Posts tagged ‘undergraduate enrollment’

Managing CS major enrollment boom with a lottery: “A lottery, by definition, is fair.”

I am excited to see that the University of California, San Diego is now managing their over-enrollment in the computer science major with a lottery — see the article here.

Instead of enrolling students holistically or based on GPA, the department selects at random — assuming they exceed the 3.3 CSE GPA threshold. With the lottery system, all students are equally considered despite differences in their experience, drive, and ability.

When asked about the implications of the new system — and possible disadvantage to high-performing students — CSE Chair Dean Tullsen explained, “a lottery, by definition, is fair.”

“I think there’s this false assumption that the students who work harder are the ones who are getting the 4.0s, that hard work directly translates to a higher grade. [The lottery system will] admit a lot of hard-working students who weren’t getting in before,” CSE Vice-Chair for Undergraduate Education Christine Alvarado added.

This is a much more fair system than simply allowing in the top GPA students. It probably doesn’t make Tech companies happier, but it’s not clear that it makes them less happy. They will still get lots of potential employees who are above the bar. Those employees will likely be more diverse than the graduates being produced from CS programs today. The students getting the top grades in the early classes are typically those with more opportunity to learn CS, more wealth, and more privilege. A lottery says that anyone who is prepared for the courses can take them.

June 22, 2020 at 7:00 am 22 comments

Seeking Data: What’s happening at your school as you cap CS major enrollment?

I’m just back from the 2019 NCWIT Summit (see link here), which was amazing — as always. I talked to people at schools who have instituted caps on undergraduate CS enrollment, and I’m hearing stories that I didn’t expect.  I’d love to hear your experience at your school.  Are you seeing these things?

  • One story is that students are taking and re-taking (“2-3 times”) the early classes, to get high enough grades to get past the grade cap.  Thus, the GPA grade cap has actually increased enrollment pressure on earlier classes.
  • Because of these course repeats, students are (presumably) taking longer to graduate. I didn’t talk to anyone with data on that — maybe it’s too soon, since caps are within the last 3-5 years at most institutions?
  • I was also hearing about incredible pressure that students are feeling because of the grade caps.  We expected to see impacts on enrollment for under-represented groups, but these reports say that everyone has increased stress because of the grade caps. The caps are leading to damage to department climate and even a spike in mental health issues. (I heard some pretty horrible stories.)

These are all just anecdote. I’m not sure how to cast a wider net for more information, but this blog might be a place to start.  Could you share your reports on how enrollment caps are impacting your course enrollment at the lower levels, on time to graduation, and on departmental climate (or other issues)? Thanks!


May 17, 2019 at 7:00 am 9 comments

The biggest concerns for institutionalized CS education in the United States: Standards, limited models, and undergraduate enrollment caps

I was interviewed for the SIGCSE Bulletin by my long-time collaborator, Leo Porter (see  I talk about this blog, how I started teaching in 1980, about Media Computation, and about what inspires me.

One of the questions relates to the recent discussion about standards and frameworks (see post here).

LP: You have worked with education public policymakers in “Georgia Computes!” and Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) over the last dozen years. What’s your biggest worry as US states start institutionalizing CS education?

I have two. The first is that the efforts to standardize CS education are making the bar too low. When the K-12 CS Ed Framework was being developed, decisions were being made based on how current teachers might respond. “Teachers don’t like binary, so let’s not include that” is one argument I heard. I realize now that that’s exactly the wrong idea. Standards should drive progress and set goals. Defining standards in terms of what’s currently attainable is going to limit what we teach for years. Computing education research is all about making it possible to teach more, more easily and more effectively. I worry about setting standards based on our limited research base, not on what we hope to achieve.

The second is that most of our decisions are being made around the assumption of standalone CS classes and having teachers with a lot of CS education. I just don’t see that happening at scale in the US. Even in the states with lots of CS teachers in lots of schools, a small percentage of students take those classes. This limits who sees computer science. To make CS education accessible for all, we have to be able to explore alternative models, like integrating computing education in other subjects without CS-specific teachers. If we only count success in CS education as having standalone CS classes, we are incentivizing only one model. I worry about building our policy to disadvantage schools that want to explore integrated models, or have to integrate because of the cost of standalone CS classes.

Since this interview, I have a third concern, that may be more immediate than the other two.  This is what I wrote my CACM Blog on this month. The NYTimes just published an article “The Hard Part of Computer Science? Getting Into Class” about the growing CS undergraduate enrollment and about the efforts by departments to manage the load.  Departments used to talk about building capacity, but increasingly, the discussion is about capping or limiting enrollments.  The reason why this is concerning is because we’ve been down this road before — see Eric Roberts’ history of CS capacity challenges. Our efforts to limit enrollment send a message about computer science being only for elites and being unwelcoming to non-CS majors. This is exactly opposed to the message that, CS for All, and the AP CS Principles exam is trying to send. We’re creating a real tension between higher education and the efforts to grow CS, and it may (as Eric suggests) send enrollments into the next dive.

