This article is published in the November 2016 issue.

After Leaving Computing, New Majors Tend to Differ by Gender


cerp-infographic-nov-2016As computing departments across the U.S. wrestle with increased enrollment, it is important to recognize that not everyone who becomes a computing major stays a computing major. In 2014, CERP collected data from a cohort of U.S. undergraduate students who agreed to be contacted for follow-up surveys in 2015. While most of the students surveyed remained computing majors (96%), some students changed to a non-computing major. As shown in the graphic above, students in our sample moved to a variety of majors, and the type of new major tended to differ by gender. Most men (69%) who left a computing major switched to engineering, math/statistics, or physical science majors. On the other hand, most women (53%) tended to move to social sciences, or humanities/arts. These data are consistent with existing social science research indicating women tend to choose fields that have clear social applications, such as the social sciences, arts, and humanities. CERP’s future analyses will explore why women, versus men, say they are leaving computing for other fields.

Note this summary of longitudinal survey data is suggestive and is intended to spur further empirical investigation. Given our sample size, we did not run inferential statistics and do not claim the gender differences are significantly different. As such, the findings reported here should be interpreted with caution.

Notes. There were 4,061 undergraduate students who responded to CERP’s survey in 2014. Of those students, 2,915 (72%) agreed to be contacted for follow-up. When we contacted them in 2015, 1,026 (35%) completed our follow-up survey. Of those who responded to the follow-up survey, 943 (92%) were in a computing major, 77 (7%) were in a non-computing major, and 6 (1%) were undecided in 2014. In 2015, 902 (96%) of the students in a computing major in 2014 were still in a computing major while 40 (4%) left computing for another major or were undecided about their major, and one student did not report their major in 2015. Among the 40 students who left their computing major, only 38 are represented above because 2 students did not report their new major. The percentages in the graphic do not add up to 100% due to rounding errors.

horizontal CERP logoThis infographic is brought to you by the CRA’s Center for Evaluating the Research Pipeline (CERP). CERP provides social science research and comparative evaluation for the computing community. To learn more about CERP, visit our website at http://cra.org/cerp/.