On the decline in CS enrollment

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

On the decline in CS enrollment

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I recently found a pointer to an opinion article by Larry Peterson, Dean for the College of Science & Mathematics at Kennesaw State University, titled "Why Should I Invest in a Career in the Computer Science or Information Technology Field?" They are doing great things at KSU and I’m proud to be on the advisory board for their CyberTech program for high school students.

Dr. Peterson took a group of faculty to India this past summer to learn how things are there in science and technology. One of the lessons they learned is summed up in the following paragraph:

"There is no doubt that Indian students are much ‘hungrier’ in their search for knowledge and an education than students here in the United States. I came away, however, feeling that India (and ultimately China) is not our biggest challenge, but that apathy and misinformation will be more of a factor in our future competitiveness."

Apathy and misinformation is running rampant with regards to futures in computer science. There are still great jobs in the US for computer science professionals. But at the same time if the US does not have enough CS professionals to handle those jobs industry will be forced to send more jobs overseas. I worry that the idea that there are no jobs could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What are the facts? Quoting again from Dr. Peterson’s article:

"Such perceptions are counter to industry projections and those of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics who in fact predict that jobs in these fields will be among the fastest growing and highest paying over the next decade. In fact, according to the New York Times, "jobs that involve tailoring information technology to specific industries or companies like software engineers who make applications and specialized systems, have grown." Today, employment among IT professionals, has reached nearly 3.5 million by the end of last year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surpassing the 2000 high when the technology boom peaked."

And you know what else? Jobs in the computer industry are often fun, interesting and even exciting. We just need to get the right messages out to students, their parents and the people who are not funding enough CS education in middle and high schools.

  • I disagree that the primary problems are "apathy and misinformation." They are symptoms, not problems. Our problem is that we have a young culture with no sense of discipline or work ethic; one with its worst symptom being an incredible sense of entitlement.

    As far as education goes, the sense that "everyone is intellectually equal" has led to an accelerated deterioration of the value of an education. Those students who are exceptional are taught that they have nothing of any value. In great contrast, our athletes are constantly held on a pedestal, highlighting their "extraordinary" gifts and rewarded with million dollar contracts while in high school.

    Even colleges have become infected with a sense of righteous indignation toward those who accelerate in a given field. Instead of focusing on their discipline of choice, students are forced to take class after class to raise cultural awareness or cater to the latest political winds. The end result is a hostility toward that subject matter due to inflated educational costs and the fact that students are sent out in to the workplace without the knowledge they need.

    My own children's public education must be greatly supplemented to ensure they are able to read and write adequately. As for math and science, that responsibility will undoubtedly be placed on parents.

    I'll close for now, but I would like to say that my mother was a high school teacher for 35 years. I know that it is state and federal regulation combined with textbook companies that has led to the deterioration education and standards. My question is what can we do to rectify the situation?

  • RB:

    From reading your comment, it seemed like you were going give the solution! :)

    You must have some thoughts on a solution...curious to hear your thoughts.
  • My company thinks part of the problem - but obviously not all of it - is the practical issue that computer programming technology has evolved so much that it has left beginners behind. It's just way tougher to get started than it was when I did, 20 years ago. We designed and developed Kid's Programming Language as our answer to that particular problem. KPL is a lot about games, too - cause we also think fun games will help interest kids. I think most of us who are computer scientists know how fun this work is - but if kids never get the chance to see computer programming as fun, isn't it a longshot that they'd want to study it in college?
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