Briefing: May 16, 2013


Computer science degrees spike — biggest jump since 1996

Total information technology employment has grown at a tremendous pace compared to the growth in total U.S. employment over the last 12 years. Yet, growth in the number of undergraduates signing up for computer science degrees has been tepid. However, things have been turning around bit by bit and it appears that U.S. and Canadian schools experienced the much awaited spike in the number of new computer science majors last fall.

Latest results of Computer Research News’ annual “Taulbee Survey,” which counts each year how many undergraduates have declared computer science as their major, show that the numbers, which had started to gradually climb since 2008, got a significant boost in 2012. Some 18,563 undergraduates in the United States and Canada declared computer science/computer engineering as their major for 2011-2012. This is a jump of 28.4 percent from 2011.

According to Stuart Zweben, professor emeritus of computer science and engineering at the Ohio State University and the chair of the surveys committee for the Computing Research Association, which conducts the Taulbee survey annually, these numbers probably will never reach the high point just before the dot-com crash, but he expects them to grow some more for the next few years.

“Technology is everywhere and has an intrinsic relationship with multiple disciplines,” Zweben said. “Also, the U.S. is emphasizing STEM fields or education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the T or technology part of STEM is definitely in computer science.” As a result, students are becoming more aware of the availability of jobs in this field.

Trends in the Taulbee survey data track well with subsequent computer science degree production, as can be seen in the overlapped chart below. The chart shows the actual number of computer science undergraduates from 1966-2008 on the left axis with the number of computer science/computer engineering-declared majors, adjusted forward for four years to reflect the length of an undergraduate degree, on the right axis.

Click on image to enlarge.

The numbers had been falling since 2002, indicating that interest in computer science had trailed off significantly since the Internet boom. However, things started to pick up slowly around 2008. While the numbers are still not close to what they were in early 2000, the results from the recent Taulbee survey are definitely encouraging.

“Will the numbers grow this significantly? I don’t expect to see the 20% growth,” Zweben said. “But if we stay steady at this level then we will be doing just fine.”


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