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Computer Science Lacks Women, Minorities


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University of North Carolina at Greensboro Professor Anthony Chow

While women's enrollment has increased slightly at the undergraduate level over the past eight years, "at the graduate level . . . non-resident aliens become a major factor while minority enrollment in general plummets to very small percentages," says Anthony Chow, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. " he added.

Credit: LIS@UNCG

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that few students are enrolling in computer science courses, particularly women and minorities. The BLS ranks computer application software engineering as the fourth most in-demand occupation in its Occupational Handbook for 2006-2016, largely because of the growing number of applications for emerging technologies and the increasing complexity of businesses.

However, the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Jan Cuny says there has been a major drop-off in the number of computer scientists entering the workforce since 2000. Since 2000, 70 percent fewer students have majored in computer science, with 80 percent fewer women entering the field, according to Computing Research Association data. Cuny says the Higher Education Research Institute reports that only 1 percent of students are majoring in computer science, and just 0.3 percent are women. University of North Carolina (UNC) at Greensboro professor Anthony Chow says that over the past eight years there has been a slight increase in women's enrollment in computer science at the undergraduate level, but on the graduate level minority enrollment plunges to extremely small percentages.

Retaining minority employees is another major problem, with nearly half of all minorities leaving technology jobs to enter other occupations, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Isolation is a major factor in the drop-out rates for women and minorities, says Teresa Dahlberg, director of the Diversity in Information Technology Institute at UNC Charlotte. She also says that women are often judged more harshly than men.

Cuny says NSF is focusing on information education programs intended to spark student interest in computing by demonstrating how computers can solve programs through creativity, and also is working to infuse computer science into middle school and high school curricula.

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