Since the 1970s, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has established programs that focus on increasing the representation of women, Blacks and African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Other Pacific Islanders, and persons with disabilities in the field through outreach and recruitment efforts. Some of the earlier NSF investments to address broadening participation included programs like Women in Science, Minority Graduate Fellowships, and the Program for Persons with Disabilities, which explicitly focused on broadening participation and paved the way for a modern portfolio of programs that considers the diversity of communities served by NSF-funded work.
By the 2000s, the focus of BPC efforts began to shift from simply increasing representation to also addressing the systemic issues and barriers that contribute to underrepresentation. These efforts included research on the experiences of underrepresented groups in computing and the development of interventions to promote a more inclusive culture in computing education and the workforce. In 2012, the CISE Advisory Committee published the CISE Strategic Plan for Broadening Participation noting that:
It will take more than good intentions or business as usual, however, to reverse longstanding underrepresentation. It will take committed, focused, and sustained efforts on the part of many in the computing community.
In this article, we present the progress made in Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) and call upon the entire computing community to take on the important goal of addressing underrepresentation in computing disciplines.
Early roots of the CISE Broadening Participation in Computing efforts
By the early 2000s, information technology had become central to US economic growth and scientific advancement; however, U.S. universities and colleges were not producing enough computing-related degrees to meet the workforce demand. Therefore, CISE created the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program in 2006 in an effort to increase the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents earning postsecondary degrees in the computing disciplines, with a focus on those students from groups underrepresented in computing. The program supported BPC Alliances, an approach rooted in collective impact with the goal of bringing together organizations across multiple sectors to address the challenges of specific communities.
Sixteen years after the launch of the BPC Alliances, these organizations have become national hubs for broadening participation resources, which have transformed and broadened the field of computing across many underserved populations.
The BPC Alliance program has built a large, national community of researchers and practitioners who actively collaborate on interventions that address underrepresentation in K-12, post-secondary, and faculty ranks. Currently, CISE supports 12 BPC Alliances, each of which in turn serve hundreds or thousands of people on numerous campuses or other sites (Table 1). Some BPC efforts (e.g. the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions, or CAHSI) have grown into NSF INCLUDES Alliances, building the infrastructure needed for long-term national impacts and potential for greater benefits at-scale. In addition, the BPC Program supports 14 Demonstration Projects, which are smaller scale BPC interventions with potential to grow and expand into the broader BPC Alliance community. These efforts have contributed to a growing knowledge base on broadening participation in computing (e.g., BPC Literature Database).
Table 1. Current CISE BPC Alliances.
|AccessComputing (Alliance for Access to Computing Careers)
|Increase the participation of people with disabilities in computing fields
|CAHSI (Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions)
|Foster a community committed to accelerating the progress of Hispanics in computing
|CRA-WP (Computing Research Association’s Committee on Widening Participation in Computing Research)
|Widen the participation of individuals from populations underrepresented in computing research
|Make high-quality computer science an integral part of the educational experience of all K-12 students and teachers
|DAPPIC (Data Alliance on Persistence and Perception in Computing)
|Use data to support institutional efforts to broaden participation in undergraduate computing education
|ECEP (Expanding Computing Education Pathways)
|Increase the number and diversity of students in computing pathways by supporting state-level computing education reforms
|iAAMCS (Institute for African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences)
|Increase the number of African-Americans obtaining graduate computing degrees
|LEAP (Diversifying Leadership in the Professoriate)
|Diversify future leadership in the computing professoriate at research universities
|NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology)
|Ensure the perspectives and contributions of women are meaningfully represented at all levels of computing.
|REAL-CS (Researching Equity and Antiracist Learning in CS)
|Build capacity for the scaling and sustaining of equity in high school computer science education
|Socially Responsible Computing: Promoting Latinx student retention via community engagement in early CS courses
|Integrate socially responsible computing curriculum in early undergraduate computing experiences
|STARS Computing Corps
|Shift experiences in college computing departments to be more equitable and inclusive
BPC and CS Education: then and now
CISE has a long history of infusing BPC into its computing education programs to address challenges in maintaining a robust computing research community, including: (i) the lack of computing experiences in K-12 education, (ii) the significant underproduction of post-secondary degrees needed for the computing and computing-related workforce, and (iii) the longstanding underrepresentation of many segments of our population across education and career pathways.
