June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
12.1589.1 - 12.1589.8
Viewpoints from the doorstep: What’s turning students away from computer science and engineering? Abstract. The current, sharp decline in interest in computer science and engineering (CSE) motivates our investigation of why beginning undergraduates reject CSE as a major. We present a thematic analysis of 14 semi-structured interviews with pre-major undergraduates newly enrolled in the first introductory CSE course (generically referred to as “CS1”) at a large, public research university. Our findings illustrate a range of well-formed, negative perceptions about CSE. Many students’ concerns had little to do with the intellectual content of the discipline and instead focused on the culture and lifestyle associated with academic and professional life in CSE. Our conclusion discusses the challenge undergraduate CSE education faces in addressing these perceptions and concerns in order to help students make more informed decisions about majoring in CSE.
After years of booming interest, enrollment in computer science and engineering (CSE) is now suffering a startling, rapid drop in North America. Between 2000 and 2004, the fraction of incoming undergraduates planning to major in computer science fell by over 60%, and, historically, this statistic has accurately predicted bachelor’s degree production.1 Likely consequences include a shortage of qualified, domestic candidates for computing-related jobs and the downsizing or even elimination of CSE programs and departments.
Having recognized the enrollment problem exists, the broader CSE community is beginning to address the more difficult question of why enrollments are dropping and what can be done in response. A small, interdisciplinary community has been doing high-quality research on these questions in the more specific context of the gender gap in CSE. (For an excellent, current overview and sampling of research, see Cohoon & Aspray’s edited volume.2) Much of the research to date focuses on why students drop out of CSE, commonly around the second year of undergraduate study. The complementary question of why beginning undergraduates reject CSE as a major is relatively less examined. Although reasons for leaving CSE are likely to be related to reasons for entering (or not) in the first place, this is an assumption worth examining. Our study aims to address this need by investigating pre-major undergraduates’ perceptions of majoring in CSE and of the career paths they associate with it.
This paper presents a selection of findings from an interview-based, qualitative study of prospective CSE majors at a large research university. This research primarily aims to detail the range of student perceptions about CSE, rather than to make broadly generalizable claims. However, the responses exhibit some patterns in beliefs about and interest in majoring in CSE. We focus here on findings most likely to inform efforts to recruit, support, and retain CSE majors into and through their first year of undergraduate study. Many of the interviewed students’ concerns had little to do with the intellectual content of the discipline and instead focused on the culture and lifestyle associated with academic and professional life in CSE. To these students, the CSE life was one of unhealthy competitiveness, high stress, social isolation, and little time for life outside of school or work...and all this for what? Many students admitted
Yasuhara, K. (2007, June), Viewpoints From The Doorstep: What’s Turning Students Away From Computer Science And Engineering? Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2626
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