Enrolment in computer science courses in American universities was up 6.2% last year, the first annual rise since 2002. It appears students believe computing is one of the few safe areas in an economic slowdown.
There’s also a rise in the number of jobs available for teaching computer courses in universities, though the report authors warn this might not last.
The number of students who graduated with a computer science degree was down 10%, though of course those students made their course choices several years ago; 2006-7 saw a 20% fall on the previous year, so the increase in new students may be part a trend that started some time back.
There’s also evidence that students today don’t just see computing as a useful part of their education, but rather a key career choice. For both the total number of students and the average number of students per course, the rises are highest among those who have computing science as a major rather than a minor subject.
The figures come from the Computing Research Association (CRA), a non-profit group which brings together university computer departments, the computer industry and government. One of its aims is to broaden diversity in the computing industry, but the figures show that’s a slow process. Just 11.8% of people earning a bachelor degree in computing were female, while roughly two-thirds were white.
The study involved surveying 192 universities and covered computer science departments with around 12,500 students. That’s roughly a fifth of those in the country so the raw figures may not be reliable, but the sample size is certainly big enough to establish trends.
The CRA says the figures are good news for employers as it’s easier to recruit American college graduates than to hire staff from overseas and have to make their case for getting the necessary work visas.
And the Department for Labor says the IT industry should be among the quickest to recover from the slowdown, predicting staff levels across the industry will be up by a third next year, with demand for application programmers doubling.