The Supply of Information Technology Workers in the United States
Chapter 5: Supply The Degree Programs
What Are the Sources of IT Workers?
The traditional, formal educational system remains critically important to the training of the information technology (IT) workforce. Different kinds of jobs within the IT field require very different skill sets and levels of knowledge, and thus different IT jobs vary greatly in the kind and level of education they require. Formal programs leading to associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in IT-related fields all have their place in the supply system. An associate degree will train a person for certain kinds of entry-level positions that may involve maintaining or tending information technologies, whereas a doctorate might prepare a person to create new information technology. None of these relations between training and particular IT occupations are hard and fast, however.
The associate's and master's degree programs are important supply sources for IT workers because they tend to be more vocationally oriented than bachelor's or doctoral programs. However, the bachelor's degree programs produce the largest number of graduates for the IT workforce, and the doctoral programs are critical in the production of trained workers for both the occupations involving conceptualization and advanced development, and for faculty positions that will educate the next generation of IT workers. The most popular IT-related majors are computer science, followed by computer engineering and management information systems. However, one author has recently identified twenty IT-related degree disciplines offered in the United States (see table 2-1 in chapter 2), and new ones are being created all the time.53 What these programs teach is more important than what they are called. Indeed, program names are often confusing, and it can be difficult to establish similarities or differences between programs solely on the basis of their names.
One of the least known and most important facts is that the vast majority of IT workers do not obtain formal degrees in IT-related disciplines. Perhaps the most common of the many different training paths to an IT career is a bachelor's degree in some technical field unrelated to information technology, accompanied by some course work in either an IT subject or in closely related preparatory fields such as mathematics, electrical engineering, or business.
At the same time, certain IT occupations do demand a particular kind of formal education. Advanced researchers, such as faculty members in research universities or principal scientists in industrial research laboratories, almost always have a doctorate in an IT-related discipline, usually computer science or computer engineering (or occasionally in a closely related field such as physics, mathematics, or electrical engineering).
Over the past decade, there have been vast changes in the characteristics of IT work and preparation for it. Traditionally, higher education served as the basis for one's career, although some of the larger IT companies had training programs for their employees. Today, higher education is an entry ramp into a job, but it is not expected to carry one through a career. Taking advantage of on-the-job experience and various kinds of continuing education, the IT employee is today expected to engage in a life-long retraining effort, which is intended to keep the worker up to date in this rapidly changing field.
Many different groups supply this continuing education. The higher educational system has a major role, offering seminars, short courses, and groups of courses that lead to certificates in specialized aspects of information technology such as network administration or biocomputing. Universities often attract the mid-career employee who goes back to earn an additional degree-perhaps a computer science degree for someone who majored in humanities or a master's degree in business administration for the computer engineer. Every level of the higher education system participates, but the training is most likely to come at the associate or master's level.
Others provide continuing education and retraining as well. For-profit educational companies, such as DeVry or the University of Phoenix, offer formal degree programs and certificate programs. Private consultants and private training companies offer specialized seminars, as well as customized training programs for individual companies. Companies themselves are getting in to the training business for their own employees (and sometimes for others), forming so-called "corporate universities" that they may develop on their own or in partnership with one of the other traditional or for-profit suppliers. These corporate universities teach not only IT technical materials, but also develop communications and interpersonal skills, and impart knowledge of business and industry practices.
The need for continuous retraining has made it necessary to rethink the way in which education is delivered. It has to be made available at a time, place, and in a style that accommodates the employees' work and personal lives. This requires more frequent offerings on evenings and weekends, scattered around many different geographical locations. Even better, in some cases, is the use of teaching methods that free the student from a specific time and place. Computer, Internet, and broadcast technologies are being used to develop various kinds of distance learning, some of which can be engaged by the student asynchronously-that is, when the student wants the training, not when a teacher is scheduled to give a lecture. These technologies are available in a rudimentary form today, but they continue to be developed and are being put into practice at a rapid pace.
How Have Career Paths for IT Workers Changed Over Time?
Information technology workers are pursuing a training and career path today that is different from that practiced by most members of this profession as recently as a decade ago. The traditional career path can be represented by a linear model, as shown in figure 5-1. The prospective IT worker prepares for the workforce through formal (nonprofit) education, gets a job, and moves up through the worker and management ranks-working for one or a very small number of employers until retirement. There are various exit points in the formal educational system, represented by the awarding of a degree-the high school diploma, associate's degree, bachelor's degree, master's degree, or doctorate. The place at which one exits the formal educational system largely determines the starting point in the workforce, and it also restricts the range of career opportunities. It is uncommon, for example, for a person to rise to senior management without holding at least a bachelor's degree, notwithstanding the many journalistic accounts of high school and college dropouts becoming millionaires in the computer industry.
The current career model, as represented by figure 5-2, is more complicated and less linear. There are multiple opportunities for education and training: various levels of school-based formal degree programs (as before), non-degree programs produced by these same suppliers, distance education programs, employer-based and for-profit training organizations, and self-study. Unlike the traditional career path, where one's education was completed before entering the workforce, the current model has workers moving back and forth between the educational system and the workforce, or participating in them concurrently, as they continuously, or at least periodically, retrain throughout their careers.
