Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

On the Technology Job Market

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

On the Technology Job Market

Article excerpt

The downturn in the economy and the recent dot-com and technology bust may be causing more undergraduates to think twice about majoring in computer science or engineering. In 2001 and 2002, there was a slight decline in the number of new students majoring in computer science or computer engineering, reports the Computing Research Association, made up of U.S. and Canadian academic departments as well as research and professional computing organizations.

This trend is showing up after a steady increase of new computer science majors between 1995 and 2000, which had the highest number of new computer science and computer engineering majors. However, the reason for the slight decline over the past two years remains uncertain.

"As yet, we cannot determine whether this was simply an artifact of the changes in the departments' reporting, or the start of a new trend," say CRA researchers in their 2000-2001 survey of 215 doctoral degree-granting computer science departments. "Perhaps the decline in the technology industry is making computer science and engineering less alluring to new undergraduates."

Dr. Stuart Zweben, professor and chair of Ohio State University's Department of Computer and Information Science, says indeed the number of computer science majors nationwide appears to be on the decline. "This certainly seems true in most Big 10 schools, with whom I have annual meetings. It certainly is true at Ohio State," Zweben says.

But Zweben, who serves on the CRA board of directors, also points out that the decline is happening from a very high base and "from a period where all computer science programs were in demand far in excess of the resources available to handle the programs effectively."

He cites the following three reasons for the decline:

The burst of the dot-com bubble. "During the late '90s, students were seeing all of these great jobs for computing graduates, with high salaries, stock options, other `get-rich-quick' opportunities. They flocked into computer science in droves," Zweben says. But things have changed. "During the past 18-24 months, they have been seeing stories of these same people losing fortunes, getting laid off and companies going belly-up. So they are dissuaded from entering the profession, fearing that jobs won't be there in abundance."

The high demand for computer science majors led to more competitive admission requirements. "For example, at Ohio State, one needs to have a 3.0 GPA in pre-major courses in order to be accepted to the computing majors," Zweben says. "After a few years of seeing high barriers to entry, many students come to their university and self-select into other, less competitive majors."

New computing-related programs have sprung up at universities that in some way compete for computer science students. "These programs are in the broad `information technology' area, and sometimes have that name or some variant of it."

Zweben advises students to look at "the importance of the computing field when analyzing the current job market. Since computing is, and will continue to be, an essential element of all commerce and business, the forecast is that there will be great continued demand (and even short supply) in this field," he says. "Students now entering universities should note that they are making decisions for a major from which they will graduate four or five years from now, and for a 30-year career. So don't look at today's job market; assess the importance of the field over the longer term."

Zweben says that universities will continue to adjust their barriers to admission relative to the supply-demand or selectivity considerations of the institution. "At Ohio State, we already have reduced the barrier to a 3.0 (GPA) from its high-watermark of 3.2 a year ago," he notes.

CRA researchers also point out that many computer science programs already may be filled to capacity and "may be operating in `saturation' mode, where they simply cannot accept more undergraduate majors given their teaching resources. …

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