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Why Students Consider Leaving Computing and What Encourages Them to Stay


The following was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Computing Research News. Check out the complete series of CERP infographics.

Difficulties with Coursework Make Students Consider Leaving Computing; Job Prospects and Support from Friends and Family Help Students Stay

By Burçin Tamer, CERP research scientist
Why students consider leaving computing

In CERP’s 2015 Data Buddies survey, computing majors were asked whether they had thought about changing to a non-computing major during the past year. Thirteen percent of students who responded to this question said that they had. The word clouds here were created using students’ comments about the reasons they considered leaving computing and factors that helped them stay. Some of the most frequently encountered words in students’ reasons for considering leaving computing were “classes”, “hard”, “difficult”, “work”, and “time”. On the other hand, students’ responses regarding the factors that helped them stay in computing contained words such as “job”, “degree”, and “friends”.

We also looked at words associated (correlated) with these two sets of words to give us context for frequently cited words. When talking about thoughts about leaving, students were particularly likely to associate “weed-out” with “classes”. They were also likely to use words such as “pretty” and “extremely” alongside “hard” and “difficult”, which sheds light on computing students’ experiences in the major. When talking about staying in their major, students cited words such as “prospect”, “security”, “stable”, and “necessary” along with the top two most commonly used words: “job” and “degree”. For instance, one student said: “[I thought about changing to a non-computing major because of] the difficulty of computing. [But I stayed for] the security of the job market.” Yet another student noted: “The competitive culture [in my computing major] is overwhelming. [But] the salary [that] hopefully awaits me [helped me stay].” Furthermore, students used the words “friends”, “family”, and “support” in association with each other, suggesting that friends and family support played a role in students’ decision/ability to stay in their computing major. As a case in point, one student noted: “The material is hard to learn! I had to drop one of my core classes and must take it again. But with some support from friends, academic advisors, more interesting classes, and a more focused field in the major I have decided to continue.”

Notes. There were 9,721 undergraduate students who responded to CERP’s survey in 2015. Students who indicated that they were in a computing major were asked, “Over the past year, have you seriously considered changing to a non-computing major?” A total of 1,049 students (13% of the 7,952 students who responded to this question) said that they had considered changing to a non-computing major. These 1,049 students were asked two open-ended questions to comment on the reasons for considering changing to a non-computing major and the factors that helped them stay. A total of 1,013 entered a text response to at least one of these questions. The free text responses students entered were then corrected for major spelling errors and stripped of “stop words” such as “a”, “the”, and “is”. Word clouds were generated to reflect most commonly used words with a minimum frequency of 40.

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This info-graphic 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 https://cra.org/cerp/.