Computer science enrollments soared last year, rising 30%

Tech studies are cool again as students see degrees leading to jobs in many fields; Ph.D. enrollment reaches new high, survey finds

The number of new undergraduate computing majors in U.S. computer science departments increased more than 29% last year, a pace called "astonishing" by the Computing Research Association.

The increase was the fifth straight annual computer science enrollment gain, according to the CRA's annual surveyof computer science departments at Ph.D.-granting institutions.

The 2011-12 academic year also saw the third straight year of double digit growth at these schools, according to the survey.

The CRA also reports gains by schools who participated in in the survey both this year and last year. The enrollment gain for those schools was nearly 23%, it said.

The enrollment gains are also reflected in bachelor degree programs, which enrollws 20% more computer science majors than last year.

Computer enrollments "are somewhat cyclical based on the perceived strength of the IT sector," said Peter Harsha, the CRA's director of government affairs.

But in regard to the recent upward trend, Harsha said CRA members are saying that "students are much more aware of the importance of computational thinking in just about every other field of science and technology."

Harsha said that many fields "are increasingly data-driven and computationally-driven, and students see that a degree in computer science gives them access to a wide range of well-paying careers."

The CRA's annual Taulbee Survey has been tracking computer science enrollments and degrees granted for many years at Ph.D-granting schools and has turned up some interesting trends.

The survey is named after the late Orrin Taulbee, the first chairman of the University of Pittsburgh's computer science department.

In 1999, with the emergence of an e-commerce business, enrollments hit new highs, according to the survey, with the average computer science department having an enrollment of about 400 students. But with the dot-com crash, enrollments fell and hit bottom around 2007, at 200 per department.

The average enrollment per department today is just over 300.

Women remain underrepresented in computer science, but latest survey did report an uptick in new female graduates.

The percentage of women graduating with a bachelor's degree in computer science rose from 11.7% in the 2010-11 academic year to 12.9% in 2011-12. But in computer engineering the fraction of female graduates decreased, to 10.6% from 11.8%.

The survey also found that more students are earning a Ph.D., with 1,929 degrees granted - an 8.2% increase over the prior year.

The pool of undergraduate students represented in the CRA survey is 67,850. Of that number, 57,500 are in computer science.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS 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 e-mail address is

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