2015 at 8:10 am

          Not in the last two bubbles. Actual downturns in hiring caused both. In the very early 90’s, an economic downturn coupled with a major shift to hiring contractors and H1-B visa holders led to a perception that CS employment was unstable, discouraging many. Hiring did rebound in the mid 90’s boom, and we saw enrollments surge. The dot com bubble burst, and the move to offshoring caused the next downturn. Of course those trends ended too, and hiring rebounded yet again. But when I returned to academia in 2009, people at SIGCSE were still complaing that CS was not attracting students.
          Job prospects in CS are more unstable than in many other fields. Most companies see software as a cost, so they cut in that area first when there are downturns. The fact that many employers do not believe a CS degree is necessary adds to the problem. I guarantee you that we will see this bubble burst when the next recession hits.

  • […] call seems a stark contrast to the Berkeley student’s call for more access to CS (see previous post here).  I hear both student articles asking for the same thing — computing as a literacy to […]


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