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No More Excuses for Lack of Access

One of the concerns we frequently hear from our members is that administrators and policy makers are not convinced of the need for students to have access to rigorous computer science courses in high school. I think perhaps the best evidence for this need comes from industry.

The figures on jobs provide ample evidence of the growing need for highly skilled computer scientists. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the IT workforce has grown steadily:

  • As of May 2009 employment in the IT fields has increased and is significantly above the levels of the dot-com boom, 1999-2001.
  • The professional IT workforce added 316,520 jobs between 2002 and 2004, a significant turnaround from the period between 2000 and 2002, when the workforce shrank by 150,150 jobs.
  • The professional IT workforce has increased by 18.7 percent from 2000 to 2009, adding 559,480 jobs.
  • Between 2008 and 2018 the total US employment is projected to increase by 15.3 million jobs, or 10 percent, which is about the same as the 15.6 million jobs or 10 percent increase that was projected from 2006 to 2016. While overall job growth is expected to slow, the increasing retirement of the aging baby boomers is also expected to create a significant number of job openings (which are not counted in the projections of new jobs). Of these 15.3 million jobs, the professional IT workforce is projected to add a little under a million new jobs, (814,900) an increase of about 22 percent.

    But what is the connection to high schools? Recent information provided by Google and Microsoft indicates that exposure to computer science in high school is critical.

    In the summer of 2010 Google conducted a survey of a sample of its U.S. employees about their exposure to computer science prior to college. They compared the results of those who majored in CS in college to those who majored in another subject. Here are the key findings:

  • Nearly all CS majors (98%) reported being exposed to CS prior to college, compared to less than half of non-CS majors (45%). The nature of the exposure varied from reading about CS in books or online, after-school programs or summers camps, to middle or high school CS classes.
  • Those who went on to major in CS were more likely than non-majors to have had a CS class offered in their high school.
  • CS majors were more likely to have known that CS was a possible career path when they were in high school.
  • Based on these findings, Google concluded that exposing students to CS before college is crucial to growing interest and enrollment in computer science majors and careers.

    When I asked Kevin Schofield, General Manager for Strategy and Communications at Microsoft Research if this conclusion was consistent with Microsoft's employment research, Kevin said:

    Microsoft sees early exposure to computer science as critical to getting kids informed and excited about both the importance of CS to the national economy and the career opportunities it provides. The company supports thousands of its own employees to share their knowledge and expertise with local school districts as frequent visitors and speakers at schools through a program called EduConnect.

    Over the past few years Microsoft and Google have been extremely active supporters of CSTA's efforts to support and improve computer science education in K-12, precisely because they know that early exposure to CS is critical for students, for companies, and for the national economy.

    Maybe it is time for administrators and policy makers to be required to explain how they can continue to deny students access to critical skills and career opportunities.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director


    Providing access is one part, finding students interested to participate may also be a problem. More students seem interested in doubling up in the core subjects particularly math or science, rather than signing up for computer science as unfortunately, there is the perception that having these courses on their transcript will give them a better chance to get into top tier schools.

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