In this new model, significant linearity remains in the college and university degree programs. For example, a bachelor's degree is expected before entering into a doctoral program. But when workers seek additional training, even from the traditional college and university system, there is no most common path. IT workers with a bachelor's degree, for example, might enroll in: 1) a community college for a certification program in networking technology; 2) a four-year college to take mathematics or science courses to bolster their basic knowledge; 3) a few courses or a degree program at the master's level in information systems or business; or 4) a doctoral program in computer science. The purpose of this formal training might be to help them to do their current job better, or perhaps to prepare them for a better job. However, there are many paths to a particular IT career. Box 5-1 presents six examples of non-traditional career paths of IT workers. All of the people in these examples are personally known to members of the study group.
Company training is, of course, not a new phenomenon. For many years, companies have been providing some training to their employees. A few large companies, such as IBM, AT&T, and Motorola, have long placed an emphasis on this kind of training. However, as the discussion below on corporate universities indicates, there has been a very pronounced increase over the past decade in both the amount of training and the expectation that all employees (rather than a few select groups of employees) will engage in continuous or periodic retraining.
The attitude of employees toward jobs and employers has changed as well. Given that lifetime employment with a single employer is increasingly rare, workers no longer regard the particular job they hold as a rung on a ladder they are climbing within the company. They are less likely to accept just any job the company management wants to assign. Jobs are now regarded as another element of the training process, of learning by doing, and employees move from job to job to gain new skill sets and experiences rather than assume they will stay with a particular company for life. Acquiring new skills allows them to move within the entire IT work community for opportunities, rather than solely within a particular company.
The following sections describe formal degree programs, followed in chapter 6 by other forms of training. Although the description of the non-formal methods of training is briefer and the statistics more meager, this form of training appears increasingly to be prevalent and a principal means of obtaining many IT skills.
What Is the Role of High Schools in the Supply System?
It is during the high school years that people typically receive their first knowledge and skill sets in information technology. Some of this learning occurs in formal programs in the schools, but for many students it is likely that even more learning occurs through personal exploration and interaction with peers. As personal computers become more common in homes and schools, students are gaining exposure at progressively earlier ages; and this will no doubt lead to progressively earlier introduction of computers into the curriculum. While it is undoubtedly valuable to find ways to enhance informal learning, this discussion focuses on formal programs in the high schools-both vocational programs that prepare the student directly to enter the workforce, and academic programs that prepare the student for college study.
High school vocational programs train students for many different occupations, but only a few of them, such as data entry and electronics technician, are IT occupations.54 The horizons are limited for people who enter the IT workforce by this route, unless they are willing to seek additional education over time. This is true even of the bright high school students reported in the national press who have been hired before completing high school to be Web designers or other kinds of programmers.55 Unfortunately, many students who enter the vocational high school tracks will not have the foundational skills for further education and career advancement. A few model programs scattered around the country have tried to address this issue. These programs blend academic rigor with vocational objectives. Students are attracted to the programs because they are guaranteed jobs upon graduation. The programs generally have a local focus, with the high schools partnering with industry and two- and four-year colleges and universities in their region. While not all students from these programs actually attend college, the educational requirements are consistent with the university-bound curriculum. This enables the participant to better handle a first job and to more easily pursue further education later.
Anecdotal evidence suggests there are several challenges for the high schools in preparing even college-bound students for IT careers. Because many parents know less about the computing professions than the more established professions, it is incumbent on high school guidance counselors to provide information about computing careers. Counselors themselves need to know much more about the career opportunities and the training needed to enter these professions. Because of the rapid growth of information technology, high schools are having difficulty attracting qualified teachers and helping them to keep their academic preparation current. There are also particular problems of attracting female and minority students to IT careers (see chapter 7.) T
wo kinds of programs appear to be succeeding in preparing high school students for IT careers. One is directed primarily at students who are already on the academic track. It offers college-level courses in computing (sometimes conferring college credit), taught by high school teachers or faculty from local colleges. The second type of program tries to make technical (but not necessarily IT) careers attractive to able students who might not otherwise enter college and get professional jobs. It is designed for at-risk students who are more likely to be minorities or come from poor communities. An example is the Engineering Vanguard Program of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. (NACME). This program conducts its own assessment of high school seniors (rather than relying on school grades and evaluations), provides intensive academic enrichment, and sends students to participating colleges on full scholarships. The NACME program has shown excellent retention rates.
What Is the Role of Two-Year College Programs in the Supply System?
Both of the major degree tracks (transfer and non-transfer) in two-year colleges are a source of IT workers. Many students enroll in transfer programs, where the objective is to prepare students to transfer to a four-year school to complete a bachelor's degree upon completion of their two-year associate's degree. The education and training they receive, which is roughly an equal mix of general education and discipline-specific courses, is similar in depth and breadth to what students would receive in the first two years at many four-year colleges. This alternate route to a bachelor's degree is important for students who have financial or geographic restrictions, such as needing to live at home, or who do not have confidence in their academic abilities at the time of high school graduation. Thus the transfer programs are the beginning of one educational path for higher-level IT occupations.
Also popular are non-transfer programs, which are designed to prepare graduates for immediate employment. These programs tend to have a high concentration of discipline-specific courses-generally 75 percent-combined with general education courses. Non-transfer programs prepare students for various kinds of IT work, such as network installation, Web development, or computer support services. The knowledge and skill sets acquired tend to focus more on a specific subarea of computing, such as Web development, and less on the general theory and concepts that are emphasized in a bachelor's degree program. Compared with those holding bachelor's degrees, therefore, these students tend to be better prepared to immediately begin performing a job in the specific subarea in which they have been trained; but they are less well prepared to use their skill and knowledge base to transfer to other kinds of IT work.
