10/23/2013 12:27 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

ACM Report Confirms Growth in Graduates With Computing Skills

Computer and mathematical occupations are projected to experience a 22 percent job growth over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This category is one of the top five occupations tracked by BLS, with one of the highest median salaries.

This is good news for the increasing number of university students currently pursuing non-doctoral degrees in computing science, as evidenced in a new ACM study of non-doctoral-granting Departments in Computing (NDC). The results of the ACM NDC study provide a previously unavailable snapshot of the students and faculty at institutions that produce the majority of graduates with an educational foundation in computing skills. The study, published in ACM Inroads, also offers valuable pipeline data to businesses and industries that are competing in the job market for workers with skills in these areas.

The study shows that enrollment in undergraduate computer science (CS) programs within these departments increased 11 percent between 2011-12 and 2012-13. Computer science bachelor's degree production in these departments is expected to increase nearly 14 percent during this period. Other areas of computing, such as software engineering and information technology, also are experiencing growth according to the report. Only in the information systems area is there no real evidence of growth. Master's degree production in the NDC departments also generally is increasing, adding to the skilled employment base in these key technology areas.

Adapting to a Digital World

The current generation of students has grown up in a digital world. From marketing to security to health care to entertainment, at school or at work or at home, these students see and appreciate the value of its benefits to nearly every segment of society. More of them want to be part of the development of the next set of computationally-oriented devices, tools and games.

Students appear to increasingly value the skills and varied employment opportunities afforded by these university programs. These programs will give them the tools they need to make further contributions to both the fundamental technology itself and its application to society. All this should be welcome news to employers who compete for skilled labor in these domains.

In addition to reporting on overall enrollment and degree production in the computing disciplines, the NDC report includes information on faculty salary and demographics in these departments. It also highlights gender and ethnicity characteristics of both students and faculty within the departments, and compares departments at public and private institutions. It also compares non-doctoral-granting departments with doctoral-granting departments.

Comparisons to Taulbee Survey Doctoral-Granting Departments

Data from doctoral-granting departments in computing are reported annually by the Computing Research Association in its annual Taulbee Survey. The two surveys complement each other, since each one reports results from departments excluded by the other survey. Combined, they give students, employers, the computing community, and the general public a comprehensive picture of the workforce coming from academic programs.

The 11 percent undergraduate CS enrollment increase among NDC departments exceeds the approximately 9 percent rise reported among doctoral-granting departments over the same period by the Taulbee Survey. The NDC report also illustrates that gender diversity among graduates of computing programs at non-doctoral-granting departments is higher than at doctoral-granting departments, though fewer than one in six bachelor's graduates were female even at the non-doctoral-granting programs. Faculty in the non-doctoral-granting departments also comprised a higher percentage of women (nearly one in four) than did faculty in doctoral-granting departments. The report confirms the Taulbee Report's data showing a low fraction of computing bachelor's and master's degrees given to Hispanic and African-American students, in the single-digit percentages for each ethnicity at each degree level. The field still has a long way to go to achieve gender and ethnic balance.

Optimistic Outlook

Because the most recent Taulbee Survey reported a record-breaking number of computer science doctoral degrees, we are seeing renewed strong interest in computing programs at all levels -- bachelor's, master's, and doctoral. It has been more than a decade since this was so. The NDC survey is expected to be conducted annually, with its results published within a few months of when the data is collected. The rapid turnaround affords early information about trends and can help those involved in workforce planning.

Stuart Zweben is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University and a Fellow and former president of ACM (The Association for Computing Machinery).

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