The coolness quotient of computer science and engineering

Considering that employment has been growing considerably in IT, particularly compared to general employment, and that salaries are at the high end of the spectrum, it is a mystery to me why schools have not been able to attract more graduates in this field in the past few years.

I recently looked into Computing Research News' annual "Taulbee Survey," which counts each year how many undergraduates have declared computer science as their major. The latest results show that the numbers, which had started to gradually climb up in the past two years, slowed down a bit in 2010. Some 14,426 undergraduates in the United States declared computer science/computer engineering as their major for 2010-2011. This is down 1.9% from 2009, and 2009 was already well off the peak of a few years ago.

In light of this data, it appears that the labor supply for computer science and computer engineering graduates will remain tight for sometime to come. The chart below shows the actual number of computer science graduates 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.  As you can see, the sharp drop-off earlier reported in computer science enrollments has started to play out in terms of current production of computer science graduates and the production of computer science BA graduates is still not accelerating at the desired levels (click chart to enlarge).

Sources: Tabulated by National Science Foundation/Division of Science Resources Statistics (NSF/SRS); data from Department of Education/National Center for Education Statistics: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Completions Survey and NSF/SR.

In the past when I have talked to the Stuart Zweben, the chair of the Computing Research Association survey committee, he mentioned that computer science lost its charm in the early 2000s. Not only was the 2001 recession led by information technology, there were also fears about those jobs being sent overseas. However, we know now that not all jobs are destined to be shipped off half way across the world. Moreover, IT came out relatively unscathed from the current recession and demand has remained strong. So why is it that an education in computer science is still not "cool"?

Let me expound my point a bit more. Over the past several years, total computer and math employment has grown at a rate roughly five times that of total U.S. employment. From 1999 through 2010, computer and math employment rose a cumulative 25.3%, whereas total employment has declined 0.1%. Even during 2009 and 2010, employment was down by just 0.1% and 0.6% y/y, respectively. Now, how's that for cool? 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 


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