Table 5-1 shows the number of two-year colleges awarding degrees in computer or information systems. The number increased by about fifteen percent during the first half of the 1990s. Assuming the increase continued at approximately the same pace during the second half of the decade, the number of two-year colleges awarding IT degrees numbers between 800 and 850 today. In 1994-95 there were 2,184 two-year colleges in the United States.56 Thus in that year only about one-third of the nation's two-year colleges offered programs in information technology. This suggests there are significant growth opportunities in this part of the supply system.
There are no reliable statistics on enrollments in IT courses at the two-year college level.57 Somewhat better data are available for associate degrees awarded in information technology. Table 5-2 shows that there were between 9,000 and 10,000 degrees awarded in each of three years during the mid-1990s. These numbers include all degrees awarded in the areas of computer and information sciences, computer programming, data-processing technology, information science and systems, and computer systems analysis. These statistics underreport, at least slightly, the number of IT workers being trained in the two-year colleges, in that students also prepare for IT careers in several other majors that graduate a mixture of IT and non-IT workers. Two examples are electronics and graphic arts programs. Electronics programs are diminishing nationwide, due to lack of students. Graphics arts programs, however, are on the rise because of the interest in computer graphics and Web design. It is hard to estimate the exact number of associate degrees awarded in IT areas in the mid-1990s, much less today, but the number appears to be on the order of 10,000 per year.
Two occupations, electronics technicians and Web designers, illustrate some of the dynamics that are occurring in the industry that have a bearing on the kind of training needed. Many of the routine tasks that electronics technicians graduating from associate degree or high school vocational programs used to do are now done by machine rather than by a technician. As a result, the skill set in the technician's job is changing, requiring the technician to think more abstractly, have a greater basic knowledge of the technology, and work with more complex systems.
The situation with the job of Web designer is similar but more complicated. Several years ago, Web sites were rudimentary; nevertheless, significant programming ability was required to write the HTML code that is used to lay them out. Over the past several years, technology has been designed to automate many of the programming aspects of the layout. Thus if one is doing a simple Web design today, it is possible to use automated software that does not require programming skills-in fact, the task is similar to using word-processing software. However, Web pages have become much more elaborate and powerful, and high skill levels are still required to lay out pages that meet these new standards. Some of these skills involve programming, but others involve knowledge of design or human-computer interfaces. As these two examples illustrate, the training system has to be sensitive to these rapid changes in the required knowledge and skill sets of IT jobs in order to train useful workers.
A number of qualitative concerns about impediments to two-year college production of IT workers were expressed during the course of this study:
- Inadequate career counseling at the middle school and high school levels leaves students in two-year colleges ill prepared to make decisions about their degree programs.
- Weakness in the academic preparation of entering students has created a need for remedial education in basic mathematics, reading, and English. This process delays the production of graduates.
- The availability of jobs prior to graduation results in students not completing their degree requirements, which may have long-term negative impact on their ability to advance or change careers.
- Four-year colleges sometimes impose artificial barriers to the acceptance of transfer credit from two-year colleges.58 These can result in the unnecessary repetition of course work or can dissuade students from matriculating in a bachelor's program.
- There are similar difficulties in transferring credits between the transfer and non-transfer tracks, even within the same two-year college. This can box in students who begin in a non-transfer program and decide subsequently that they want to pursue a bachelor's degree.
- Inadequate availability of trained faculty, good facilities, and other resources reduces the number of students who can be trained.
- Cultural attitudes learned in high school or earlier reduce pool of students electing to major in programs leading directly to IT employment. These factors particularly affect women and minorities.
What Is the Role of Four-Year College Programs in the Supply System?
Four-year colleges are the primary supply sources for IT workers. The first two years of the baccalaureate program typically offer general education and introductions to various disciplines. The final two years include substantial course work in a single major discipline. It is these final two years that is the principal focus of this section. In most cases, courses taken in the final two years enhance existing IT knowledge and skills, rather than providing first access to them.59
Three classes of undergraduate students tend to enter careers in information technology:
- Those majoring in a degree program focused specifically on some aspect of information technology (e.g., computer science, computer engineering, or information systems);
- Those majoring in a degree program in a closely related field (electrical engineering, mathematics); and
- Those who major in a discipline largely unrelated to information technology (psychology, management), but who take a cluster of IT-related courses as distribution requirements, electives, or a minor.60
Box 2-1 (see chapter 2) shows the continuum of degree programs that focus on information technologies, as reported in a classification scheme developed by a National Research Council (NRC) committee in 1993. The objectives range from training students to develop hardware or software, maintain information systems in organizations, or provide information services. There is considerable overlap in these descriptions, and sharp boundaries cannot be easily drawn. Newly emerging computing areas, such as computer support services and Web designers, are not well covered by this classification; and colleges are not uniform in the way they name their programs. The description given for Information Science may better apply to programs in Library and Information Science. But the NRC classification remains a useful description of the kinds of IT programs offered by four-year colleges.
The professional societies and professional accreditation organizations provide guidelines on the skills and knowledge expected of graduates in several IT-related bachelor's degree programs. Model curricula for computer science and computer engineering are published jointly by the Association for Computing Machinery and the IEEE Computer Society, while model curricula for information systems are published jointly by the Association for Computing Machinery, the Association for Information Systems, and the Association of Information Technology Professionals.61 Accreditation is provided for computer science by the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board and for computer engineering by the Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET).62 Software engineering accreditation criteria were approved in October 1998 by ABET. Licensing of software engineers is currently being introduced into the United States by the State of Texas, where the state licensing board is working with the professional societies to develop standards and relevant examinations.
