Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

MIS versus Computer Science: An Empirical Comparison of the Influences on the Students' Choice of Major

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

MIS versus Computer Science: An Empirical Comparison of the Influences on the Students' Choice of Major

Article excerpt


The recent history of declining enrollments has plagued Management Information Systems (MIS) and Computer Science (CS) departments in American colleges and universities. This trend is particularly alarming in light of the recent growing demand for employees to fill information technology (IT) related jobs (Locher, 2007). The growing demand for IT skills is driven by the continuing growth of consumer and business demand for IT related products and services. Given this demand, the declining enrollment in MIS and CS programs is ominous for both business organizations that hire college graduates to work in IT and the universities that educate them. To help reverse the declining enrollment in MIS and CS departments, to better support business and organizational interests, it is imperative that college departments understand how and why students choose their majors, in particular, technology majors.

MIS and CS enrollments have not always been in decline, though the current trend reflects MIS and CS enrollment over the last seven years (Foster, 2005; Frauenheim, 2004; Locher, 2007; Vegso, 2005). In the early 1980s CS enrollment was booming; in fact some departments used GPAs and SAT/ACT test scores to limit enrollment because of resource limitations (Butcher & Muth, 1985). During that same period, business schools across the country were starting MIS programs, and most were also growing rapidly. Both MIS and CS achieved increasing growth during the 1990s (Goff, 2000) as the economy expanded, but that growth came to a halt when the bubble burst in 2000/2001. By 2004, CS enrollment was 70% lower than at its peak of 1982 (Vegso, 2005), and MIS enrollment was falling as well (Aken & Michalisin, 2007). Enrollment in the authors' own MIS program went from over 360 in 2001, to110in 2007. MIS departments at some schools were dismantled (Aken & Michalisin, 2007).

Among other factors, declining enrollments have been attributed to perceptions that IT related jobs are not readily available (Foster 2005; Mahmoud, 2005), IT jobs are moving

offshore (Foster 2005; Locher, 2007), IT is too difficult

(Locher, 2007), and to poor high school preparation (Locher, 2007; Mahmoud, 2005). While these and other factors may have exacerbated this situation, evidence suggests that the need for technology skills continues to increase (Locher, 2007). There is currently a shortage of qualified IT workers, a situation not likely to improve in the near term (Aken & Michalisin, 2007). This explains, at least to some extent, the reason US companies hire foreign nationals or move the jobs offshore where qualified graduates can be found (Foster, 2005). It is noteworthy that the US Congress raised the H-1B visa quota to allow IT companies to hire more foreign workers to meet this need (Foster, 2005; Mahmoud, 2005).

In order to reverse enrollment declines, an understanding of why students choose their major is critical. College student choice of major has been studied rather extensively, especially the broad area of math, science and engineering, which includes CS. Other studies have looked at business majors, and MIS has been studied mostly in this context (Kim, Markham & Cangelosi, 2002; Mauldin, Crain & Mounce, 2000; Noel, Michaels & Levas, 2003; Pritchard,

Potter & Saccucci, 2004; Strasser, Ozgur & Schroeder, 2002). Both MIS and CS majors have considerable similarities; they both like and are interested in technology, work with computing, and take similar classes. Because of these similarities, we believe students may be attracted to either major; therefore, there is at least an implicit competition among MIS and CS departments to attract and retain students. There are also differences between MIS and CS; an obvious one is that MIS majors are frequently in the business college while CS majors are typically in the science or engineering college. …

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