Study shows low national computer science enrollment

The current national and University enrollment rates are half of those in 2000.

Devin Henry

In the early 2000s, students were dropping out of school early to enter jobs in the technology field.

Just a few years later, the Computing Research Association has found that the number of students declaring their major in computer science is half of what it was in 2000. The University has also seen a decrease in computer science enrollment over that time.

The results, released last week, found that computer science majors nationally numbered 7,915 in fall 2007, well below the 15,958 enrolled in fall 2000.

The numbers appear to be leveling off, however, said Jay Vegso, manager of membership and information at the CRA.

While the numbers have fallen since earlier this decade, newly declared computer science majors have stabilized within the last three years, around the 7,900 mark.

“In a few years, you might see a turnaround in enrollments as well,” he said.

The study only looked at schools with doctoral programs, like the University.

Robyn White, spokeswoman for the computer science and engineering department, said while enrollment in University computer science classes has also fallen since peaking in fall 2000, the number has been rising since 2006.

Currently, 2,056 people are enrolled in computer science classes this semester, up from the department-low 1,911 in fall 2005.

“It’s not a great increase, but compared to national averages we’re making progress, which is great,” White said.

Vegso said a number of issues led to the decline, including the perceived threat of job outsourcing and the dot-com burst.

“The issue probably is that there was a lot of press that maybe scared students off and we’re still seeing the effects of that,” he said.

The dot-com burst earlier this decade saw a large number of Web-based companies go out of business because of the “super-saturated” market, Mark Sorenson-Wagner, director of the Career Center for Science and Engineering, said.

“All of the talent in the computer science and programming area that they had brought on were all out of work,” he said.

Sorenson-Wagner said the burst affected the program’s enrollment.

“When something like that occurs, the next generation of people coming to school looks at the market and says, ‘Wow, it looks like there’s not a lot of jobs available, so maybe I’ll think about a different major,’ ” he said.

White said the industry is recovering.

“There’s dramatic growth in this field as far as business opportunities,” she said.

According to department literature, computer science careers rank among the highest average starting salaries – a little more than $ 50,000 a year.

Mats Heimdahl, professor of computer science and engineering, said the job market is rebounding from the dot-com burst era, and that there may be more jobs available now than during the boom.

“It’s a vacuum out there in the industry,” he said. “I think we just have a bad reputation.”

White said the University’s computer science department is looking to increase program outreach. She said as the job market gets better, the enrollment will follow.

“We’re very encouraged that we’ve been seeing an increase over the past two years,” she said. “We think that’s a great sign.”