Although some data exist on the production of IT workers by four-year colleges, it has not been collected in a way that conforms to the NRC classification scheme. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the primary source of data. Under its classification scheme, computing programs tend to be aggregated under computer science, computer and information sciences, or computer programming; while computer engineering tends to be listed with electrical engineering in a way that is hard to disaggregate. Programs in business areas, such as information systems and management information systems, tend to be excluded.63 However, the main computing programs in business can be captured reasonably well from the Digest of Education Statistics, which breaks out business information systems as a category of business degrees, and which has a subcategory for management information systems and data processing under the business information category.
Given these caveats about data, let us first consider the number of four-year colleges offering degrees in computer and information sciences. Table 5-3 shows that the number of schools offering four-year degrees in computer and information sciences was relatively constant at just over 1,000 throughout the first half of the 1990s. The total number of four-year degree-granting institutions in the United States was 1,855 in 1994-95.64 However, some of these institutions specialize in a single discipline, such as theology, art, music, or design; and others may already be teaching computing as part of some other activity, such as mathematics. This same data set indicates that there were 1,145 schools granting bachelor's degrees in mathematics and 1,248 schools granting bachelor's degrees in English. Business management and administrative services was the major offered by the most schools-and this number was only 1,383. These facts suggest that the number of degree programs in computer and information science at four-year colleges could not be increased by more than 20 percent. Of course, the number of students graduated by each of these programs could possibly be increased, and it is probably more efficient to increase the size of programs than the number of programs.
Table 5-4 shows degree production in IT fields at four-year colleges. The largest number of degrees is given in computer science, followed by management information systems. It is hard to detect any trend from these figures. However, these data are old and do not reflect the dramatic recent changes that seem to be occurring. The only data set that gives more recent data is the Taulbee Survey produced by Computing Research Association. The Taulbee surveys in fall 1996 and fall 1997 each collected data from more than eighty percent of the departments in the United States that grant doctoral degrees in computer science and computer engineering. These doctorate-granting departments represent approximately one-third of the national production of bachelor's degrees in computer science and computer engineering. The 1996 Taulbee survey showed an increase in students declaring majors in computer science of 40 percent over the previous year. The 1997 Taulbee survey showed an increase of 39 percent in declared majors over 1996. Thus, compounding the changes over the past two years, the number of students declaring majors in computer science and engineering effectively doubled (1.40 x 1.39 = 1.946). These figures may roughly hold true for all schools granting four-year degrees, not only for those that also grant doctorates in computer science and computer engineering. Of course, it takes several years from the time a student declares the major until graduation, but presumably there will eventually be comparable percentage increases in the number of students graduating with four-year degrees in computing.
Table 5-5 is based on percentages of those with bachelor's degrees who said that their work was not related to their degree. It shows that undergraduate majors in computer science are more likely to pursue and continue in IT jobs than engineers are to pursue and continue engineering careers, or scientists are to pursue and continue scientific careers. It should not be inferred from this data, however, that pushing a larger number of students through an undergraduate major in computer science would result in IT workers with similar levels of career faithfulness to those shown in these statistics. It is hard to determine whether the additional recruits to computing will have the same skills or enthusiasm for the field as those who might self-select computing without incentives.
Figure 5-3 shows that in 1992-93 only about one-third of the people in computer science or programming jobs had graduated with computer and information science degrees, according to the National Survey of College Graduates. The majority of the other two-thirds held degrees in business management, engineering, or mathematics. This is bad news for employers of IT workers, given that business and mathematics enrollments have been dropping and engineering enrollments have been flat.65 A number of other academic disciplines are also common paths to an IT career, as box 5-2 shows. Moreover, many people noted during this study that other attributes, such as the ability to work on a team and communicate effectively, are as important as technical training.66
People also enter the IT workforce after working first in other occupations, especially in closely related ones such as engineering, science, and business. One study found that almost half of the persons employed in the IT workforce in 1993 who had graduated from college at least four years earlier were employed in or completing training for other occupations in 1989-20 percent were in business, 10 percent were in engineering fields other than computer engineering, and 17 percent were in fields other than science or business.67 Yet another study, by the National Software Alliance, indicated that 55 percent of electrical engineering graduates had moved into software-related jobs.
There are, unfortunately, no good data available about the third category of IT workers graduating from four-year colleges: students who major in unrelated areas, but who may have taken substantial amounts of coursework in computer and information science. These data would be useful, inasmuch as the numbers involved appear to be substantial.
A number of qualitative issues were raised in the course of this study about the four-year colleges as suppliers of IT workers:
- The growth in student majors and enrollments is stretching thin the abilities of colleges to provide adequate computing facilities.68
- In any academic field, the introductory course in the field has a great effect on the recruitment of students to enroll in additional courses and become majors. But first courses in computer science tend to have high attrition rates. Partly this is because students taking these courses have a wide variety of backgrounds in computing, and it is hard to present the course in a way that does not bore some students and go over the head of others. A second reason is that the introductory computer science course typically focuses on teaching programming skills. If it were to teach a sampling of the subjects that are covered as part of the major-in much the way that chemistry or physics departments commonly organize their introductory course-students might be more interested and have a more informed view of what constitutes IT work. A third reason is that some departments make this introductory course particularly challenging (a rite-of-passage course) as a way to reduce enrollment pressures in the department so that the number of students does not swamp the size of the faculty and the computing facilities available.
- Colleges are having difficulty attracting qualified instructional personnel. The recent doubling of newly declared majors and the similar increase in course enrollment will require many additional instructional staff. However, excellent opportunities in industry, together with the lack of an increase in the number of new doctorates being awarded in computer and information science, is making it difficult for schools to recruit new tenure-track faculty.
