National Academy of Sciences Report Provides Guidance for Universities Experiencing Surging Enrollment in Computer Science
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently released a report that addresses the nationwide surge in computer science enrollment at colleges and universities. The report provides insight into the drivers of the enrollment surge, explores the pros and cons of different strategies for managing enrollment and resources, and makes a number of recommendations for departments, academic leaders and institutions in meeting the growing demand for computer science courses and programs.
Susanne Hambrusch, co-chair of the report’s committee and a professor of computer science in the College of Science at Purdue, said, “The way colleges and universities respond to the surge in student interest and enrollment can have a significant impact on the health of the field.”
Sunil Prabhakar, head of the Department of Computer Science, said, “One can keenly observe the surging national demand for computer science by looking at Purdue, where the department has grown from 463 undergraduate majors in Fall 2009 to 1708 undergraduate majors in Fall 2017 – an increase of 269 percent.”
The surging national interest in computer science places considerable stress on the resources of computer science departments across the country, including their faculty, staff, space, teaching assistants and instructional budgets. According to the Computing Research Association’s annual Taulbee Survey, the number of majors has increased by about 290 percent in Ph.D.-granting departments between 2006 and 2015. At the same time, the number of tenured/tenure-track faculty increased by only 22 percent.
Hiring and retaining CS faculty is currently an acute challenge that limits institutions’ abilities to respond to increasing enrollments. The report estimates that at most 20 percent of the about 2,0o0 new doctoral degrees awarded each year seek a tenured/tenure-track academic position, while more than 57 percent seek employment in industry.
The findings of the report include a positive outlook on diversity. While the percentage of women and underrepresented minorities completing bachelor’s degrees has not seen increases in the last decade, there is evidence of increased representation among current majors and students interested in CS. The report urges departments to continue to take deliberate actions in support of diversity and cautions against imposing strict limits on enrollment. Limits can create an environment of real or perceived competition among students who desire to enter a program and can disproportionally discourage participation among underrepresented groups.
Other recommendations made include:
- Institutions experiencing a significant increase in computer science enrollments should take deliberate actions with a sense of urgency. They should consider a comprehensive institutional strategy to increase in resources, address the rising workload on faculty and staff in computer science, and the limitations arising from inadequate facilities.
- Departments should work with institutions to pursue innovative strategies to deliver high quality instruction at scale to a large number of students.
- Institutional leadership should work with computer science departments to develop realistic faculty size targets. Increasing the number of academic-rank teaching faculty should be given serious consideration.
- Larger research institutions should reevaluate the organizational placement of the computer science department and other units with a computational mission.
- Computer science departments and industry should develop new partnerships to help higher education meet workforce needs, encourage industry to provide increased support for research, and develop a better exchange of Ph.D.-level researchers between academia and industry.
- Departments should leverage the increasing interest in computer science to engage, recruit, and retain more women and underrepresented minorities, proactively addressing the diversity problem that exists within the field.
The report does not make a prediction as to whether the current surge in student enrollment and interest in computing will level off. But given the growing central role that computing plays in today’s society, widely available opportunities in computing are expected to continue to drive enrollment in computer science courses and programs.
A clear message of the report is that should an institution fail to address the demand for computer science and related resource challenges, it will result in negative conditions for students, faculty, programs, or the institution as a whole in the near or long term.
“We’re delighted to have the largest, most qualified, and most diverse group of entering undergraduates in the history of our Computer Science department,” said Patrick J. Wolfe, Frederick L. Hovde Dean of the College of Science and Miller Family Professor of Statistics. “With new growth comes new challenges, and Professor Hambrusch’s excellent work in co-chairing the committee that developed this report not only furthers the reputation of the Purdue College of Science as a leader in the computer science arena, it elucidates the scope of these challenges. These critical findings will illuminate our path forward.”
Read the full report online (a free account is needed to download the full PDF).