From The Ivy League To State Schools, Demand For Computer Science Is Booming

For years, people in the tech industry have worked to persuade more young people in the United States to become interested in studying computer science. It now looks like they’ve finally gotten the message.

Demand for computer science classes and programs is booming at universities across the U.S., according to data presented this past week at the NCWIT summit for Women in IT by Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, and Stanford Computer Science professor Eric Roberts.

At Lazowska’s own school, the number of incoming freshman who plan to major in computer science is soaring — the graph below, published earlier this week by Geekwire, speaks for itself:

It’s not just UW that’s seeing a CS boom. Computer science class enrollment is markedly up at a number of institutions, from traditional tech hubs like MIT and Stanford to more humanities- and business-focused schools like Harvard:

Number of CS majors at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and UPenn

Number of CS majors at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and UPenn

Now, when the word “bubble” gets thrown around, many tech industry leaders like to point out that public market activity is nowhere near the irrational exuberance seen during the first tech boom. But in academia, enthusiasm for learning to code is at all time highs, with CS enrollment at some schools far surpassing the numbers that were seen during the late 1990s:

CMU CS enrollment

But at the academic level, Lazowska and Roberts say that this time around things just feel different than they did during the first dot-com frenzy. For a variety of reasons, the recent dramatic growth in CS studies may very well continue for a long time, rather than head for a trough like they did in the early 2000s.

With the current shortage of engineers in the job market, this all seems like great news, right? Well, there’s a catch. According to Lasowska and Roberts, our higher education institutions today aren’t adequately prepared to handle the surge in computer science education demand. At the moment, there just aren’t enough instructors to teach all the students who want to learn. Many schools are currently torn between either limiting the number of CS degrees they give out, or letting class sizes become “enormous.”

While these may seem like great problems to have, they are still problems. How will academia handle the big CS boom?

You can view the entire slide deck for Lasowska and Roberts’ talk here.