CS Degree Interest Plummeted Since 2000

Research shows that interest in the field tends to be cyclical and that the decline has leveled off in the last two years.

With blame levied everywhere from the after-effects of the dot-com bust to the impact of offshoring on IT job stability, there is little question that student interest in pursuing careers in computers and technology has declined in the last seven years.

Two new studies sought to quantify the decline by looking at declared computer science majors, undergraduate computer science enrollments and granted computer science bachelors degrees. Both emerged with sobering numbers.

The percentage of incoming undergraduate students who indicated that they would major in computer science declined by 70 percent between the fall of 2000 and 2005, according to new research from HERI (The Higher Education Research Institute) at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. Their CIRP Freshman Survey is an annual survey of the characteristics of students attending colleges and universities as first-time, full-time freshmen.

These numbers mesh with preliminary results from the latest Taulbee Survey, due for release in May, conducted by the CRA (Computing Research Association) which tracks PhD-granting North American computer science and engineering departments.

The CRA study found that the number of newly-declared computer science majors in the fall of 2007 was half of what it was in the fall of 2000-7,915 versus 15,958. The number of new computer science majors was flat in 2006 but increased slightly in 2007, which might indicate that interest is stabilizing.

"The survey results are only for schools with PhD-granting computer science and computer engineering programs. However, the numbers there have been accurate predictors in the past of what is happening in non-PhD granting computer science and engineering programs," Jay Vegso, manager of information and membership at the CRA, told eWEEK.