In 2012, CISE initiated the CS 10K Project, an effort to offer high quality CS courses in 10,000 high schools, taught by 10,000 well-trained teachers. This effort built on a partnership with the College Board that developed the Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) exam and course framework, a new course centered on equity, rigor, and the societal impacts of computing. The launch of the AP CSP in 2017 saw the largest number of test-takers in the College Board’s 50-year history, with tremendous diversity as well. Furthermore, subsequent studies by the College Board have demonstrated that AP CSP students are more likely to major in computing than others, and that the experience has particular “sticking power” for students who identify as female or as Hispanic, where they are over three times more likely to declare a CS major after this exam (Wyatt et al, 2020).
CISE’s efforts to broaden participation in high school computer science go beyond AP with the development of the Exploring Computer Science course and professional development model. In partnership with the REAL-CS BPC Alliance, the Chicago Alliance for Equity in Computer Science (CAFÉCS) led the efforts to enact a computer science high school graduation requirement in the Chicago Public School districts, one of the largest in the country (Johnson et al., 2022). Since 2013, the reach of computer science education in Chicago high schools has grown from about a third of high schools and a few thousand students per year to all (over 100) high schools and 20,000 students per year (McGee et al., 2022). CAFÉCS is now supporting and studying students pursuing computer science pathways in high school and in college, infusing culturally responsive materials and techniques into existing CS curricula and professional development. K-12 CS continues to grow in popularity and impact with support from the NSF CSforAll: Research and Research Practitioner Partnership program, which provides teacher PD, curricula, and school and district- level supports to bring computing experiences to all K-12 students.
CISE also seeks to increase the production of post-secondary degrees needed for the computing and computing-related workforce. Over the past 20 years, CISE has supported a range of efforts that are responsive to the trending challenges of higher education with an eye toward the future of computing education pathways. The CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education program, for example, focused on transforming undergraduate computing education on a national scale. The current IUSE: Computing in Undergraduate Education (CUE) program, on the other hand, has shifted to a re-envisioning of undergraduate education through transformative computing degree programs, support for pathways through 2-year institutions, and alignment of the entire community around a common vision.
Further bolstering CISE’s vision for the future computing workforce is the new CSGrad4US program, which provides an opportunity for bachelor’s degree holders who may be working in industry or other sectors to return to academia and pursue research-based doctoral degrees. CSGrad4US includes both a 1-year mentoring component and subsequent 3-years of doctoral support at the same level as NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. In its inaugural year, 16 fellows participated in a mentoring program for the graduate application process and subsequently enrolled in computing graduate programs across the country. We look forward to scaling this program considerably, and welcome your help in encouraging your former students to apply.
Looking forward: Embedding BPC in the computing research community
While CISE’s computing education programs have shown tremendous advancements in addressing underrepresentation in CISE fields, there is still much work to be done. While the number and diversity of high school students taking AP CS exams has increased since the introduction of the AP CSP course, we note the increasing trends appear to have recently stalled. Furthermore, there are substantial gaps in pass rates. The percentages of women, Black, Hispanic/Latino and Indigenous students earning CISE bachelor’s degrees remain well below their participation in college, and this gap widens further at the PhD level. The proportion of Assistant Professors at research universities who are women, Black, or Hispanic has not increased substantially in the past decade. Moreover, the above mentioned data and other metrics of BPC do not account for intersectional identities or ability status (Lunn et al, 2021; Blaser & Ladner, 2020).
To address these issues, CISE seeks to go beyond the “business as usual” approach of relying on targeted programs focused specifically on underrepresentation and computing education to do the work of broadening participation in computing. Through the ongoing CISE BPC Plan Initiative, CISE calls upon the sustained commitment of the computing research community to ensure the development of a diverse workforce well prepared for careers in computing-related and computationally intensive fields. In particular, the BPC Plan Initiative requires that PIs include meaningful Project BPC plans in proposals submitted to a subset of CISE’s research programs.
In the nearly five years since the BPC Plan Initiative was first established, the CISE community has produced increasingly impactful and mature approaches to BPC and has integrated them with research efforts effectively and meaningfully. BPCNet, an online portal developed by the Computing Research Association with support from NSF, offers a wealth of curated resources to help CISE PIs and/or Departments as they write their BPC Plans. BPCNet also offers free consultancy services to further develop, refine, or finalize BPC Plans. Based on https://bpcnet.org/verified-departmental-bpc-plans/, there have been 86 departmental BPC plans verified by BPCnet from 80 institutions.
