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Science Careers Blog

March 20, 2009

Computer Student Enrollments Increasing in the U.S. and Canada

A new report this week from the Computing Research Association (CRA)  shows enrollments and degrees rising among bachelor's degree and Ph.D. students in the U.S. and Canada. For undergraduates at least, this marks a reversal of a trend going back to 2002. The report, which describes changes between the 2007-2008 and 2006-2007 academic years, includes data from 192 of the 264 members of CRA, consisting of computer science, computer engineering, and information science departments in North America.

For undergraduate students, the 6.2% increase in course enrollment and 8.1% increase in declared majors were the first recorded in 6 years. At the other end of the undergraduate spectrum, the news wasn't as good: The number of bachelors degrees awarded in these disciplines decreased 10% to about 12,800. Nonetheless, this rate represented an improvement over the extraordinary declines documented by the previous year's survey; that survey showed a 20% decline in bachelor's degrees from the year before.

The number of Ph.D. degrees awarded by these departments grew 5.7% over the previous year, to 1,877. The number of Ph.D. students passing their thesis candidacy exams--a common feature in computer science departments--increased by about 7%. The number of master's degrees awarded remained about the same as in the 2006-2007 academic year, about 10,000.

While students from overseas make up a large proportion of the graduate degrees in computing disciplines, they are less common among undergraduates. About half (49.5%) of the masters recipients and a majority (56.5%) of the Ph.D. degrees were non-resident aliens. But only 6.2% of bachelors degrees awarded in 2007-2008--about 1 in 16--went to non-resident aliens.

Women are a distinct minority in computer departments. Only 1 in 8 bachelors degrees (12%), 1 in 4 masters degrees (26%), and 1 in 5 Ph.D.s (21%) went to women. Whatever their gender, a majority (56.6%) of new Ph.D. recipients were hired by industry, up from 52% in the previous year. Some 3 in 10 (29.4%) took academic positions, while another 3% went to work in government. Less than 1% reported being unemployed.

The 3 in 10 new Ph.D.s taking academic positions in 2007-2008 represents a sharp decline from the 6 in 10 recorded in the 2004-2005 survey. Of the new academic hires about one-third  (9.4%) received tenure-track positions, about the same number (10%) became postdocs, and the remainder became researchers, non-tenure track faculty, or took other academic jobs.

The authors of the report caution that these data were accumulated mostly before the economy deteriorated drastically (most of the last data were gathered in the fall of 2008).

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