February 18, 2019 at 7:00 am 8 comments

Preparing students for a research career: Gregory Abowd’s 30 PhD Graduates

Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing did an article on my friend Gregory Abowd and his 30 PhD graduates, many of whom have continued in academia. You can find the article here.

The “Abowd family” is a real thing. The article ends talking about how Gregory and his students and their students get together at conferences. I’ve seen pictures of these events. There’s a strong sense of kinship and support in the group, inspired by Gregory.

Here at the University of Michigan, we have just hired two second-generation members of the Abowd family. Gabriela Marcu (see webpage here) and Nikola Banovic (see webpage here) both earned their PhD’s at CMU, working with former Gregory students Jen Mankoff and Anind Dey (who have now moved to U. Washington).  What’s striking to me about both Gabriela and Nikola is that they started down the path to academic research by doing undergraduate research with other Abowd graduates: Gillian Hayes at Irvine and Khai Troung at Toronto (respectively).

What does it take to support future academic researchers while they are still undergraduates?  Obviously, we don’t want all of our undergraduates to become researchers. But we need some. Academic researchers in computing perform a useful and important role. We particularly want more women getting into computing research, and kudos to Google for awarding fifteen grants to promote more women getting into computing research (see article here). We do not have enough CS academics today (as I described in this blog post), and that’s part of the struggle in dealing with the enrollment boom. So we want more — how do we get them?  What do we do at the undergraduate level to make it more likely that we get graduates like Gabriela and Nikola?

We need to expect that CS undergraduates will have careers other than software developers. We often build our undergraduate programs assuming that all of our graduates will become software developers, or will manage software developers. But you can do a lot with a CS degree. We have to build into our programs the features that will help students succeed in the career that they choose, including becoming academic researchers.

One of my colleagues in the Engineering Education Research program here, Joi Mondisa, researches mentoring. She just gave the first EER Seminar, and talked about the importance of being “treated/advised like family.”  Mentors give their mentees honest and valuable advice as if the mentee were a family member.

I suspect that that’s part of Gregory’s success — that the notion of being in the “Abowd family” is something that the members feel and actively participate in. That’s likely a lesson that we can use in the future. Personal mentoring relationships play a big role in encouraging future researchers.  I don’t know how to build personal “like family” research relationships into an undergraduate program, especially at the enrollment scales we see today. But it’s an important problem to think about, both because we should support a variety of outcomes for our CS undergraduates and because one way of managing the enrollment crisis is to grow more CS faculty.


September 28, 2018 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Integrating CS into other fields, so that other fields don’t feel threatened: Interview with Jane Prey

I really enjoyed the interview in the last SIGCSE Bulletin with Jane Prey.  Her reason for doing more to integrate CS into other disciplines, at the undergraduate level, is fascinating — one I hadn’t heard before.

Other fields are nervous because they think we’re taking so many students from them, and universities are nervous because they’re afraid of losing us to industry. I would hate to lose any other faculty position to add a CS professor. I really believe it’s important for computing professionals to be well-rounded, to be able to appreciate what they learned in history, biology, and anthropology classes. We need to do a better job of integrating more of a student’s educational experiences. For example, how do we do more work together with the education schools? We just aren’t there. We have to work cross-disciplines to develop a path forward, even though it’s really hard.

June 1, 2018 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Open Letter to Future Students: On the Shortage of Computer Science Faculty

Thanks to Pat Yongpradit for sending the below links article to me. I knew that CS faculty have been complaining about the costs of the enrollment pressure.  This was the first I’d heard of the students rising up to complain, and even to recommend to future students not to go into CS.

Being able to take on and graduate its own majors, which the department already strains to do, is the bare minimum of what we should expect from a department at a liberal arts college. As much as Haverford likes to present itself as an environment where each student can explore a diversity of academic interests and cultivate a multifaceted worldview, right now the CS department is unable to help broaden the education of non-majors. It has even been forced to eliminate the CS minor, because non-majors simply cannot get into upper-level courses to complete it. That this should be necessary at an institution of our caliber is shameful, and as the situation continues to deteriorate it will actively undermine the institution’s status. What kind of a college, prospective students are (appropriately) thinking, cannot offer its students the ability to understand how computing works? Deception by omission from the admissions office about the availability of CS courses is a very limited tool in holding back this information, as illustrated by the recent open letter to admitted Bryn Mawr students urging them to consider not enrolling if they are interested in science (especially CS).

Source: Open Letter: On the Shortage of Computer Science Faculty

April 23, 2018 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Resources for dealing with the Undergraduate CS Capacity Crisis: Guest Post from Eric Roberts

Eric Roberts emailed to SIGCSE-members a note with resources on the capacity crisis. He graciously agreed to let me share it here as a guest blog post. Thanks, Eric!


