This Article is published in the September 2008 issue

CS Majors Ten Years After Graduation

By Jay Vegso

There are few good sources of information about what happens to undergraduates after they receive their degrees. One is the National Center for Education Statistics‘ Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B).

The most recent B&B report provides snapshots of work and life experiences in 1994, 1997 and 2003 for those who received undergraduate degrees in 1992-93. It divides majors into those that are “academic” or “career-oriented”, with computer science (CS) included in the latter (along with business, education, health, and engineering). Sixty-five percent of the 1992-93 graduates had career-oriented majors. CS majors represented a little over 2% of the bachelor’s degree recipients tracked by the survey. B&B also reports results by “STEM” fields, which include engineering, CS, biological sciences, mathematics, and physical sciences.

Here are a few interesting findings about CS majors in the report:

They tended to be older than their fellow undergraduates when they received their degrees.
About 22% of academic majors were aged 25 and older when they graduated, compared to 31% of career-oriented majors. Of all 11 majors or groups of majors reported in the survey, CS had the second highest share of students aged 25 and older (36%).

Few of them studied beyond the baccalaureate level. 
When you combine results for each of the three survey years (1994, 1997 and 2003), CS majors tied with business and management majors in having the lowest share of those who had gone on to enroll in additional degree programs—17%, compared to 25% of career-oriented majors and 39% of STEM majors.

They enjoyed high salaries.
In 2003, those who had received their undergraduate degree in CS earned $72,600. This trailed only engineers, who earned $74,600. CS also compared well to majors grouped into the STEM ($68,300) and non-STEM fields ($58,900). As a result, it is not surprising that 77% of CS majors reported that they were satisfied with their salaries in 2003—a higher share than any other major (though closely followed by engineering).

They tended to stay in their jobs.
Although IT workers are portrayed as moving between jobs frequently, CS majors in the B&B study reported being with their current employer the longest out of all of the groups tracked. In 2003, CS majors had been with their current employer an average of 6.2 years, compared to 4.3 years for academic majors, 5.6 for career-oriented majors, 5.1 for STEM, and 5.2 for non-STEM majors. In light of this, it is odd that CS majors also reported the lowest satisfaction with their job security (followed by engineers).

Their skills were in demand among a variety of work sectors.
To quote the report: “Although 48 percent of computer science majors were employed in computer science occupations in 2003, graduates with this major were spread across many industries, reflecting the broad demand for their skills.”

Percentage distribution of 1992–93 CS bachelor’s degree recipients’ industries in 1994, 1997, and 2003
1994 1997 2003
Health Care
Professional & related services 16.2 14.0 22.3
Manufacturing 16.8 16.5 7.4
Finance, insurance, & real estate 11.2 13.9 14.4
Retail & wholesale trade 7.5 6.3 5.6
Utilities, communications, transportation 13.5 12.9 12.3
Personal/hospitality services, entertainment/recreation 1.1 0.0 1.4
Business services 22.4 16.3 4.1
Public safety & administration 8.0 5.2 3.4
Agriculture, mining, oil, construction 1.0 1.1 2.3
Other 2.4 3.2 7.6
From Table 11, Baccalaureate & Beyond, NCES CRA: Jay Vegso

Source: Choy, S.P., and Bradburn, E.M. (2008). “Ten Years After College: Comparing the Employment Experiences of 1992–93 Bachelor’s Degree Recipients With Academic and Career-Oriented Majors (NCES 2008-155).” National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

For more information about computing education and the IT workforce, visit the CRA website and the CRA Bulletin