The Growth of
By Tracy Camp, Colorado School of Mines, W. Richards Adrion, University of Massachusetts Amherst,
Betsy Bizot, Computing Research Association, Susan Davidson, University of Pennsylvania,
Mary Hall, University of Utah Susanne Hambrusch, Purdue University, Ellen Walker, Hiram College,
and Stuart Zweben, The Ohio State University
Across North America, universities and colleges are facing a significant increase in enrollment in both
undergraduate computer science (CS) courses and
programs. The current enrollment surge has exceeded
previous CS booms, and there is a general sense that the
current growth in enrollment is substantially different from
that of the mid-1980s and late 1990s. For example, since
the late 1990s, the U.S. Bureau of Labor data shows that
the number of jobs where computing skills are needed is
on an upward slope [ 1], illustrating the increased reliance
our society has on computing. We also know that more
disciplines are becoming increasingly reliant on large
amounts of data, and that handling this data effectively
depends on having good computational skills. This makes
computer science courses at all levels of greater interest to
students from other majors.
The enrollment growth in the mid-1980s is sometimes referred to as the “PC boom” and the enrollment growth in the
late 1990s is sometimes referred to as the “dot-com boom.” CRA
Snowbird Conference attendees suggest that we are currently
in “Generation CS”, where CS enrollment across the nation is
surging due to the pervasiveness of computing today.
In early 2015, the Computing Research Association (CRA)
created a committee to investigate several questions related to
increasing enrollments. The CRA Enrollment Committee’s Institution Subgroup (who are the authors of this article) worked to
answer high-level questions such as “How are units1 handling the
current growth in computer science?” Specifically, we worked to
answer questions that concern computer science units, such as:
1. Are all units seeing a similar degree of growth?
2. Does the growth exist at all levels of the curriculum?
3. Are nonmajors and minors having a significant impact on
4. How is the current growth impacting diversity in our
5. What are units doing to respond to the growth?
To answer these types of questions, we created a CRA Enrollment Survey. The CRA Enrollment Survey was administered in
parallel with CRA’s annual Taulbee Survey of doctoral-granting
units [ 3] and ACM’s annual NDC Study of non-doctoral granting units in computing [ 5]. Responses were sought only from units
that have a computer science undergraduate degree program. The
goal was to measure, assess, and understand enrollment trends and
their impact on computer science units, diversity, and more [ 2].
One section of the CRA Enrollment Survey asked respondents
to provide detailed demographic data on students enrolled in four
representative CS courses. While annual data on degrees awarded and enrollment in majors is available from other sources, we
are unaware of any other data regarding student demographics in
specific courses over the last decade. Questions have been added
to the CRA Taulbee survey to continue collecting this type of data.
In this article, we provide a portion of what we learned from
the CRA Enrollment Survey. Specifically, we first document
the phenomenal growth of computer science majors in North
America since 2006, at both doctoral2-granting and non-doctoral granting units; furthermore, the data indicates that continued growth is likely. We then consider degree completions
in computer science from the Integrated Postsecondary Edu-
2 Our report mainly provides data on doctoral-granting units, as more data is available
on doctoral-granting units than non-doctoral granting units. We strongly encourage
non-doctoral granting units to complete the annual ACM NDC!
1 We use the term “academic unit” or “unit” to denote the administrative division responsible for the CS bachelor’s program. Often, but not always, this is an academic department.