- There are many highly qualified IT workers in industry who would enjoy a chance to teach computer science or information systems courses in the colleges part-time, in early retirement, or as a career change. Universities already employ a large number of adjunct faculty, especially to teach lower-level courses. There remain, however, considerable additional opportunities to use adjuncts from industry to teach in all parts of the curriculum. University regulations against long-term teaching appointments outside of the tenure system and low adjunct pay scales, as well as company policies, are sometimes impediments to such teaching arrangements.
- The number of women and minorities, other than Asian Americans, becoming majors or even enrolling in entry-level computing courses is small. There is anecdotal evidence that, of all the IT-related disciplines, women and minorities are most willing to enroll in information systems courses and majors, but not in percentages that reflect their numbers in the general population or in the university student population. Possible reasons for the relatively greater attractiveness of information systems are fewer mathematics and science requirements than in computer science, as well as the perception that information systems involves more teamwork and is more oriented towards applications.
- Anecdotal evidence suggests that part-time students are enrolling at increasing rates, but no data are collected on part-time students in IT disciplines. Colleges need to offer courses at times that are more convenient to this student population, who are likely to be working during the day. One method for doing this is to make the instruction asynchronous, which is the mode of some of the distance-learning programs today.
- There is also anecdotal evidence that students in computing programs are increasingly likely to leave school and enter the workforce before completing their degrees. While there may be short-term gains from early employment, educators are worried that these workers will not have the basic conceptual knowledge to keep up with the rapid changes in the IT industry and that emotional or family reasons will make it more difficult for them to return to school a few years later in order to learn those basic skills.
What Is the Role of Graduate Programs in the Supply System?
The main graduate degree programs lead to either the master's or doctoral (doctor of philosophy) degrees, although a small number of students receive a degree known as the doctor of engineering degree. Graduate programs in computer science will be covered first, followed by graduate programs in other computing disciplines such as computer engineering and information systems.
The master's program prepares graduates for higher-level jobs in information technology. There are two common tracks: professional master's degrees, which are geared to meeting the needs of working professionals and prepare them for immediate entry into the practice, and research-preparatory master's degrees, which are designed to prepare students for study at the doctoral level. A typical master's program in computer science involves the completion of 10 to 12 semester-long courses. Some specialization or concentration within a broad subfield of computing, such as software engineering or networking, is possible and is often expected. Master's programs allow a student opportunities to conduct individual research (in the form of a thesis), enroll in advanced topics courses that explore boundaries of the state of the art and practice of the discipline, and participate in small group seminars that provide experience with projects, presentation, and teamwork.
For many employers of high-level information technology workers, it is the master's degree that adds the greatest value. The education in professional and research-preparatory master's programs can be very similar, but professional master's programs tend to emphasize a balance between foundations and practice, whereas the research-preparatory track gives greater emphasis to foundations. The professional master's programs sometimes has a greater emphasis on interaction with industry and local business; and, especially in information science departments, the professional-track faculty tend to be familiar with business environments.
Doctoral programs are intended to produce high-end information technology workers who possess cutting-edge knowledge of some particular technology area and are trained to carry out research. They involve additional course work beyond the master's program and rigorous examinations ensuring competency in a broad range of topics. This breadth of knowledge is complemented in the later years of the doctoral program by gaining depth of knowledge in a narrow subfield, such as software engineering metrics or verification of networking protocols. Specialization at the doctoral level may also involve other disciplines beyond the core areas of computer science, such as cognitive science or bioinformatics. Emphasis is placed on learning the skills necessary to identify important unsolved problems within the area of specialization, defining and framing them for solution, and discovering a solution through organized research. A substantial dissertation project that results in extending knowledge of the field is a critical element of the degree program.
Between the master's degree and the doctor of philosophy degree in level of training is the doctor of engineering degree in engineering schools (sometimes called the 'doctor of arts' degree in liberal arts schools). It is similar to the doctor of philosophy degree in requiring the breadth of knowledge through course work and a comprehensive exam, and depth of knowledge through additional course work and study. However, the doctor of engineering degree does not typically require a dissertation. It requires less time to complete than the doctor of philosophy degree, but still provides some of the same advanced training features. If there is continued high demand for high-end information technology workers by industry, it may be desirable to increase the number of doctor of engineering degrees awarded. Today this degree is relatively uncommon; it is used primarily to give students in doctor of philosophy programs credit for their accomplishments if they decide to leave school after their course work is completed, but prior to writing a dissertation.
Academic quality and specific training offered are typically the foremost considerations when a student selects a graduate school, especially at the doctoral level. Many students entering professional master's programs are already working, and they continue to do so while they go to school. These students will often choose the best academic program close to their workplace, rather than the best academic program overall. It is common for graduate students to receive financial support in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, or company-paid tuition. These assistantships are an important part of the educational experience, providing valuable training in working with groups, making presentations, writing proposals, and gaining practical knowledge. Because stipend levels in graduate programs are significantly lower than industry salaries, some students find it difficult to justify going to graduate school, especially for the doctorate.
