RealTime IT News

Brain Drain in The Tech World?

The popularity of computer science at American undergraduate institutions has taken a major hit over the past few years, with enrollment levels dropping to lows not seen since the early 1970s.

Maybe that's because many job prospects for computer science grads have been shipped overseas.

Once-celebrated and sought-after computer science majors have seen many of the high-paying jobs spawned by the Internet boom dissipate, a recent study shows.

Conducted by the Computing Research Association (CRA), a group of more than 200 North American universities and laboratories, the study shows a 19 percent drop in U.S. college students majoring in computer science.

And many industry-watchers partly blame outsourcing for the shift.

According to Knowledge at Wharton, the research resource publication of the University of Pennsylvania's business school, American companies have invested about $1.5 billion in IT business processing operations and call centers in India alone. Wharton expects that trend to continue, further affecting university programs.

Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said in the Wharton study that the continued scale and scope of the offshore movement will impact the U.S. labor market and its ability to innovate.

"We are already seeing this at my institution: Enrollments in IT [programs] are far below last year's," Hira said. "How will a smaller pool of U.S. technical professionals impact the U.S.'s ability to innovate for economic growth and military security?"

Enrollment in computer science bachelor degree programs nationally plunged 19 percent in 2004, and the number of undergraduates majoring in the field dropped 23 percent overall, to 17,706. But, during the peak enrollment period in the late 1990s, the number of computer science majors had doubled since the 1970's, the CRA survey said.

A major reason for the initial decline in interest was the slowdown in the high-tech industry, the survey said. But the eventual shift of thousands of IT jobs to countries like India, Russia and China made the jobs seem further out of reach.

Gartner Research says currently only 5 percent of IT jobs in the U.S. are sent offshore, and analyst Frances Karamouzis believes that number will rise to 30 percent by 2015.

Matthew Moran, author of The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, said that recent economic downturns in the marketplace changed the role of IT professionals, especially with certain jobs, as more positions continue to be outsourced. But, he argues, there are still more than enough jobs to go around.

"IT continues to be a great place to develop a career, but the late 1990s really skewed perspectives," he said, referring to the signing bonus, huge stock options and other perks awaiting technology majors after graduation.

Moran sees the changes as necessary corrections and believes the market will continue to be hot for those in the tech business.

"Now the IT professional needs a full suite of skills," he said. Moran also believes the numbers don't completely reflect reality, as more and more students begin to understand that business and communication studies greatly complement tech skills.

"There probably are a lot more students getting minors in computer science," he said.

Marcus Courtney, an organizer with the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, told Wharton guide: "America's leading high-tech companies such as Microsoft and IBM are exporting our country's best-paying high-skilled jobs in order to slash labor costs. This trend will only increase job insecurity, lower wages and mean fewer benefits for America's white-collar professionals."

He says there will always be space for innovative and savvy IT professionals in the United States.

"Those IT professionals who master the technical aptitudes, cultivate communication skills and become savvy business people will increase their value to their employers and clients," he said. "Information technology is still a great career choice for results-oriented people. It provides rare performance-based advancement you can't find in many other careers."