The BPC Initiative complements programs like BPC, CSforAll, CUE, and CSGrad4US by supporting efforts to pilot, implement, evaluate, and disseminate activities designed to broaden participation in computing.
Most importantly, just as noted by our 2012 strategic plan process, the BPC Plan Initiative represents a touchpoint which calls on the entire CISE community to commit together to moving the needle on persistent diversity and inclusion challenges in our research and education spaces. While we have invested effort and resources in these programs for decades, we still require the full community’s effort in making progress on the challenges and opportunities posed by these issues in our field.
Actively broadening participation in computing to ensure the inclusion of historically underrepresented groups is necessary to achieve an equitable and inclusive society in which all groups have equal access to education and career paths. And while the challenges to ensure this equality continue to evolve, we need to ensure that our priorities and programs align with the needs of the American people.
Peter A. Freeman, W. Richards Adrion, and William Aspray. (2019). Computing and the National Science Foundation, 1950–2016: Building a Foundation for Modern Computing. Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA.
Blaser, B., & Ladner, R. E. (2020). Why is data on disability so hard to collect and understand? In Proceedings from RESPECT ’20: The 5th international conference on Research in Equity and Sustained Participation in Engineering, Computing, and Technology.
Code.org, CSTA, & ECEP Alliance (2022). 2022 State of Computer Science Education: Understanding Our National Imperative. Retrieved from https://advocacy.code.org/stateofcs
Johnson, M., Wachen, J., & McGee, S. (2022). Building Strength in Chicago: Setting the Local and National Computer Science Agendas. Journal of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, 6. https://go.southernct.edu/jelps/files/2022-fall-volume-6/4-Johnson.pdf
McGee, S., Dettori, L., & Rasmussen, A.M. (2022). Impact of the CPS Computer Science Graduation Policy on Student Access and Outcomes [report]. Chicago, IL: The Learning Partnership. https://doi.org/10.51420/report.2022.4
Stephanie Lunn, Leila Zahedi, Monique Ross, and Matthew Ohland. (2021). Exploration of Intersectionality and Computer Science Demographics: Understanding the Historical Context of Shifts in Participation. ACM Trans. Comput. Educ. 21, 2, Article 10 (June 2021. https://doi.org/10.1145/3445985
Jeff Wyatt, Jing Feng, and Maureen Ewing. (2020). AP Computer Science Principles and the STEM and Computer Science Pipelines, Retrieved from https://apcentral.collegeboard.org/pdf/ap-csp-and-stem-cs-pipelines.pdf?course=ap-computer-scienceprinciples
About the Authors
Jeff Forbes is the lead Program Director for the Education and Workforce program in the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), managing programs that address the critical and complex issues of education and broadening participation in computing. From 2001 to 2020, Jeff was on the faculty of Duke University where he was an Associate Professor of the Practice of Computer Science.
Allyson Kennedy is a Program Director for education and workforce in the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). In CISE, she evaluates and supports initiatives to make computer science education inclusive for all students. She recently served as an Embassy Science Fellow, where she collaborated with the Thai government and U.S. Embassy to promote science diplomacy and address key issues around STEM education. In addition to her current role as an NSF program officer, her experiences as a high school teacher in the Uthai Thani Province of Thailand and AAAS Science and Technology Policy fellow have honed her skills and knowledge of working across sectors to create inclusive and equitable education pathways.
Margaret Martonosi is the US National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Assistant Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). With an annual budget of more than $1B, the CISE directorate at NSF has the mission to uphold the Nation’s leadership in scientific discovery and engineering innovation through its support of fundamental research and education in computer and information science and engineering as well as transformative advances in research cyberinfrastructure. While at NSF, Dr. Martonosi is on leave from Princeton University where she is the Hugh Trumbull Adams ’35 Professor of Computer Science. Dr. Martonosi is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Fernanda Pembleton is the communications specialist in the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE). In this role, she works directly with the scientific community, industry leaders, academia and government agencies to promote the progress of NSF-funded foundational research and education programs in all areas of computer and information science.