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
“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
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.”