Why Students Consider Leaving Computing and What Encourages Them to Stay – CRA

February 20, 2017 at 7:22 am 4 comments

One of my favorite papers is the analysis of Stayers vs Leavers in undergraduate CS by Maureen Biggers and colleagues. This new research published by the CRA explores similar issues.

We also looked at words associated (correlated) with these two sets of words to give us context for frequently cited words. When talking about thoughts about leaving, students were particularly likely to associate “weed-out” with “classes”. They were also likely to use words such as “pretty” and “extremely” alongside “hard” and “difficult”, which sheds light on computing students’ experiences in the major. When talking about staying in their major, students cited words such as “prospect”, “security”, “stable”, and “necessary” along with the top two most commonly used words: “job” and “degree”. For instance, one student said: “[I thought about changing to a non-computing major because of] the difficulty of computing. [But I stayed for] the security of the job market.” Yet another student noted: “The competitive culture [in my computing major] is overwhelming. [But] the salary [that] hopefully awaits me [helped me stay].” Furthermore, students used the words “friends”, “family”, and “support” in association with each other, suggesting that friends and family support played a role in students’ decision/ability to stay in their computing major. As a case in point, one student noted: “The material is hard to learn! I had to drop one of my core classes and must take it again. But with some support from friends, academic advisors, more interesting classes, and a more focused field in the major I have decided to continue.”

Source: Why Students Consider Leaving Computing and What Encourages Them to Stay – CRA

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 20, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    As an infographic, the result is mildly interesting, but since none of the students who actually left were included in the survey, it really doesn’t tell us that much about why students leave computing fields.

    Given the huge overload in CS classes, it isn’t clear that encouraging everyone to stay is a great idea anyway—graduating huge numbers of incompetent programmers is not a desirable goal, as succeeding at programming tasks depends more on the competence of the programmers than on their number. (Indeed, Mythical Man-Month argued that increasing the number of programmers on a project generally made it take longer and made the product worse.)

    I don’t favor a super-competitive education—learning to co-operate on small teams is essential to a programmer’s education—but I also don’t see high retention and graduation rates in a field as a goal. The goal is educating students well, turning out highly qualified graduates. If resource limitations require a tradeoff between quantity and quality of the graduates, then I put more weight on the quality.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 20, 2017 at 4:48 pm

      I don’t see anything in the cited article (nor in the “stayers and leavers” paper) about quality. Instead, we have evidence (e.g., “Unlocking the Clubhouse”) that students who leave sometimes have performance above the average. We are overwhelmed with enrollment right now, agreed. I see studies like CRA’s as helping to make an argument for additional resources — if we’re losing good students for reasons relating to inadequate resources, and the labor market is asking for more CS graduates, then we need to address the resource problem.

      There is already inequity where women and under-represented minorities are being driven out. We need to figure out why so that we can keep them in order to improve diversity in the field.

      I don’t see anywhere that CRA is arguing to produce incompetent programmers.

      • 3. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 20, 2017 at 8:52 pm

        You’re right—CRA is probably not pushing for quantity without quality. I’m seeing that pressure more locally, as the administration asks for all degree programs to reduce the number of credits required, in order to graduate more students on time.

        • 4. Bonnie  |  February 24, 2017 at 10:07 am

          We have the same pressures from the higher ups. More importantly, I have seen firsthand that students who graduate without enough programming and systems competence just cannot find jobs. It is heartbreaking to see this happen, especially when they contact me after graduation, trying to figure out why they aren’t getting job interviews.


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