Table 5-6 shows the number of master's and doctoral programs in computer science in the United States. During the first half of the 1990s there was a 9-percent growth in the number of master's programs and a 19-percent growth in the number of doctoral programs. If those growth trends have continued, today there are probably about 350 master's programs and 140 doctoral programs.69 To put these numbers into context, in 1994-95 there were 1,351 institutions awarding master's programs (in at least one discipline) and 482 institutions awarding doctoral degrees (in at least one discipline). Thus, graduate degrees are given in computer science at only about 30 percent of the institutions of higher learning that award at least one graduate degree at the master's or doctoral level. This apparent opportunity for growth must be tempered by the recognition that it requires significant numbers of highly trained IT workers to staff such programs, and that the kinds of people who would make highly qualified faculty members are those who are already in high demand from industry and other universities. Most newly formed graduate programs in computer science are quite weak-and continue to be weak for some years thereafter. Perhaps the greatest opportunity is for starting professional master's programs in geographical regions where there is industry demand and where industry might be able to provide some of the instructors on an adjunct basis.
The most reliable statistics about graduate enrollments in computer science come from NSF. Table 5-7 shows that graduate enrollment in computer science has been fairly steady throughout the first half of the 1990s, at about 35,000. The ratio of full-time to part-time students is about 1:1 and has not changed much throughout this period. There are no statistics that distinguish master's students in the professional track from those in the research-preparation track, or master's from doctoral students. The Computing Research Association's (CRA's) Taulbee Survey, which is more up to date than data from NSF, shows new master's degree full-time enrollments (at the Ph.D.-granting schools) of 3,400 in both August 1996 and August 1997. This suggests that the steady master's enrollment is continuing. However, the Taulbee Survey shows 1,300 new full-time doctoral students enrolled in August 1996 (an increase of 25 percent over the previous year) and 1,400 new doctoral students (an 8 percent increase over the previous year) in August 1997. Whether these increased enrollments in doctoral programs will result in increased doctorates will depend on how successful the universities are at retaining their students in the face of a very good job market for IT workers with advanced skills.
Computer science graduate programs include enrollments of large numbers of foreign nationals. The National Software Alliance reported that, in 1994, 37.5 percent of the master's students in computer science were foreign nationals, as were 44.8 percent of the doctoral students. The CRA Taulbee Survey for that year showed that at least 41 percent of full-time and 21 percent of part-time students in graduate programs in computer science and computer engineering were foreign nationals.70 There are indications that this percentage of foreign nationals is slowly increasing. If a large percentage of foreign nationals return to their home country upon graduation, this would imply that a significant fraction of the doctorates produced in the United States would find employment abroad. However, as Table 5-8 indicates, there is a sharply decreasing trend of recent computer science doctorates going abroad. Clearly, many of the foreign national students are remaining in the United States to work after completing their studies.
The study group received qualitative reports-unsupported by any statistics-on changes over time in the employment practices of foreign students educated in the United States. In the 1970s it was common for these students to make concerted efforts to remain in the United States upon graduation, given that most other countries did not have good career opportunities for them. In the 1980s a number of countries, such as Taiwan and Singapore, sponsored national initiatives to build up indigenous IT industries. This led to a change in the career patterns of foreign students in U.S. IT graduate programs. The students usually remained in the United States for four or five years to gain valuable on-the-job experience to supplement their formal education, and then they would return home to take up positions of leadership. In the 1990s, with the greater entrepreneurial opportunities in the United States than in most other countries and the economic problems in Asia, there appears to be some swing back to a desire among these students to remain in the United States for the long run.
Critics of the large number of foreign students trained in U.S. graduate programs often complain that they are taking places away from U.S. students, and that the U.S. government and American universities subsidize the training of workers for other countries. There may be some element of truth in these criticisms, but there are also good reasons for the United States to continue this practice. Some of these foreign students do remain in the United States and become part of the educated professional workforce of our country. These workers give U.S. companies with global markets a competitive advantage through their knowledge of the culture and the personal contacts in their home countries. If they return home to take up senior positions after completing their formal education or after working a few years in the United States, they can also be helpful to American companies because they have American contacts a familiarity with U.S. practices. This increases their effectiveness in working with U.S. companies wanting to enter their home country's market.
Turning from enrollments to degree production, table 5-9 shows the number of computer science master's and doctoral degrees produced earlier this decade. At that time, master's production was fairly steady, at slightly more than 10,000 degrees per year. More recent data from the CRA Taulbee Survey suggest that this level of production continued into 1997, possibly with a small increase (less than 10 percent in 1997).71 However, Taulbee data suggest a decrease in Ph.D. production of about 10 percent since the peak production in 1992.72 The study group has estimated that about 70 percent of students who enter graduate school in computer science eventually graduate with either a master's degree or a doctorate.73
Graduate degree programs in other areas of information technology (computer engineering, management information systems, and other business information systems) together produce about one-third as many master's degrees as does computer science, and about one-eighth as many doctorates. There is evidence of steady growth in the number of master's degrees in management information systems, but data are not available to determine if this trend has continued in the past several years. There is anecdotal evidence that many students, both those with technical and those with non-technical undergraduate training, choose MBA programs for graduate study. In this case, their supplementary IT education is more likely to be in the form of continuing education, tutorials provided by professional organizations, or company training.
A number of qualitative issues concerning graduate education arose during the course of this study:
- Many universities are having difficulty attracting qualified students, especially U.S. students, for graduate study in computing fields. The study group estimates that only 11 percent of those who receive bachelor's degrees in computer science in the United States attend computer science graduate school in this country.74
- Stipends for graduate study are low, given the amount of time required to complete the requirements and the salaries available in industry.
- Traditionally, qualifying for financial aid has been based on the expressed willingness of students to continue on for the doctorate. The rationale is that faculty prefer doctoral students over master's students because they are likely to be better colleagues and be available to work on research projects for longer periods of time with greater involvement and responsibility. However, this preference may negatively affect the ability to build strong professional master's programs, which industry particularly values. (This distribution pattern for financial support is still in force in many computer science and computer engineering programs. However, in some professional schools where there is a strong emphasis on master's programs, different sources and criteria have been established for providing financial aid to master's and doctoral students.)
