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2020 Taulbee Survey: Bachelor’s and Doctoral Degree Production Growth Continues but New Student Enrollment Shows Declines

2020 CRA Taulbee Survey

By Stuart Zweben and Betsy Bizot

This article and the accompanying figures and tables present the results from the 50th annual CRA Taulbee Survey. The survey, conducted annually by the Computing Research Association, documents trends in student enrollment, degree production, employment of graduates, and faculty salaries in academic units in the United States and Canada that grant the Ph.D. in computer science (CS), computer engineering (CE), or information (I). Most of these academic units are departments, but some are colleges or schools of information or computing. In this report, we will use the term “department” to refer to the unit offering the program.

CRA gathers survey data during the fall. Responses received by February 22, 2021 are included in the analysis. The period covered by the data varies from table to table. Degree production and enrollment (Ph.D., Master’s, and Bachelor’s) refer to the previous academic year (2019-20). Data for new students in all categories refer to the current academic year (2020-21). Projected student production and information on faculty salaries are also for the current academic year; salaries are those effective January 1, 2021.

We surveyed a total of 279 Ph.D.-granting departments and received responses from 179, for an overall response rate of 64 percent. Last year we had two more total respondents and a 65 percent response rate. The response rates from CE and Canadian departments in particular continue to be low. The U.S. CS response rate of 78 percent is, as usual, the highest of all of the categories; it is slightly higher than last year’s 77 percent and is typical of the response rates for the past decade. Figure 1 shows the history of the survey’s response rates. Response rates are inexact because some departments provide only partial data, and some institutions provide a single joint response for multiple departments. Thus, in some tables the number of departments shown as reporting will not equal the overall total number of respondents shown in Figure 1 for that category of department.

To account for the changes in response rate, we will comment not only on aggregate totals but also on averages per department reporting or data from those departments that responded to both 2019 and 2020 surveys. This is a more meaningful indication of the one-year changes affecting the data.

Degree, enrollment, and faculty salary data for the U.S CS departments are stratified according to: a) whether the institution is public or private; and b) the tenure-track faculty size of the reporting department. The faculty size strata deliberately overlap, so that data from most departments affect multiple strata. This may be especially useful to departments near the boundary of one stratum. Salary data is also stratified according to the population of the locale in which the institution is located. These stratifications allow our readers to see multiple views of important data, and hopefully gain new insights from them. In addition to tabular presentations of data, we will use “box and whisker” diagrams to show medians, quartiles, and the range between the 10th and 90th percentile data points.

This year’s survey was conducted in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. With institutions closed for part of 2019-20, varying approaches to learning once classes resumed in Spring 2020, and the fact that these educational decisions persisted in the 2020-21 academic year, the data we report here should be interpreted with appropriate COVID-related caveats. This is particularly true of comparisons with prior years. We asked special questions this year to gain some appreciation for the effect of these educational adjustments on new student enrollment in 2020-21. Those results are included in this report where they naturally fall, e.g., changes in new Ph.D. student enrollment are reported with the usual data on new Ph.D. students. In the Concluding Observations section, we summarize where we think this year’s reported data was particularly affected by COVID-19. Other insights into department experiences were obtained by two special surveys conducted by CRA in early summer 2020, one of individual faculty and one of chairs or other department representatives.

We thank all of the respondents to this year’s questionnaire, and especially appreciate their willingness to provide data during such an unusual and trying time. The participating departments are listed at the end of this article. CRA member respondents will again be given the opportunity to obtain certain survey information for a self-selected peer group. Instructions for doing this will be emailed to all such departments.