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The Communications Web site, http://cacm.acm.org,
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community. In each issue of Communications, we’ll publish
selected posts or excerpts.
Everyone is trying to figure out how to
increase capacity in undergraduate computer science education. CRA-E maintains a list of successful practices for scaling capacity in CS enrollment, many of
which were funded by Google (see http://
bit.ly/2FUpIBd). The New York Times
article describes how CS departments are
responding to the greater demand than
supply in CS classes. We are seeing caps
on enrollment, GPA requirements, rations, and even lotteries to allocate the
scarce resource of a seat in a CS class.
We may be approaching an inflec-
tion point in computing education—
and maybe it’s one we’ve seen before.
Eric Roberts of Stanford has written
a history of undergraduate CS enroll-
ments dating back over 30 years (https://
stanford.io/2CNWa7f). He suggests the
downturn in enrollment in the late
1980s may have been the result of CS
departments’ inability to manage ris-
ing CS enrollments in the early 1980s.
Then, as now, caps and limits were put
into place, which sent the message that
computer science wasn’t for everyone,
that only elite students could succeed in
computer science. Eric writes, at https://
The imposition of GPA thresholds and
other strategies to reduce enrollment led
naturally to a change in how students perceived computer science. In the 1970s, students were welcomed eagerly into this new
and exciting field. Around 1984, everything changed. Instead of welcoming students, departments began trying to push
them away. Students got that message and
concluded that they weren’t wanted. Over
the next few years, the idea that computer
science was competitive and unwelcoming
became widespread and started to have
an impact even at institutions that had
not imposed limitations on the major.
Unlike the 1980s, we now have a national movement in the U.S. that wants
“CS for All” ( https://www.csforall.org/).
Primary and secondary schools are increasing access to CS classes. States
and school districts are mandating
computer science for all students.
We are facing a capacity crunch in undergraduate CS classes, and we are not
even close to CS for all. While an increasing number of U.S. schools are offering
CS classes, only a small percentage of
students are taking them up on the offer.
Data coming out of U.S. states suggests
that less than 5% of U.S. high school
students take any computer science,
for example, less than 1% in Georgia or
Indiana (see state reports at http://bit.
ly/2Uk3QZ9). What happens to undergraduate CS enrollment if we get up to
10% of high school students taking computer science, and even a small percent-
K–12: Is CS for All,
or Just Those Who Get
Past the Caps?
February 3, 2019
The New York Times recently ran an article titled “The Hard Part of Computer
Science? Getting Into Class” (https://
nyti.ms/2VaWcNR) about the dramatic
increase in undergraduate enrollment,
and the inability of U.S. computer science
(CS) departments to keep pace with the
demand. These facts aren’t a surprise.
The Computing Research Association
report “Generation CS” (https://cra.
org/data/generation-cs/) described the
doubling and tripling of CS undergraduate enrollment at U.S. institutions from
2006 to 2015. American academia took
notice with the 2017 National Acad-emies report on the rapid growth of CS
enrollments ( http://bit.ly/2CWttnt).
Is CS Really for All,
Mark Guzdial mulls the difficulty of getting into a computer science
class, while John Arquilla ponders political warfare in cyberspace.
DOI: 10.1145/3323684 http://cacm.acm.org/blogs/blog-cacm