Posts tagged ‘undergraduate enrollment’
Welcome back from Memphis and SIGCSE 2016! At this year’s conference, we heard many stories about skyrocketing student interest in computer science and the difficulty many colleges and universities are having in meeting that demand. For several years now, evidence has been building that academic computer science is heading toward a capacity crisis in which the pressures of expanding enrollment overwhelm the ability of institutions to hire the necessary faculty. Those signs are now clearer than ever.
The challenges involved in developing the necessary capacity are not easy. Fortunately, they are also not entirely new. Academic computer science has faced similar capacity crises in the past, most notably in the mid 1980s and the late 1990s. Each of those periods saw an increase in student interest in computer science at a pace so rapid that universities were unable to keep up.
For better or worse, I have had a ringside seat during each of these enrollment surges. In the mid 1980s, I was chairing the newly formed department of Computer Science at Wellesley College. During the dot-com expansion in the late 1990s, in addition to directing the undergraduate program at Stanford, I was a member of the ACM Education Board and a contributor to the National Academies study panel convened to address the situation.
In the current crisis, I have been asked to offer my historical perspective in many different venues. I was one of the authors — along with Ed Lazowska at the University of Washington and Jim Kurose at the National Science Foundation — of a talk on this issue at the 2014 Snowbird Conference and the National Center for Women in Information Technology’s 10th Anniversary Summit earlier that year. Along with Tracy Camp, who is the cochair of the Computing Research Association’s committee to study the impact of rapidly increasing enrollments and who presented a panel discussion at this year’s SIGCSE, I have been appointed to the National Academies’ Committee on the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments, which holds its first face-to-face meeting in two weeks.
After listening to the audience comments at the SIGCSE panel on the CRA effort, it is clear that many people struggling to keep up with the increased enrollments are still having trouble convincing their administrations that the problems we face are real and more than a transient maximum in a cyclical pattern. In many ways, the difficulty administrators have in appreciating the severity of the problem is understandable because our situation is so far outside what is unfamiliar to most academics. It is hard for most people in universities to imagine a field in which the number of open positions exceeds the number of applicants by a factor of five or more. Similarly, it is almost impossible to imagine that a faculty shortage could become so extreme that universities and colleges would be forced to cut enrollments in half, despite high demand from both students and prospective employers. Both of those situations, however, are part of the history of academic computer science. The crisis our field faces today is at least as serious as it has been at any time in the past.
It occurred to me that it might help many of you make the case for more resources if I shared a white paper on the history of the crisis that I wrote earlier in the year, originally to make the case at Stanford but now also to support the deliberations of the National Academies’ committee. I have put the white paper on my web site, both as a single PDF report and as a web document with internal links to facilitate browsing. The two versions of the document are:
- PDF document http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/CSCapacity.pdf
- HTML document http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/CSCapacity/
I welcome any comments that you have along with ideas about solutions that I can share with the full National Academies’ committee.
Charles Simonyi Professor of Computer Science, emeritus
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?
Great to see some data on what’s going on at smaller schools, not just in the doctoral-granting institutions. On average, as much of an upswing as what’s reported in the Taulbee, but not all schools reporting increases. Interesting analyses of what’s working and what’s not.
What contributes to the program’s success? Faculty involvement, quality teaching, and enthusiasm for undergraduate research. Flexibility with prerequisites and independent studies. Outreach. Interdisciplinary projects. Growing knowledge/visibility about CS and its broad usefulness, including awareness among faculty colleagues. The job market. Multiple introductory courses/sections. Inclusion in general distribution requirements. Becoming a separate department. Stable set of faculty. Students choosing first-semester courses themselves.
Decline? External forces/national trends. Not enough faculty to offer enough spaces in lower level courses. Faculty turnover. Student rumor mill (regarding a potential cut).
The growth of departments in the Taulbee report is astonishing, but what Computerworld got wrong is calling it “computer science enrollments,” as opposed to “computer science enrollments in PhD-granting institutions.” The Taulbee report doesn’t cover all CS departments, and that’s why the new NDC survey has been launched.
The Taulbee report also indicates that the percent of women graduating with a Bachelors in CS has risen slightly, while the Computer Engineering percentage has dropped. Both are well south of 15%, though — a depressingly small percentage.
The number of new undergraduate computing majors in U.S. computer science departments increased more than 29% last year, a pace called “astonishing” by the Computing Research Association.
The increase was the fifth straight annual computer science enrollment gain, according to the CRA’s annual surveyof computer science departments at Ph.D.-granting institutions.
Interesting model. To be effective, I’d suggest hiring the STEM faculty with an eye toward STEM education. Hire faculty who want to make improving the quality and retention of STEM graduates, not just more STEM researchers. Make it count.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced Thursday a plan to dedicate $1.5 billion to growing the science, technology, engineering, and math programs at the University of Connecticut. The money will be used to hire more faculty members, enroll more students, build new STEM facilities and dorms, and create new doctoral fellowships and a STEM honors program.
The proposal, called Next Generation Connecticut, spans UConn’s three campuses. If the program passes the state legislature, it would increase the number of engineering undergraduates enrolled by 70 percent and the number of STEM graduates by 47 percent. UConn currently enrolls 7,701 undergraduates and 1,973 graduate students in STEM fields. It would also fund the hiring of 259 new faculty members, 200 of whom would be in the STEM fields.
“It’s transformational,” said UConn President Susan Herbst. “It’s really every president’s hope that they get this kind of investment from their state or from their donors.”
Interesting piece in Inside HigherEd which argues that the real impact of MOOCs on the University is to get the University out of the business of engaging students and working to improve completion, retention, and graduation rates. Nobody gets into the University until proven by MOOC. And since so few people complete the MOOCs, the percentage of the population with degrees may plummet.
Constructing this future will take some time, but not much time. It only requires the adaptation of various existing mechanisms for providing proctored exams worldwide and a revenue and expense model that allows all the providers (university and faculty content providers, MOOC middleware providers, and quality control providers) to establish profitable fee structures. In this model, the risk and cost of student engagement is borne by the students alone. The university assumes no responsibility for student success other than identifying quality courses. The MOOC middleware companies create and offer the content through sophisticated Internet platforms available to everyone but make no representations about the likelihood of student achievement. Indeed, many student participants may seek only participation not completion. The quality control enterprise operates on a fee-for-service basis that operates without much concern for the number of students that pass or fail the various proctored tests of content acquisition, and many participants in MOOC activities may not want to engage the quality control system.
I’d not heard this claim before, seen below in an interesting USA Today piece on trying to get more women into STEM fields. Is it really the case that math SAT scores are not as predictive for females as males? I found one study about SAT predictive power, but it doesn’t seem to say that SAT is less predictive for women. I found other pieces complaining about the predictive power for SAT, but I didn’t see anything about the role of gender.
Not to be ignored is the school’s decision in 2007 to make SAT scores optional in admissions. Tichenor says math SAT scores were not accurately predicting the success of its female students. Historically, average math SAT scores for women have been lower than those for men.
Celina Dopart, who graduated this spring from Worcester Polytechnic with a degree in aerospace engineering and is headed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall for graduate work, says she submitted her scores, but liked the message sent by the test-optional policy.