Precipitous Drop in Computer Science Interest

Students once saw computer-science classes as their ticket to wealth. Now, as more technology jobs are outsourced to other countries, such classes are seen as a path to unemployment.
New data show students’ interest in the discipline is in a free fall. The number of newly declared computer-science majors declined 32 percent from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2004, according to a report released this month by the Computing Research Association, which represents computer scientists in industry and academe. Another survey, from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, shows that the number of incoming freshmen who expressed an interest in majoring in computer science has plummeted by 59 percent in the last four years.
Professors say the creation in the last five years of new degrees in information technology or information systems may also be offering more-attractive alternatives to computer science. Computer science focuses on how networks are engineered — the theoretical aspects of computing — and on writing software, while information technology focuses on applied work, such as building Web sites, adapting systems to a business’s needs, and maintaining networks.
George Mason University started an information-technology program in the fall of 2002, and this year has 726 students in the program. The number keeps growing each year, with students particularly interested in computer-security courses, says Anne Marchant, an information-technology instructor at the university. Only 550 George Mason students are computer-science majors. A few years ago the department had about 800 students who majored in the field.
Ms. Marchant blames the shift partly on what she sees as students’ deteriorating mathematics aptitude.
“Information technology is the right home for an awful lot of students who do not have the math skills and do not really have the interest in becoming programmers,” she says.
Jesse J. Rangel, a senior at California State University at Bakersfield who is a computer-science major, says some of his classmates avoid computer science because it involves advanced mathematics and physics. “The sad fact is that many students are not up for the challenge,” he says.
See the full article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.