Monday, March 27, 2006

CS enrollment continues decline

The title above links to data from the Computing Research Association on undergraduate computer science enrollment. The number of new students entering the CS pipeline continued its decline in Fall 2005 to about 8,000, from a high of around 16,000 in Fall 2000. Note that these figures are for US PhD granting departments only. This decline has had an impact on total enrollment since the 2001-02 academic year, and for the first time (during 2004-05) impacted the number of Bachelor's degrees granted (down 17% from its peak in 2003-04).

I take this as good news, not bad. Since the dot-com bust around 2000, the number of CS degrees granted rose from around 10,000 or so to 14,000, and is now only down to a bit less than 12,000. Continued decreases over the next couple years will start the pendulum swinging the other way, with companies increasing pay and benefits, and maybe even improving the work climate. The message will filter through to prospective students, and new enrollments will increase.


  1. Ok. Two years ago, some colleague of mine told the dean that the numbers would bounce back just about now. Not only have they not bounced back, but they have gotten worse.

    You have to be careful with predictions because if you get it wrong too often, you loose your credibility.

    It is a strong hypothesis to assume that the pendulum will actually swing back. There are factors that would make it swing back (fewer degrees granted = less pressure on the job market), but consider that many other fields are about to suffer massively from people retiring and hence, there will be pressure on wages all around. Not so many retirements with most IT/CS jobs. I don't know a whole lot of C++ programmers out there who are above 50. There are some, for sure, but most of them didn't come through a CS Departement. Also, consider that, to some extend, the fact that CS departments grant fewer degrees, doesn't mean you have fewer people with IT/programming training entering the job market. There are many, many other schools: most business schools now teach information sciences, they have database and programming courses, but usually with different names than you would expect, and so on. I see many job ads where an undergraduate degree in CS is just a nice thing to have, not a requirement, not by a long shot.

    I'm not trying to be pessimistic, I just think that we don't know enough to assume that it will bounce back hard. It may bounce back a little, or not at all. At this point, we don't know... we just know it keeps on sliding. We can reasonably assume the slide will come to an end soon, but... even predicting when this will happen is hard.

  2. As Yogi Berra said, "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future." I'm basing what I write on the observation that the employment picture has already improved markedly for CS grads. I think that's mostly a result of improving industry conditions, rather than the just-begun decrease in degree production.