Computing Profession

Generation CS: When ­Undergraduates Realized They Needed Computing

Mark Guzdial

The new Computing Research Association (CRA) report “Generation CS: Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments Surge Since 2006” describes the dramatic increase in enrollments in computer science (CS) over the last 11 years, with an especially rapid increase since 2009. Sixty percent of academic units surveyed more than doubled their enrollment in that time. The report describes a new generation of undergraduate students who realize the importance of computing education.

CS enrollment growth versus faculty growth

The CRA committee that assembled the report carefully analyzed the data in terms of size of the department (e.g., number of tenure-track faculty), type of department (e.g., Ph.D. granting or not), and where it characterizes growth in terms of majors vs non-majors. The bottom line is reflected in this quote:

The current surge of CS majors is pervasive. Large and small academic units, in public and private institutions, have been affected similarly. Doctoral granting and non-doctoral granting units are affected, though doctoral granting units to date have seen larger increases. While academic units are taking a range of actions to handle the increased enrollment, percentage increases in tenure-track faculty are about 1/10-th of the increase in the number of majors.

I found several surprises in the report:

  • Non-major enrollment is also increasing, and at all levels. One might expect the number of non-CS majors to increase at the intro level, but there are also huge increases at the mid and upper levels of the undergraduate curriculum. For units that track the data, the growth in CS minors is similarly dramatic.
  • Efforts to diversify computing are failing in the face of the enrollment increase. A recent report from shows that the number of CS graduates has finally surpassed the number from 2003, the peak of CS graduate production. Unfortunately, the number of female CS graduates is even less than in 2003. The evidence in “Generation CS” suggests that there are women in the introductory classes, but we are not retaining them into the mid and upper levels of the undergraduate curriculum. The evidence suggests the percentage of Black/African-American students CS is declining, while Hispanic/Latino percentage share is increasing. A positive sign is that the departments that report taking actions to increase diversity are more diverse.
  • Departments are having to tighten their belts in response to the increase in enrollment. Schools aren’t really helping yet. As you can see in the above figure, faculty increases are nowhere near the enrollment increases. CRA is offering to share the data from the report with any department that would like to use these data to argue for resources. Departments are canceling low-enrollment classes, increasing class sizes, using more adjunct faculty, using more undergraduate students as teaching assistants, and using more graduate students as instructors.

Google has funded several efforts to respond to the enrollment increases without sacrificing diversity gains. Chris Stephenson has a blog post describing these efforts with links to more information. Until we can convince schools to increase resources to departments, developing strategies like these and sharing them are our best chances to manage “Generation CS” without losing ground on our efforts to provide CS education to all students.

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