At the Computing Research Association (CRA) Snowbird conference in 2014, Jim Kurose (then at University of Massachusetts-Amherst) and Ed Lazowska (University of Washington) presented a session on burgeoning enrollments in U.S. computing courses. In response, CRA's Board formed a committee to further study enrollment-related issues, chaired by CRA board member Tracy Camp.
A panel on the upsurge in undergraduate computer science (CS) enrollments in the U.S. took place at the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education Technical Symposium last year (SIGCSE 2015); shortly thereafter, the full committee went to work with the goal of measuring, assessing, and better understanding enrollment trends and their impact, with a special focus on diversity.
Explained Susan B. Davidson, CRA Board Chair and a member of the CRA enrollments committee, "Over the past few years, computing departments across the country have faced huge increases in course enrollments. To understand the extent and nature of these 'booming enrollments,' CRA has undertaken a study that surveys both CRA-member doctoral departments as well as ACM non-doctoral departments."
In addition to attempting to identify the extent of the "boom" in CS enrollments, Davison said, "We are trying to understand which students are making up this boom: CS majors? Students from other fields seeking to minor in CS? Students in other fields taking a course or two in CS? And why are they doing so; what is driving them?"
The study also aims to determine how academic departments are coping with such a boom, Davidson said. "Are they restricting enrollments and, if so, what is the impact on the diversity of students enrolled? Are they increasing class sizes and, if so, what is the impact on quality of instruction? Are they increasing faculty sizes? What other strategies are being used?"
The hope, Davidson said, "is that answers to these questions will give university administrators and computing departments insights into the extent of the boom, and enable them to develop better strategies to managing booming enrollments."
The study includes data acquired from several sources, including sources involved in the annual CRA Taulbee survey (the principal source of information on the enrollment, production, and employment of Ph.D.'s in computer science and computer engineering (CE), also providing salary and demographic data for CS and CE faculty in North America), and sources from the annual ACM NDC Study of Non-Doctoral Granting Departments in Computing. In addition to surveying institutions, data was collected from students via a Fall 2015 student survey by the CRA Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP).
The slide deck for the preliminary results of these surveys may be seen at http://inside.mines.edu/~tcamp/SIGCSE2016_Boom.pdf
Among the preliminary results to be gleaned from the institutions surveyed (key findings will be presented at CRA Snowbird 2016, with a final report planned for the fall):
The student survey received responses from 2,477 students, 98% of whom had enrolled in an introductory CS class; 72% of them were computing majors, 7% were computing minors, and the balance were either undeclared or had declared non-computing majors or minors. The gender mix was roughly 2:1 men to women.
The survey found most (86%) enrolled in an introductory computing class because "it was required for my major/minor." The next most frequent response, "curiosity or interest in computers," was reported by 39% of respondents.
"The survey responses are giving us a lot of information on how universities are handling the 'boom' and what the biggest concerns are."
When the 55 respondents who had dropped an introductory computing course were asked why, nearly half (46%) said it was too challenging; 75% of those were women. About 29% (20% of men and 45 % of women) said they dropped the class because they did not enjoy the professor's teaching, and 26% said they were "no longer interested in computers."
Tracy Camp, professor of computer science in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Colorado School of Mines, and past co-chair of CRA's Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research (CRA-W), observed, "The survey responses are giving us a lot of information on how universities are handling the 'boom' and what the biggest concerns are. We are also learning why students are so interested in taking an intro to computing course."
ACM president Alexander L. Wolf said the study's findings were critical to ensuring North American universities are prepared to handle the growing numbers of students who will enter computer-related degree programs in the coming years. "Particularly in the context of President Obama's Computer Science for All initiative, we are going see enrollments in computer-related classes continue to skyrocket."
Wolf added, "But this is not a phenomenon specific to the U.S.; rather, we're seeing booming interest in CS education around the world."
©2016 ACM 0001-0782/16/07
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