A month ago, I sent out an announcement of the report from the National Academies entitled “Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments,” which is available on the web at the following URL:

SInce it’s hard to wade through a 184-page report (especially since our massive enrollments leave most of us with little free time), I’ve put together a web page of resources to help institutions meet these capacity challenges, which you can find here:

In particular, I created a PowerPoint presentation that offers background data and annotations for the nine findings from the National Academies report. That slideshow is linked from my resources page but is also accessible directly as

A few of the slides contain animations that I have found to be more effective than text or graphs, most notably on the slides titled “Classrooms are Overflowing” (slides 9-10), “The Challenge of Faculty Recruitment” (slide 15), and “Locking the Clubhouse” (slide 43). Feel free to use any of these slides in your own presentations.
I hope you find these materials useful in making the case for increased resources.  And please send me any comments you have along with suggestions for any additional information that you would find helpful.
Eric Roberts
Charles Simonyi Professor of Computer Science, emeritus
Stanford University

December 13, 2017 at 7:00 am 2 comments

US National Academics Report Investigates the Growth of CS Undergraduate Enrollments #CSEdWeek

The new National Academies report on the growth of CS undergraduate enrollments came out last month. It’s important because it reflects the recommendations of scholars across disciplines in dealing with our enormous enrollment growth (see Generation CS report for more findings on the surge).

I wrote about this report in my Blog@CACM post for this month, The Real Costs of a Computer Science Teacher are Opportunity Costs, and Those Are Enormous.  The report talks about how hard it is to hire new faculty to deal with the enrollment boom, because the Tech industry is increasing its share of new PhD’s and recruiting away existing faculty.

Eric Roberts at Stanford was part of the report writing, and points out that the committee did not reach agreement that there is a problem with participation by underrepresented minorities. Quoting Eric’s message to SIGCSE-members, “the committee did not find comparable evidence that departmental limitations have historically had a negative effect on participation by underrepresented minorities. In fact, the total number of degrees awarded to students in the largest of the underrepresented demographic groups (African American and Latino/Latina) has roughly matched the percentages at which students from those communities obtain bachelor’s degrees.”  It’s surprising, and Eric’s note goes on to explain why that result is so concerning. The report does say clearly, “Institutions should take deliberate actions to support diversity in their computer science and related programs.”

Since 2006, computer science departments in the U.S and Canada have experienced a surge in the number of undergraduate majors and course enrollments. The resulting strain on departmental and institutional resources has been significant for many departments, especially with respect to faculty hiring and overall workload. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has recently addressed the issue with the release a report titled “Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments.”

The NAS report discusses strategies central for managing enrollment and resources, and makes recommendations for departments and institutions. Its findings and recommendations provide much-needed guidelines on how institutions can allocate resources to meet growing student demand and to adequately support their computer science department in the increasingly central role of computer science in education and research. “The way colleges and universities respond to the surge in student interest and enrollment can have a significant impact on the health of the field,” said Susanne Hambrusch, co-chair of the report’s committee and a professor of computer science at Purdue University.  “While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, all institutions need to make strategic plans to address realistically and effectively the growing demand for the courses.”

Source: NAS Report Investigates the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments

December 6, 2017 at 7:00 am 3 comments

How to scale our capacity to offer high-quality CS Education – CRA Education Committee

What a great idea!  The CRA Education Committee has created a website of practices to help CS departments manage “Generation CS.”  It includes projects from Google’s CS Capacity Awards.

Although different institutions, large and small, are experiencing the enrollment increases in different ways, many programs are already operating at or beyond their maximum capacity. To help departments and faculty deal with this capacity crunch, this Scaling Capacity website is intended to provide a platform for sharing technological and pedagogical interventions for addressing capacity challenges. These practices are not designed to be ‘one size fits all’, but rather offer a variety of solutions derived from specific university needs.This intervention list includes recipients of Google’s CS Capacity Awards and other self-nominated programs.

Source: Scaling Capacity – CRA Education

November 6, 2017 at 7:00 am 3 comments

The capacity crisis in academic computer science – guest blog post by Eric Roberts

I’ve shared Eric’s insights into computing enrollments in the past (for example here and here). With his permission, I’m sharing his note after the recent SIGCSE 206 conference

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:

I welcome any comments that you have along with ideas about solutions that I can share with the full National Academies’ committee.


Eric Roberts

Charles Simonyi Professor of Computer Science, emeritus

Stanford University

March 14, 2016 at 8:02 am 9 comments

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

Trends in CS Enrollments at Small, Liberal Arts Colleges

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).

via Trends in CS Enrollments at Small, Liberal Arts Colleges (BoF Survey Results) – Google Drive.

April 4, 2013 at 1:44 am 1 comment

Computer science enrollments soared last year, rising 30% – Computerworld

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.

via Computer science enrollments soared last year, rising 30% – Computerworld.

March 18, 2013 at 1:39 am 1 comment

Connecticut aims to grow STEM enrollment

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.”

via Connecticut and Texas aim to grow STEM enrollment, but take different approaches | Inside Higher Ed.

February 27, 2013 at 1:25 am Leave a comment

The future of the university with MOOCs: It’s all about the individual

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.

via MOOCs and the Future of the University | Inside Higher Ed.

January 28, 2013 at 1:18 am 6 comments

Older Posts

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 7,966 other followers


Recent Posts

Blog Stats

  • 1,783,870 hits
August 2020

CS Teaching Tips