ENROLLMENTS IN COMPUTING- RELATED undergraduate de- gree programs are boom- ing,abouttoestablishanew record in North America.
There is also a growing demand for
computing courses by students who
are not computing majors. In the
U.S., President Obama recently announced a new $4 billion initiative
“to empower students with the computer science skills they need to thrive
in a digital economy.” Of course, this
popularity does not come without
costs. The growing size of computing
degree programs is clearly stressing
academic units and putting pressure
on the quality of education provided
to students. In response to the insatiable demand, academic institutions
are raising their level of investment in
computing programs, but academic
hiring is agonizingly slow!
What is driving the computing-enrollment boom is undoubtedly the
global technology boom, epitomized
by the global rise of “unicorns”—tech
startups with a valuation of at least
$1 billion. Fortune magazine recently
wrote “The billion-dollar technology
startup was once the stuff of myth.
Today they’re seemingly everywhere,
backed by a bull market and a new generation of disruptive technology.” In
January 2016, more than 170 companies were on the unicorn list. It is the
dream of joining a unicorn that probably attracts many students to study
We must remember, however, we
have witnessed such booms in the past;
the history of computing education is a
history of booms and busts. Comput-
ing-related degree programs were in-
troduced in the mid-to-late 1960s, and
grew slowly during the 1970s. The in-
troduction of the IBM PC in 1981 made
computing a household phenomenon
and triggered the tech and enrollment
boom in the 1980s. That boom was
ended by a recession of the early 1990s.
By the mid-1990s, the Internet and
the World-Wide Web had become
household names, launching the
dot-com boom; the growing popularity of the “Web” led to the founding
of many Internet-based companies,
commonly referred to as “dot-coms.”
The NASDAQ Composite Index, a U.S.
stock-market index that includes
many tech companies, more than
quintupled between 1995 and 2000.
The excitement about the new technology and the demand from the job
market led to a growing popularity of
computing education; enrollments
in North America nearly tripled between 1995 and 2000. Surging enrollments were stressing academic units,
forcing institutions to increase staffing in those stressed units.
But by 1999 it was becoming increasingly clear the boom had become
a speculative bubble. The NASDAQ
Index peaked on March 10, 2000, declining almost 80% over the next two
years. Numerous start-up companies
went under, bringing down with them
several telecommunication companies. The stock-market crash in the
U.S. caused the loss of $5 trillion in the
market valuations from March 2000 to
At the same time, the Internet and
the Web enabled the globalization of
software production, giving rise to the
phenomenon of offshore outsourcing.
There were daily stories in the media
describing major shifts in employment
that were occurring largely as a result
of offshoring. Combined with the im-
pact of the end of the dot-com boom,
future of computing as a viable field of
study and work in developed countries.
Computing enrollments in North America went into a steep dive, declining by
more than 50% between 2004 and 2009.
I believe it is important to remember this history as we celebrate the
rise of the unicorns. There are already
some indications the current tech
boom may be nearing its end. The media has started commenting “The signs
of a new tech bubble are everywhere:
easy money, widespread exuberance,
hidden leverage, and mass participation by amateur investors.” What turns
a bubble into a bust is a change in investors’ psychology. History tells us it
does not take much for such a change
to occur. The decline of stock markets
around the world over the past few
months suggests such a change may already be taking place. It is quite likely,
also, that a tech bust would bring with
it an enrollment bust.
So we should brace ourselves for
another global tech and enrollment
bust, but also keep in mind the long-term trend. At the trough of 2009,
computing enrollments were higher
than they were in 1995, before the
start of the dot-com boom. Furthermore, a computing degree positions
a graduate for solid career opportunities in almost every sector of the global economy, and not only in the tech
sector. In the long term, computing is
ascendant and will continue to shape
the 21st century. Between booms and
busts, up we go!
Follow me on Facebook, Google+,
Moshe Y. Vardi, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Copyright held by author.
Are We Headed toward
Another Global Tech Bust?
DOI: 10.1145/2892240 Moshe Y. Vardi