National Academies Report on Large Computer Science Enrollment Increases May Inform Statistics Increases as Well

By Steve Pierson posted 10-27-2017 07:55


The National Academies recently released the report, Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments. Citing the74% increase in national bachelor’s degree production in computer and information science (CIS) from 2009 to 2015 (to nearly 60,000, which matches a previous high in the early 2000s), the report summary concludes, “the committee sees both an urgent need and an opportunity to evaluate strategically the role of computer science and related fields at academic institutions and plan for a compelling future where student, departmental, institutional, and national needs can be met.”

With the large rise in statistics degree rise over the same period, albeit for much smaller overall numbers (209% increase to 2,336), I wanted to make the statistical community aware of the report and its many recommendations made in response to the CIS increases. For more on the statistics enrollment increase, see the October 2017 Amstat News piece, Bachelor’s, Master’s Statistics and Biostatistics Degree Growth Strong Through 2016.

The recommendations from the NAS report summary follow. As a point of interest for the statistical community, data science is described in the report as, "An interdisciplinary field spanning computer science, statistics, and specific knowledge domains that uses models, processes, and systems to extract insights from data." 

RECOMMENDATION 1: The leaders of the institutions of higher education that have experienced rapid increases in computer science course enrollments should take deliberate actions to address this trend with a sense of urgency.

RECOMMENDATION 2: A range of actions should be considered as part of a comprehensive institutional strategy, from targeted controls on enrollments or resource additions to meet demand, to more extensive institutional changes that extend beyond the computer science department.

RECOMMENDATION 2.1: Institutions experiencing a computer science enrollment surge should seriously consider an increase in resources to address the rising workload on faculty and staff in computer science and related departments, and the limitations arising from inadequate facilities.

RECOMMENDATION 2.2: Some institutions may view the composition of limits on enrollment in computer science and related courses as desirable or unavoidable. However, before imposing limits on course or major enrollments, the consequences of doing so should be considered comprehensively, and the benefits and costs weighed for the entire university community.

RECOMMENDATION 2.3: Institutional leadership should engage directly with computer science departments or programs to develop appropriate faculty hiring and faculty size targets, and develop strategies to improve faculty retention. Increasing the number and enhancing the role of academic-rank teaching faculty should be given serious consideration.

RECOMMENDATION 2.4: Larger institutions—in particular, research universities—should reevaluate the organizational placement of the computer science department and other departmental units with a computational mission.

RECOMMENDATION 2.5: Institutions should pursue innovative strategies for using technology to deliver high-quality instruction at scale to large numbers of students, and pursue additional, creative strategies for meeting demand for quality computer science courses and skills development among the entire student body.

RECOMMENDATION 3: Institutions should take deliberate actions to support diversity in their computer science and related programs. In particular:

RECOMMENDATION 3.1: Institutions should assess how computer science enrollment growth—and any actions or strategies for responding to it— affects the diversity of their student bodies, and deliberately align their actions and the culture of their programs with best practices for diversity and retention. Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments

RECOMMENDATION 3.2: Institutions should leverage the increasing interest in computer science and computer and information sciences, both among non-majors and intended majors, to engage, recruit, and retain more women and underrepresented minorities into the field to help address the diversity problem proactively.

RECOMMENDATION 4: The National Science Foundation (NSF) can be especially helpful in advancing undergraduate computer science education in the context of increasing enrollments, for both majors and non-majors. The following actions should receive serious consideration:

 RECOMMENDATION 4.1: Use NSF’s convening power to bring computer science faculty and institutional leaders together to identify best practices and innovation in computer science education in times of limited departmental resources. This should include assessment of the computer science skills and knowledge needed in non-computer science academic disciplines.

 RECOMMENDATION 4.2: Support research on how best to use technology in teaching large classes. Such research should be multidisciplinary, spanning learning sciences, educational pedagogy for computer science, development and deployment of assessment instruments, and technology design.

RECOMMENDATION 4.3: Support research to advance the understanding of best practices for diversity in computing, including rigorous and longitudinal assessment of the efficacy of specific institutional practices, especially those taken or considered in times of high enrollments. This research should be multidisciplinary, with experts in both micro-and macro-level social science research, statistics, computer science education, and diversity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and computing.

RECOMMENDATION 4.4: Create an initiative to expand instructional resources in computer science, informed by an understanding of the constraints and dynamics of the supply and demand for computer science Ph.D.s. This might include research support and doctoral fellowships for domestic computer science undergraduates, and support for incorporating teaching into computer science doctoral programs and junior faculty research.

RECOMMENDATION 5: Computer science departments and the computing industry should develop new partnerships to help higher education meet workforce needs, continue to graduate well-prepared students, encourage industry to provide increased support for research funding, and allow a better exchange of Ph.D.- level researchers between academia and industry.

RECOMMENDATION 6: Public institutions produce a significant fraction of each state’s workforce and the nation’s computer science undergraduate degrees. States should provide sufficient support to their public institutions to enable them to support fully their academic missions, including with respect to computer science education.

RECOMMENDATION 7: To prepare students better for the expanding role of computing in academia, industry, and daily life underlying the increase in interest in computer science government agencies and states should support local, state, and national programs for computing education for the purpose of increasing exposure to computing, computational principles, information security, and data analytics throughout the K-12 pipeline.

RECOMMENDATION 8: Actions should be taken to facilitate an improved understanding of national undergraduate enrollment trends by improving the primary data available about them, and facilitating the availability of that data in a timely fashion. In particular, the following actions should be considered:

RECOMMENDATION 8.1: Improved data sources about undergraduate enrollment should be pursued by federal and state governments in collaboration with academic institutions. To the extent possible, data should be made available in a time frame where the information can be useful for academic and government planning purposes.

RECOMMENDATION 8.2: The taxonomies and classifications for undergraduate computing degrees and jobs should be reexamined and updated, so that those used in national statistics are more easily brought into alignment, and map more directly to the current organization of computer science and related fields in higher education.

RECOMMENDATION 8.3: In the absence of comprehensive national statistics, the computer science community, in collaboration with education, social sciences, and statistics researchers, should continue to pursue or refine effective strategies for tracking enrollment, retention, and graduation rates and measuring student diversity.