A year ago, the Department of Computer and Information Systems at Georgia State Universitys J. Mack Robinson College of Business was on top of the world. Spurred by government reports of an insatiable industry demand for IT professionals, student interest surged. The departments enrollment last fall was 2,750, making it one of the largest IT programs in the country. So rapid was the growth that the departments 31 full-time faculty members could barely keep up.
What a difference a year makes. With the economy stalled and IT hiring by many companies at a standstill, enrollment at Robinsons CIS department has plummeted, according to Academic Program Director David McDonald. Last spring, enrollment fell by 11 percent. And now, just prior to the opening of the fall semester, enrollment is off another 43 percent.
“During recessions, universities usually see a countercyclical trend, with underemployed professionals returning to school,” said McDonald. “Thats not happening now. Were seeing a tremendous drop of people applying for the program.”
Georgia States isnt the only post-secondary IT education program seeing rapid enrollment declines. While high-profile IT programs, such as the one at the University of California at Berkeley, report enrollment levels holding steady or growing slightly, many other programs enrollments are falling, experts say.
Theres no mystery as to whats causing students at many schools to direct their career goals away from IT: Jobs—particularly entry-level jobs—are in short supply. And recruiting managers at most companies cant say when—or if—hiring will pick up.
Indeed, placement officials at many universities report that campus recruiting visits by IT and other employers have fallen dramatically as the economic slowdown persists. Tom Devlin, director of the Career Center at Berkeley, estimates the number of employers scheduling recruiting trips to the campus in search of computer science graduates has fallen 30 percent compared with two years ago.
Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, had 40 percent fewer companies recruiting during the 2001-02 school year than during the previous year. This fall, the number is up 25 percent from that low, but things still arent good, said Judy Mancuso, director of the schools Employer Relations and Recruiting division.
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While many students are staying away from IT studies, programs such as accounting, real estate and management have increased enrollment, said Georgia States McDonald, in Atlanta.
The drop in IT enrollment at many schools reverses a recent trend. Encouraged by predictions of plentiful IT job opportunities, students increased computer science enrollments nationwide by 40 percent between 1996 and 1997 and by 39 percent between 1997 and 1998, according to a report by the Computing Research Association, in Washington.
Educators such as McDonald are concerned that if declining enrollments persist, the widely reported IT skills gap could grow wider if and when the economy recovers.
“As soon as we come out of the recession, the demand [for IT skills] that we couldnt keep up with before is going to be doubled or tripled,” said McDonald. “And, if the pipeline of graduates is disrupted, it will be that much worse.”
Executive Managing Editor Jeff Moad is at [email protected].
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