Computer science enrollments rise again by 10%

Enrollments might have been higher had it not been for caps, says Computing Research Association

Interest in computer science continues to grow among undergrad students, who pushed enrollments up nearly 10% in the 2011-12 academic year. This marks the fourth straight year of increases.

The numbers might have been even higher if not for enrollment caps that some schools have put in place because they don't have enough faculty members, equipment or classrooms to meet demand, according to the Computing Research Association (CRA), which conducts the annual Taulbee survey.

"We don't have a way to gauge -- at least in the current survey -- how many students wanted to be admitted," said Peter Harsha, the CRA's director of government affairs. The association reported a 10% enrollment gain last year as well.

The steady gain in enrollments is a turnabout from what happened after the tech bubble burst in 2001.

As dot-com fever built, so did enrollments in computer science programs at Ph.D.-granting institutions, which are the only schools the CRA surveys. Each school had a department with an average enrollment of about 400 students at the height of the bubble; by 2006-07, that enrollment average had declined to about 200.

Average enrollments per department are now nearing 300, according to the survey.

There are 267 Ph.D.-granting institutions, and nearly 70% of those schools responded to the CRA's survey this year. The National Science Foundation does a broader study on technology enrollments and graduation rates, but there's a two-year lag before its results are released. The trends noted in the Taulbee study have generally been consistent with the NSF's findings, according to the CRA.

For the U.S. computer science departments that responded to the CRA survey in 2010 and 2011, enrollments in computer science programs increased 9.6%. The number of bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science programs was 12.9% for those schools that reported this year and last.

The total number of all students represented in the survey is nearly 61,000. That includes students enrolled in computer science, computer engineering and other IT-related disciplines. Computer science majors account for about 49,000 of the total number of students represented in this survey.

The Taulbee survey, which is named after the late Orrin Taulbee, the first chairman of the University of Pittsburgh's computer science department, also looks at nationality and gender.

Of the master's degrees awarded in computer science, 75.4% of the degrees were awarded to males and 56.7% were awarded to nonresident aliens.

According to the survey, the percentage of women among people who earned bachelor's degrees in computer science decreased, falling from 13.8% in 2009-10 to 11.7% in 2010-11.

However, in programs other than computer science, the percentage of female graduates increased.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at  @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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