CRA’s Taulbee Survey of Ph.D.-granting Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering departments in North America has been conducted each Fall since 1974. Results from the most recent survey were provided to participants and CRA members in February. They will be published on CRA’s website (www.cra.org/statistics/) and in Computing Research News in May. Due to the interest in the data on undergraduate degrees, however, CRA has chosen to release a portion of the results early.
This article reports on CS bachelor’s degree enrollments and production among Ph.D.-granting departments in the United States since the mid-1990s. For figures that group CS departments by rank, the rankings are based on information collected in the 1995 assessment of research and doctorate programs in the U.S. conducted by the National Research Council (see http://www.cra.org/nrc).
As can be seen in Figure 1, total bachelor’s degree production increased in the 2003/2004 academic year to 14,185. Nevertheless, this was its slowest rate of growth (5 percent) since the mid-1990s. In addition, growth in the number of degrees granted by the top 36 departments ranked by the NRC began to slow in 2001/2002, and production shrank last year by 3 percent. The median number of degrees granted by the top 36 departments has declined for the past two years, to 109. At the same time, growth among those ranked 37 and above continued at about 10 percent last year, and the median number of degrees granted by them increased to 65.
It is important to remember that these results are for Ph.D.-granting departments only. The National Science Foundation publishes results for all institutions that grant CS degrees but its most recent data are from 2000/2001. Traditionally, the Taulbee Survey’s Ph.D.-granting schools have produced a little below 30 percent of the undergraduate CS degrees reported by the NSF. As a result, it is possible to estimate that a little more than 50,000 undergraduate CS degrees were granted in 2003/2004.
While the current undergraduate CS degree production numbers are strong, they appear set to decline in coming years. The number of students that declared their major in CS has declined for the past four years and is now 39 percent lower than in the Fall of 2000 (Figure 2). The number of new CS majors among departments ranked 37 and above has declined steadily since 2000, and since 2002 for those ranked in the top 36.
The impact of these declines is now being felt among enrollments, which have decreased by 7 percent in each of the past two years (Figure 3). The greatest decline in the past few years has occurred among the top 36 departments, which saw enrollments fall by 19 percent between 1999/2000 and 2003/2004. In comparison, enrollments for those ranked 37 and above dropped 13 percent between their peak in 2001/2002 and last year.
A downturn in undergraduate CS degree production therefore seems likely in the coming decade. This is not surprising in light of the volatile history of the field. According to the NSF, undergraduate CS production nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 1986, to over 42,000 degrees. This period was followed by a swift decline and leveling off during the 1990s, with several years during which the number of degrees granted hovered at around 25,000. During the late 1990s, CS degree production again surged, to over 43,000 in 2001. (See http://www.cra.org/info/education/us/bs.html; source: Table 46 athttp://www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/nsf04311/htmstart.htm). Another downward trend was foreseeable. Indeed, survey results from the Higher Education Research Institute have indicated a declining interest in CS as a major among incoming Freshman for the last five years: from 3.8 percent in 1999, to 1.4 percent in 2004. How much of an impact this will have on degree production, and whether this will simply be part of a pattern, are unknown.