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International Enrollment in US Computer Science Colleges

Are international students brilliant innovators that should catch a ride on the STEM and CS train in U.S. colleges?

I am Computer Science teacher in an American school in Latin America whose mission is to prepare students for college, mainly colleges and universities in the United States. I had the opportunity to attend a college fair that took place at my school at the beginning of this school year, and was very surprised by the general consensus from the colleges, that most Latin American students prefer majors in the Humanities, Business and Social Sciences areas rather than the STEM or CS areas. Most of the colleges that visited us were small private U.S. colleges that are not strong in the Computer Science or Engineering areas, but still, the comments I received were very eye opening. Apparently our students are either not interested in these areas or think these majors are too hard to achieve when English is not your native language. I also found out from the same source that most of the colleges that have good Engineering and/or Computer Science departments are not interested in recruiting or at least not going out of their way to recruit foreign students as they have an abundance of applications from local students. Therefore the need for active recruiting no longer exists.

Unfortunately whatever the reason, it seems that our Latin American students are not informed or do not have many opportunities to dive into these areas of study since there is no need from these big name universities and colleges for foreign students to opt for these majors. This makes me wonder if the picture is similar around the world or if it is unique to Latin America. With these questions in my mind, I decided to do some research and this is what I found.

According to the Institute of International Education on a Press release published on November 2011, International enrollment from foreign students in U.S. colleges has increased by 5 percent in all areas, now the top three places of origin for these enrollments are: China, India and South Korea. There are only four Latin America countries mentioned which are: Mexico as #9, Brazil #14, Colombia #21 and Venezuela in position #23. Most of the countries in between are either European or Asian. In the top 10 areas of choice for enrollment Mathematics, CS is in 3rd place with 9% compared to a 22% in Business and Management. These numbers are very important as they show the preferences of International students currently studying in the U.S.

According to the white paper prepared for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, updated in July 2012, the need for Hispanics to earn a degree in STEM is growing. These are some numbers that have been published by them: "The number of students (both Hispanic and non-Hispanic) enrolling in STEM fields is on the rise. Enrollment in STEM fields from 1995-1996 to 2003-2004 increased 21 percent, compared to an increase of 11 percent in non-STEM areas. During that same time, the percent of Hispanic students enrolling in STEM fields increased by 33 percent, representing nearly ten percent of students in STEM fields" (United States Government Accountability Office, 2005). At the same time, however, disproportionately low numbers of Hispanics currently persist in STEM (Oakes, 1990; Young, 2005). Although Hispanic students have been shown to be equally likely as white students to major in STEM, they are significantly less likely to earn a degree or certificate in a STEM field (Chen & Weko, 2009). According to recent data from the Higher Education Research Institute (2010), 16 percent of Hispanic students who began college in 2004 as STEM majors completed a STEM degree by 2009, compared to 25 percent of white students.

One of the most interesting parts of this paper is the reflection towards the reasons influencing Hispanic students in deciding whether they want to pursue and earn a degree in STEM. This is their reflection:

Academic Experiences
Mathematical and science training at the elementary and secondary levels has been shown to influence the academic preparation of students as well as their interests in high school mathematics and science coursework and in pursuing a STEM career (Eamon, 2005; United States Government Accountability Office, 2005). Further, there is evidence that the number of mathematics, science, and English courses taken by high school students serves as a major predictor of choosing a STEM college major (Astin & Astin, 1992; Simpson, 2001).

Cognitive Factors
Students' self-efficacy has been shown to be the strongest predictor of the consideration of mathematics as a career choice (Post-Krammer & Smith, 1986). Leslie, McClure and Oaxaca (1998) found that the probability of choosing engineering or science increases with students' perceptions that they possess a solid science/math background and in the belief that he or she has the ability to perform well in those courses.

Socio-Cultural Factors
Peer influence has also been shown to inspire students' decisions to major in a STEM field. Astin and Astin (1992) found that the most consistent environmental influence on a student's choice of major is the number of friends and peers that students possess or knew that were seeking a degree in that field of study.

Factors Specific to Latinas
Gender serves as one of the most powerful and robust predictors of choice of college major for minority students, as female minority students are much more likely to pursue liberal arts, health, public service or business degrees than STEM degree programs (Simpson, 2001).

Now these are not new factors, these are factors that are in the minds of students every day. In conclusion, if we can encourage K-12 institutions to reinforce their CS and STEM related courses then students will be more willing to pursue a degree in these areas. If our Latin American schools have strong CS and math courses that can compete with the ones offered by U.S. schools then our students will feel that they have broader career choices. It is also very important that U.S. colleges strengthen their success and achievement statistics by allowing more International students, specifically Hispanics that show a great interest and possess a high degree of talent for CS or STEM to be recruited by their institutions. The best comparison I can make is to U.S. sports teams that make their institutions more successful by adding international players to their rosters. The variety of experience and knowledge leads to an increased success rate.

Michelle Lagos
International Representative


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