Recently, The New York Times featured an article “The Hard Part of Computer Science? Getting Into Class.” The story explores how the increasing student demand for computer science courses is outstripping the supply of professors. The article cites CRA Taulbee Survey data and quotes several current and former CRA board members.
On campuses across the country, from major state universities to small private colleges, the surge in student demand for computer science courses is far outstripping the supply of professors, as the tech industry snaps up talent. At some schools, the shortage is creating an undergraduate divide of computing haves and have-nots — potentially narrowing a path for some minority and female students to an industry that has struggled with diversity.
The number of undergraduates majoring in the subject more than doubled from 2013 to 2017, to over 106,000, while tenure-track faculty ranks rose about 17 percent, according to the Computing Research Association, a nonprofit that gathers data from about 200 universities.
Former CRA board member Maria Klawe commented on its impact on underrepresented groups in computing:
“When you put any kind of barrier in place in terms of access to computer science majors, it tends to reduce the number of women and students of color in the program,” said Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, a private college in Claremont, Calif., that has become a national model for diversity in computer science.
Also, former CRA board member Tracy Camp described how her university is managing the situation:
Likewise, Tracy Camp, head of the computer science department at the Colorado School of Mines — a public university where the number of computer science majors has more than doubled in recent years — said she was determined not to put in deterrents like capping the major. Instead, she said, class sizes had sharply increased.
“I don’t want to tell a student already at Mines, ‘You can’t major in computer science,’” Professor Camp said.
Camp also chaired the CRA Enrollments Committee, which published the Generation CS report on the computer science undergraduate enrollments surge that has existed since 2006. The report details the results of an enrollment survey designed to measure, assess, and better understand enrollment trends and their impact on computer science units, diversity, and more. The National Academies also published a report, “Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments“.
In the New York Times article, CRA Board Secretary Greg Morrisett described how academia faces steep competition with industry for talent:
In addition, tech giants and other companies have been poaching professors and hiring new Ph.D.s.
“I had a faculty member who came in with an offer from a bank, and they were told that, with their expertise, the starting salary would be $1 million to $4 million,” said Greg Morrisett, dean of computing and information science at Cornell University. “There’s no way a university, no matter how well off, could compete with that.”
Finally, former CRA board member Ed Lazowska shared how joint appointments can offer a solution:
To stem the tide of professors decamping for industry, universities are turning to dual appointments. Last year Amazon hired Siddhartha Srinivasa, a world-renowned robotics expert who is a computer science professor at the University of Washington. He now splits his time between the two.
Ed Lazowska, a computer science professor at the university, said such arrangements gave faculty members access to resources, like giant computing power and tremendous data sets, that could help further their research and benefit their students.
“What better place could there be than Amazon to put your robot to work?” Professor Lazowska said.
Click here to view the full New York Times article. Visit the CRA website for more information on the Taulbee Survey and the Generation CS report. In addition, CRA’s Data Buddies Project collects longitudinal data on students, which can be used to gauge the impact of increasing demands on computing courses and faculty. Visit the CERP website to learn more about how to get involved with The Data Buddies Project.