College Enrollment in Computer Science, Engineering on the Rise

SAN FRANCISCO — Relief may be finally on the way for engineering-starved employers.

For the first time since the dot-com bust, there is a jump in the number of undergraduate computer-science majors. New enrollment in North American computer science and engineering programs rose 8% during the 2007-08 school year from the year before, according to a report released Tuesday by the Computing Research Association, a trade group for about 200 university computing departments. It is the first increase since 2002.

"The perception that IT jobs are hard to come by is over, and the field is now considered an interesting place to be," says Peter Harsha, director of government affairs for CRA, which also represents government research labs and research labs for tech companies such as Google, Microsoft and IBM.

The allure of popular technologies such as Web 2.0, iPhone, Facebook and YouTube have drawn more teens into computer science and should boost enrollment figures next year, too, Harsha says.

Adding to the surge: Many undergraduates who once considered business and finance majors are focusing instead on computing, says Jeff Hollingsworth, associate chair at the University of Maryland’s computer-science department.

The dramatic shift should ease concern within the tech industry that the U.S. does not graduate enough computer-science students. For years, that has driven tech vendors to outsource low-level programming jobs to India, China and elsewhere.

The spike in majors comes as especially comforting news for IBM and others that often could not fill enterprise-computing jobs because of a paucity of qualified college graduates."(Information technology) skills are now required to be more competitive in all professions — not just a technical company," says Mark Hanny, vice president of alliances and academic initiative for IBM Software Group.

President Obama’s $787 economic stimulus package underscores the importance of such skills in building a smart energy grid, modernizing health care and expanding broadband networks. Indeed, eight in 10 U.S. college students see a growing need for more IT professionals as technology advances, according to a survey by IBM and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, also released Tuesday.

The change is easy to spot at Carnegie Mellon University, says Sameer Chopra, a junior majoring in computer science there. It used to be fairly easy to get into most classes. Now, some have waiting lists of up to 40 people, he says.


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