- Anecdotal data suggest that universities are having an increasingly difficult time retaining their doctoral students to complete the degree, but without statistical evidence it is hard to assess the extent of the problem. This phenomenon appears to be tied to the attraction of industrial positions with high salaries, good facilities, and interesting work; and also to the fact that academic research has taken an increasingly short-term focus, so that it is not as differentiated from industrial research as it used to be. Historically, computer science graduate programs attracted many able students who wanted to work on major research problems that were more likely to have long-term than short-term payoffs.
- IT faculty are being overloaded with work, which has a negative effect on their ability to spend time mentoring their doctoral students. Multiple factors contribute to the overload: the rapidly increasing undergraduate enrollments in computer science; the increased demand on computer science faculty to help their university to integrate information technology into its own central management and enterprises; the increased demand to help other departments incorporate information technology into their academic programs; and the increased pressure to obtain sponsored research. The overload also makes it more difficult to recruit and retain good faculty. In addition, faculty may be more reluctant to participate in cross-disciplinary programs, which might be good for computer science and for the university, for fear that this simply invites additional demands on their time.
- Several people reported that the attractiveness of being a faculty member is rapidly diminishing, and that many of the brightest students are choosing not to enter academic careers once they witness first-hand the demands on their faculty mentors. As figure 5-4 shows, there was an increasing tendency from 1994 to 1996 for computer science Ph.D.s to choose industrial careers fresh from graduate school. The 1997 CRA Taulbee Survey indicates that this trend is continuing. It shows that 53 percent of those whose post-Ph.D. employment was known accepted industrial positions, compared with 48 percent the year before. Table 5-10 shows a similar trend of faculty leaving their posts in increasing numbers in recent years, although the numbers are small.
- DARPA officials have indicated that in certain key applied areas, such as software engineering and database systems, universities have reported difficulties retaining faculty and support staff, including principal investigators in charge of DARPA contracts. If this problem worsens, it could have a detrimental affect on universities carrying out mission-critical research for the Department of Defense and other government agencies.
- Base faculty salaries tend to be low compared with base industry salaries (see figure 5-5), although faculty members do have a chance to obtain summer salaries and earn extra income by consulting. If faculty are able to obtain summer salaries and a moderate amount of consulting revenue (amounting to a not-unusual 43 percent of their base salary), then the total salary for an academic computer scientist is roughly comparable to the total salary (base salary plus incentive bonuses, stock plans, and other variable salary) of a computer scientist in an industrial research laboratory. However, it may not be easy for a beginning faculty member to secure summer and consulting income. Starting nine-month faculty salaries were mostly in the $50,000 to $65,000 range for the 1998-99 academic year.75 While these are good salaries, they are not outstanding, given the talent and amount of training a new graduate in computer and information science has acquired. There is some salary compression, so that mid-career faculty (associate professors) often earn only slightly more than newly hired assistant professors. This compression causes morale problems and makes industrial alternatives appear that much more attractive.
53 See Peter J. Denning, "Computing the Profession," Educom Review, November 1998; also Denning, "Information Technology: Developing the Profession," unpublished discussion document, George Mason University, December 4, 1998.
54 One example of an IT program for high schools and two-year colleges is the Cisco Network Academy. See http://www.cisco.com/edu/academies/index.html
55 See, for example, Ethan Bronner, "Computer Industry Luring Students Into Dropping Out," The New York Times, June 25, 1998.
56 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics.
57 The only relevant data found were from the National Center for Education Statistics, as reported in the Digest of Education Statistics. These statistics showed a halving of enrollments from the 1992-93 academic year to the 1995-96 academic year, from 583,000 students enrolled to 275,000 enrolled. The data were extrapolated from samples that may have been too small to be meaningful, they combine associate degree enrollments with certificate program enrollments, and they differ greatly from the experiences of the two-year college personnel consulted for this report. For these reasons, there is little confidence in the reliability of these statistics.
58 We understand there are also legitimate reasons, involving both quality and content, for not allowing transfer of credits from one school to another, or from one program to another.
59 As this report was going to press, a monograph came to our attention on "change in the nature and extent of college students' study of computer science over the period, 1972-1993, the occupational destinations of students with computer science backgrounds, and the forces that shape the path from higher education to the labor market." (Executive Summary). There was not time to incorporate the findings of the monograph into this report, but the citation is provided for those interested in further examination of these issues: Clifford Adelman, "Leading, Concurrent, or Lagging? The Knowledge Content of Computer Science in Higher Education and the Labor Market," Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, May 1997.
60 One might want to divide up this third category, and add a fourth category of students who major in disciplines far removed from information technology (e.g., English), but who get on-the-job training working as user support specialists in the university. Brian Hawkins, president of EDUCAUSE, described this class of IT workers to us: "On college and university campuses this process of internal training and development is the primary vehicle for finding user support specialists, IT support personnel in academic departments, etc. In universities, the internal consulting program, and the skills developed in course, as well as informal acquisition of skills are primary development vehicles, transforming English majors and other non-IT fields of study into quite capable support personnel. I would estimate that well over 2/3 of the young staffers in the user support arena who are hired in universities are humanists and social scientists. These young people developed appropriate skills in their 4 years, developed a liking for this work, and find the job opportunities better and higher paying. These individuals also have a better working knowledge of supporting other academic units, since they often bring their "educational training" to bear on their IT support functions. Many of these people have gone on to professional IT positions outside of the university, based upon their experience and OJT [on-the-job training]. None of these processes would show up in professional surveys as a way of preparing IT professionals." Personal communication, March 8, 1999.
