New report offers policy recommendations to sustain momentum for computer science education.

U.S. institutions should make every effort to expand computer science education to keep up with workforce demands, according to a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).

And though interest in computer science education, and access to it, is growing, the report found that not enough students are taking high-quality computer science classes at high school and university levels.

The report found that at the university level, the U.S. boasts strong computer science programs, but universities still aren’t keeping up with demand.

Why the Lag?

Authors Adams Nager, an ITIF economic policy analyst, and Robert D. Atkinson, ITIF president, cite two main causes for this: First, computer science, like most STEM-concentrated degrees, costs more for schools to provide than majors in the liberal arts or social sciences. Second, universities and colleges often face resistance from within when they try to change departments’ size and number of course offerings to reflect students’ demand for a particular major, especially if such efforts are not met with a growing student body for the university.

Universities, especially state schools that have faced funding cuts, have few incentives to take on these additional costs by encouraging or enabling more students to take courses, the authors note. Schools also lack incentives to improve diversity in their computer science departments, as the number and share of women in computer science majors has dramatically declined from a decade ago.

(Next page: Bad tactics, but promise for the future)

The report points to several tactics universities use to deal with their inability to meet growing demand for computer science courses, including restricting the size of the major, discouraging non-majors from taking courses, and charging a premium for computer science classes.

Promise and Recommendations

Nager and Atkinson say the outlook for computer science education is improving, however. Spearheaded by nonprofit initiatives, the importance of coding and computer science has led to concerted efforts to increase the number of students taking computer science courses, provide teachers with resources, and generate interest in the field.

The authors offer a series of recommendations for federal and state policymakers to leverage this momentum:

• Reform curricula for existing technology classes to focus on core concepts of computer science in primary and secondary schools
• Allow computer science to count as either a math or science requirement in high school
• Teach computer science in all high schools
• Increase the number of qualified computer science teachers by providing resources to train and recruit
• Establish more STEM-intensive public charter high schools
• Create incentives for universities to expand their offerings in computer science and prioritize retaining students interested in majoring, minoring, or taking courses in the field

“Graduates with skills in computer science are an incredibly valuable resource for the U.S. economy,” said Atkinson. “It is not enough to rely on the ‘market’ to determine the number of workers with computer science skills, if for no other reason than because key educational institutions do not adequately respond to market signals. It is incumbent on states and the federal government to require or incentivize educational institutions to further develop their ability to train a broader group of students in computer science. Expanding computer science education should be considered an essential component of U.S. innovation and economic growth policy.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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