Student interest in studying computer science is at its lowest point in 30 years, according to survey results from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California Los Angeles. This year, HERI's annual freshman survey found that interest in studying computer science is down by over 60 percent since its peak four years ago.
Jay Vegso, manager of membership and information services at the Computing Research Association (CRA), thinks it not only has to do with the perception that there are less CS-related jobs available, but also with the rise of other IT-heavy fields like Management Information Systems.
There is also a decline in interest among women--less than 0.5 percent of women surveyed expressed interest since its peak of 4.2 percent in the 1980s--a figure educators like Joanne McGrath Cohoon of the University of Virginia finds particularly distressing.
McGrath Cohoon, who has conducted extensive research on the topic, does think economics plays a role in decisions students make in choosing majors, but there is a general disinterest in computer science among women that she thinks has more to do with stereotypes.
"At the undergraduate level, women are very highly represented in biology. This goes back to the stereotypes of women being 'close to nature' and with things that have to do with 'life.' [Biology] fits better even though it's a scientific field."
Still, she believes IHEs should work to encourage female students to pursue computer science. She points to a recruitment effort by Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) in 1995 where female enrollment in computer science saw a dramatic increase of more than 500 percent over four years.
"Carnegie Mellon is a top program, but the point is that individual institutions can overcome what is a general trend," she says. "They have the opportunity to have an effect within their own institution."
Stuart Zweben of The Ohio State University also thinks "We could do a little better job of emphasizing the technical, communication and business aspects of computing" in order to send CS graduates into the labor force with marketable skills.
To see what Carnegie Mellon has done to increase women's interest in computer science, visit http://women.cs.cmu.edu.