61 See, for example, "IS '97 Model Curriculum and Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Information Systems," The DATA BASE for Advances in Information Systems, Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter 1997, ACM Special Interest Group on Management Information Systems (SIGMIS). The struggle to define an educational philosophy-much less a curriculum-in the field of information systems, which is beset by extreme interdisciplinarity and rampant technological change, is the topic of an editorial by Henry H. Emurian, "Information Systems: An Interdisciplinary Perspective," Information Resources Management Journal, Fall 1998, pp. 3-4.
62 Virtually all of the departments in IT-related disciplines see the value of model curricula and pay attention to them, even if they do not adopt them as a whole. However, there is not universal adoption of accreditation. Many of the top-ranked computer science departments, for example, refuse to have their programs evaluated for accreditation because they believe the value derived is far outweighed by the difficulty of the accreditation process.
63 See Joanna Fortuna and Rob Kling, "Information Systems Data Missing in Key Debates about the IT Worker Shortage: Data About the Education and Employment of Organizationally Insightful IT Workers," Working Paper, Center for Social Informatics, Indiana University, November 13, 1998.
64 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics.
65 NCES data showed that business enrollments dropped from 1,766,000 in 1992-93 to 1,233,000 in 1995-96, and bachelor's degrees in business dropped from 257,000 in 1992-93 to 234,000 in 1994-95. The number of juniors and seniors majoring in mathematics dropped from 67,000 in 1994-95 to 60,000 in 1996-97. Engineering total enrollments and total bachelor's degrees in engineering have been unchanged at about 325,000 and 65,000, respectively, between 1994 and 1997, according to the American Association of Engineering Societies. The study group has heard anecdotal evidence, but has not been able to confirm with statistical data, that although the number of bachelor's degrees in business is dropping, the percentage of these degree-holders concentrating in management information systems is increasing.
66 See Michael C. Mulder and Doris K. Lidtke, co-chairs of a Collaborative Academe/Industry Task Force, "An Information Systems-Centric Curriculum '99: Educating the Next Generation of Information Specialists, in Collaboration with Industry," draft report, January 1999.
67 Burt S. Barnow, John Trutko, and Robert Lerman, "Skill Mismatches and Worker Shortages: The Problem and Appropriate Responses," Draft Final Report, The Urban Institute, February 25, 1998.
68 For a discussion of various issues related to IT support on campus, including compensation, recruitment, and retention of IT staff, see www.educause.edu/issues/hrit.html
69 The Computing Research Association maintains the Forsythe List of Ph.D.-granting institutions in computer science, computer engineering, and closely related disciplines. The fall 1998 list counts 175 departments in the United States, as follows: computer science 111; computer engineering 16; computer science and engineering 16; computer and information science 12; electrical and computer engineering 6; electrical engineering and computer science 6; and one each for computer science and electrical engineering; electrical engineering and computer engineering; electrical and computer engineering and computer science; electrical engineering; department of engineering-systems; information science; management information systems; and information technology and engineering.
70 The CRA Taulbee Survey showed 41 percent full-time and 21 percent part-time foreign national students. However, the counts in the category for Asian-Pacific Islanders, which was supposed to include only domestic students of these backgrounds, looked unusually large to the computer scientists responsible for managing the survey. There is a belief, which is impossible to support or refute, that some of the students reported in the survey as Asian-Pacific Islander domestic students were actually Asian-Pacific Island foreign nationals on visas. If that is indeed the case, the percentages of foreign nationals are higher than the 41 percent and 21 percent reported.
71 Extrapolation is needed to figure out trends from the Taulbee data. The Taulbee numbers had to be increased to include the 10 percent to 20 percent of the PhD-granting departments not responding to the survey, scaled up to consider master's degrees produced by other than PhD-granting departments since the latter only produce about one-third of the master's, decreased for inclusion of computer engineering degrees in the statistics, and further decreased for degrees awarded by Canadian schools.
72 CRA Taulbee statistics and NSF/SRS statistics track in close parallel with Department of Education statistics, but are about 10 percent higher.
73 Assume two years for a master's degree, and the initial two years plus an additional four years for the doctorate. Data show about 11,000 graduates per year and 35,000 enrolled. Yield = (21,000 (2 x 10,500) + 3,200(4 x 800))/35,000, which equals approximately 0.69.
74 This is an estimate based on the following argument: Assume that 90 percent of the foreign nationals who do graduate study in computer science in the United States did their undergraduate study outside the United States, and that 100 percent of U.S. students in graduate school in computer science did their undergraduate work in the United States. The fraction of foreign nationals in graduate school in computer science is approximately 50 percent. These statistics imply that only about 55 percent of those in graduate school did their undergraduate work in the United States. In 1995, the number of computer science bachelor's degrees produced was 24,769 (NSF 98-307, Table 46). In 1996, there were 4,908 full-time computer science students in graduate school for the first time (NSF 98-307, Table 26). The fraction of U.S. bachelor's students going to graduate school is then approximately .55 x 4908/24769 = 0.11).
75 The computer science faculty salaries are taken from the annual CRA Taulbee Survey, which is published annually in the March issue of Computing Research News. See http://www.cra.org/statistics/. The Association for Information Systems, IS Worldnet, and the University of Pittsburgh have begun an annual salary survey for MIS faculty. The 1998 results can be found at http://www.pitt.edu/~galletta/salsurv.html
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