[Published originally in the March 2006 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 18/No. 2]
Drop in CS Bachelor’s Degree Production
by Jay Vegso
CRA’s Taulbee Survey of Ph.D.-granting Computer Science (CS) and Computer Engineering departments in North America has been conducted annually since 1974. Results from the most recent survey were provided to participants and CRA members in February. They will be published on CRA’s website (www.cra.org/statistics/) and in Computing Research News in May. Due to widespread interest, CRA releases data on undergraduate degrees early.
This article reports on CS bachelor's degree enrollments and production among Ph.D.-granting departments in the United States since the late 1990s. In order to limit the effect of variations in response rates, data are reported in both total numbers and medians per department. Results from the Taulbee Survey should be compared with data produced by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which surveys all institutions that grant CS degrees. NSF's most recent data are from academic year (AY) 2000/2001. Traditionally, the Taulbee Survey’s Ph.D.-granting schools have produced a little less than 30 percent of the undergraduate CS degrees reported by NSF.
According to UCLA/HERI, the percentage of incoming undergraduates among all degree-granting institutions who indicated they would major in CS declined by 70 percent between fall 2000 and 2005. Unsurprisingly, the number of students who declared their major in CS among the Ph.D.-granting departments surveyed by CRA also has fallen (Figure 1). After five years of declines, the number of new CS majors in fall 2005 was half of what it was in fall 2000 (15,958 vs. 7,952). As a result, the number of students enrolled in CS has fallen for several years (Figure 2).
These declines have now shown up further down the pipeline. Following several years of increases, the total number of bachelor's degrees granted in CS fell 17 percent between AY 2003/2004 and 2004/2005, to 11,808 (Figure 3). The median number of degrees granted per department declined by 14 percent (to 59). In light of the sustained drop in students interested in CS as a major, it seems reasonable to assume that degree production numbers will continue to drop in the near term.
It is important to note that a steep drop in degree production among CS departments has happened before. According to NSF, between 1980 and 1986 undergraduate CS production nearly quadrupled to more than 42,000 degrees. This period was followed by a swift decline and leveling off during the 1990s, with several years in which the number of degrees granted hovered at around 25,000. During the late 1990s, CS degree production again surged to more than 43,000 in 2001. In light of the economic downturn and slow job growth during the early 2000s, another decline in CS degree production was foreseeable.
 HERI/UCLA's "CIRP Freshman Survey" is an annual survey of the characteristics of students attending colleges and universities as first-time, full-time freshmen: www.gseis.ucla.edu/heri/freshman.html.
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