Dev

How computer science majors came back after the dotcom bust (in 3 charts)

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Computer science in academia ,was in its heyday around the tech bubble of the early 2000s but took a nose dive after the prolonged tech slump. Now the popularity of computer science is roaring back on America’s college campuses.

A new report from the National Center for Women and Information Technology highlights the massive spike in total computers science enrollment in both Ivy-league and tier-two schools [PDF].

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This doesn’t tell the whole, story, however. Total enrollment of computer science is increasing because more young ‘uns are going to college.

But if we pull back the timeline curtain, we see that computer science had two boom and bust cycles, hitting a high in 1985 with 14.1 percent of total degrees conferred and a second smaller peak in 2000 (9.4 percent).

Northwest University Assistant Professor Benjamin Schmidt built an awesome interactive graphic of the percentage of college degrees by major. Here’s a snapshot of how computers science has changed since the 1970s. The second graph shows how comp sci compares to sociology, which has seen a steady plateau since the mid-nineties.

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The same is true for AP computer science, which saw a high in the early 2000s and made a comeback in the last few years [PDF]. (Note, there is missing data from 2010 on the percentage of computer science as the total of AP exams; I decided not to impute a reasonable estimation because that gets folks into trouble.)

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Now, it’s a struggle to get women into computer science at the same rate as men. Women have to overcome a daunting 20-80 gap that didn’t exist just 30 years ago. But the University of California, Berkeley, saw its first female-majority Intro to Computer Science class recently, and things are looking up for gender balance.

It’s still too early for Silicon Valley to break out the champagne in congratulatory anticipation for a flood of qualified programmers, but things are looking promising that the U.S. could hit another mountaintop soon.


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