The Paradoxical Future Of Computer Science


While many educators and employers agree that computer technology related skills are necessary for today's workforce in an increasing variety of career fields - not to mention careers of a technologically advanced future - several schools have recently decided to end their computer science programs.

The State University of New York (SUNY) Geneseo's computer science program was closed last year, along with studio art and communicative disorders and sciences.

Minnesota State University's Department of Computer Science has an announcement on its webpage stating that "the computer science program is slated for closure and is not accepting new majors."

The University of Florida (UF) is one of the most recent schools to get attention for plans to cut computer science offerings, announcing in April that the program would be cut in an effort to save $1.4 million. After much media coverage and considerable protest from students and faculty, an effort is underway to save the computer science department through revised budget proposals and potential restructuring. The fight isn't over, but elimination of these options for students completely does appear to be off the table.

Budget cuts seem to be the reason behind most of the decisions to end programs, especially at state-funded schools. According to a recent article from The Gainesville (FL) Sun, "this year alone, UF will suffer from $38 million in budget cuts, creating an accumulated reduction in state funding to UF of 30%, or $240 million, since 2006." It all seems contrary to the interests of students and the need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates entering the workforce.

Computer science is not the only major being targeted, as with the example of SUNY Geneseo, and seems to be a popular field of study. In 2011 the Computing Research Association reported a three-year increase in undergraduate computer science enrollment, and NetworkWorld.com proclaimed computer science as the "hottest major on campus" citing the record enrollment and graduate salaries as evidence. In fact, recent surveys show a 9.6% salary increase for CS majors.

In other news

Not all schools are sacrificing computer science education and many are painting a much brighter picture for the field. The University of Washington (UW) is one institution that is expanding computer science and engineering programs. The Daily reports the Washington state legislature actually directed the university to "increase spending on engineering enrollment by $3.8 million," which will positively affect computer science programs at all degree levels, allowing them to admit more students in these popular majors.

The UW plans include not only "growing the computer-science major," but also "develop[ing] more courses for students outside the department." Last month's "Computer Science for the Rest of Us" from The New York Times, highlighted some of the options at other universities that are open to non-computer science majors. "Someday, the understanding of computational processes may be indispensable for people in all occupations. But it's not yet clear when we'll cross that bridge from nice-to-know to must-know." At other institutions new interdisciplinary collaborations, such as the planned computing institute at the University of California, Berkeley, "underscore the growing influence of computer science on the physical and social sciences" through increased interest in data collection and learning analytics.

As a career field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 30% growth in the employment of software developers from 2010 to 2020, which is categorized as "much faster than the average for all occupations." The BLS also notes the increase in demand related to mobile technologies, applications in healthcare, and the need for computer network security.

Studying Computer Science

Do you want to become a computer scientist, software developer, or hardware engineer? There are many related computer science occupations to consider with variations in terms of workplace environments, entry-level education and training required, and potential salaries.

Not all computer science programs are created equal. They go by different names at different schools, and may include a range of course topics from information technology and engineering to programming and computational theory, just to name a few. What are your expectations of a degree in this field? Look for a mix of theory and practice along with different approaches and content based on the level of degree - career and technical programs, undergraduate, and graduate. Online options are also available. Oregon State University is just one example, launching a new online computer science program this summer.

If you are considering computer science as an online student, compare the multiple programs offered and do your own research to find out more about required courses, faculty qualifications, graduate job placements, internships and industry partnerships, and alumni networks. And if you aren't considering computer science as a major, look at the opportunities to add a related course as an elective to expand your knowledge and skills. Be prepared to continue learning and refining your skills with technology even after graduation as the field evolves and technologies become more integrated with our lives and work.

This article was originally published on Inside Online Learning.

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