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