I WANT TO return to a theme I have explored before: diver- sity in our discipline. To do this, I have enlisted the help of my colleague at Google,
Maggie Johnson. We are both concerned the computer science community is still not benefiting from the
diversity it could and should have. College students are more interested than
ever in studying computer science
(CS). There has been an unprecedented increase in enrollment in CS undergraduate programs over the past four
years. Harvard University’s introductory CS course—CS50—has recently
claimed the spot as the most enrolled
course on campus.a An astounding
50% of Harvey Mudd’s graduates received engineering degrees this year.b
The Taulbee Study is an annual survey
of U.S. Ph.D.-granting institutions conducted by the Computing Research Association. Table 1 from the 2014 Taulbee reportc shows the increases CS
departments are experiencing.
While the overall number of stu-
dents in CS courses continues to in-
crease, the number of women and
underrepresented minority students
who go on to complete undergraduate
degrees is, on average, not growing at
all. As noted in Table 2, recent find-
ings show that while these students
may begin a CS degree program, re-
taining them after their first year re-
mains a serious issue.d
Why is this important? The high-
tech industry is putting enormous ef-
fort into diversifying its work force.e
First, there is a social justice aspect
given the industry demand and the
high salaries associated with that de-
mand. Second, high-tech companies
recognize if they are going to create
truly accessible and broadly useful
products and services, a diverse work-
force will best create them. Third, with
the advent of an increasing amount
of software in virtually every appli-
ance ranging from cars to clocks to say
nothing of smartphones, we are going
to need every bit of system design and
programming talent we can find to
avoid collapse into a morass of incom-
patible, uncooperative, and generally
recalcitrant devices in our homes, of-
fices, cars, and on or in our persons.
Whether we like it or not, programmable devices are much more malleable
than electromechanical ones, potentially less expensive to make, and, possibly, easier to update. The Internet
of Things is upon us and we need all
hands on deck to assure utility, reliability, safety, security, and privacy in
an increasingly online world.
What can faculty do in their own departments? There are several simple interventions that can increase student retention in CS programs. Here are some
˲ Consider student interests when
˲ Provide early and consistent feedback on assignments.
˲If you have teaching assistants,
ensure they are aware of the best practices you follow.
˲ Emphasize that intellectual capacity—like a muscle—increases with effort. (You are not born with the ability
˲ Tell students about conferences
and the benefits of attending conferences for targeted support groups.
˲Women and minority students
often believe they are not performing
well, even when their grades tell a different story. It is important to tell women and minority students they will succeed if they stay.
˲Be open and accessible to students. You may not know who needs a
sounding board, but generally letting
students know you are available can
make it easier for them to ask for help
˲ Consider helping to form student
chapters of ACM-W and IEEE.
˲ A list of constructive steps, created
by NCWIT, is here.g
Faculty can make a huge difference
in retaining our diversity students. As
leaders in the CS field, your actions
and words have a profound impact.
When we lose the interest of a signifi-
cant part of our diverse society, we
suffer irretrievably. We cannot even
calculate the opportunities we may
have lost for the CS discipline. The
next potential scientific breakthrough
or blockbuster business might have
come from someone whose interest
we failed to keep. Please join us in
highlighting this important opportu-
nity and sharing these and your own
solutions with your faculty.
Vinton G. Cerf is vice president and Chief Internet
Evangelist at Google. Maggie Johnson is Director of
Education and University Relations at Google.
Copyright held by authors.
But diversity students are leaving…
DOI: 10.1145/2898431 Vinton G. Cerf and Maggie Johnson
Table 1. CS enrollment increases reported
in 2014 Taulbee Survey.
2013 2014 change
B.S. CS Awarded 12,503 14,283 14. 2
B.S. CS Enrollments 63,098 80,324 27. 3
New B.S. CS Majors 17,207 20,351 18. 3
Table 2. CS enrollment decreases
reported in 2014 Taulbee Survey.f
Women B.S. CS Graduates 14. 2 14.0
B.S. CS Graduates
3. 8 3. 2
Hispanic B.S. CS Graduates 6.0 6. 8