Resources for the CS Capacity Crisis
||August 1, 2020
Computer science classrooms are overflowing at colleges and
universities across the United States.
Enrollments are rising quickly, not only for majors, but also
for non-majors who recognize the importance of computing skills
in today’s economy.
This enrollment growth puts enormous pressure on computer science
departments, which have not been able to expand to keep pace.
Part of the problem is that most new Ph.D.s in computer science
go into industry, with relatively few people interested in
teaching the next generation.
Unlike the situation in conventional academic disciplines, the
number of open faculty positions in computer science exceeds
the number of candidates by about a factor of five.
As a result, most institutions are unable to hire the new faculty
they need and must instead restrict access to the computer science
major and computing classes.
This web site contains links to several reports that describe
these challenges and offer recommendations for institutions facing
The National Academies report
In March 2018, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and
Medicine released the its 18-month study of the challenges posed by
rising enrollments in undergraduate computer science. The following
resources are available in conjunction with the report:
- The Consensus Study Report
- The committee web site
This page outlines the charge to the committee and provides links to
- Notes from the public workshop
In August 2016, the committee held a public workshop in which we heard from
a variety of senior people in academia, industry, and government.
Several of these presentations are particularly valuable and certainly
deserve a look.
- Annotated findings
I put together this slideshow to provide additional background for the nine
findings included in the report. These slides include graphs and animations
that reveal both the scope and seriousness of the challenges. Feel free to
use any of these slides in arguing for increased capacity.
CRA Generation CS report
In February 2017, the Computing Research Association (CRA) released
a valuable study entitled
Generation CS: CS Enrollments Surge Since 2006.
The CRA report includes extensive data analysis of surveys conducted of
both doctoral institutions (through the annual Taulbee surveys) and
non-doctoral institutions that are part of the Non-Doctoral Consortium (NDC).
Many of the findings from the CRA study were incorporated into the
National Academies report.
In August 2019, the CRA Bulletin published an update covering the
three years since the initial report.
- The Generation CS report
- Generation CS, Three Years Later
NSF-CMU Summit Meeting
Professor Tom Cortina at Carnegie Mellon University organized an
NSF-sponsored summit meeting on “Addressing the Challenges of
Increasing Interest in Computing at the Undergraduate Level through
The summit website includes slides from the plenary sessions and
several useful background documents.
- The website for the NSF-CMU summit
The following resources may also be useful:
- Kent Curtis. 1982.
“Computer Manpower—Is There a Crisis?”
I believe this NSF study offers far and away the best analysis of the
enrollment crisis of the 1980s.
It should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the
particular challenges that face academic computer science.
- John Rice and Saul Rosen. 1990.
“History of the Computer Sciences Department at Purdue University.”
This report offers an unusually detailed and candid history of the
computer science program at Purdue, which is home to the oldest computer
science department in the country.
Purdue was ranked in the top-ten computer science programs through the
1970s, but fell significantly in national rankings after weathering
several crises in the 1980s, as described in Section 4.
This report makes it clear that even top departments can be damaged
significantly through failure to respond to enrollment pressures.
- Eric Roberts. 2011.
“Meeting the Challenges of Rising Enrollments”
My 2011 editorial in Inroads identified the rapid rise in
computer science enrollments as a warning that the field might
be in for a reprise of the impossible situation computer science
departments faced in the 1980s.
The paper describes the challenges caused by enrollment pressures
and offers several suggestions to relieve the pressure.
- Ed Lazowska, Eric Roberts, and Jim Kurose. 2014.
“Tsunami or Sea Change? Responding to the Explosion of
Student Interest in Computer Science”
Ed Lazowska from the University of Washington, Jim Kurose from the
University of Massachusetts/NSF, and I jointly presented our concerns
about the dangers of growing enrollments at several meetings and
conferences in 2014, including the Tenth Anniversary Symposium of the
National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) and the biennial
Snowbird summit for computer science chairs.
- Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). 2016.
“The Case for Improving U.S. Computer Science Education”
This paper offers an excellent and well-researched defense of the
importance of computer science education for today’s economy.
- Eric Roberts. 2016.
“A History of Capacity Challenges in Computer Science”
I prepared this history of capacity challenges for the National
It includes background information on the enrollment fluctuations that
have occurred over the years beyond what is covered in the final report.
Relevant news stories
- Jack Margarrell,
“As Students Flock
to Computer-Science Courses, Colleges Scramble to Find
Professors,” The Chronicle of Higher Education,
February 9, 1981.
These articles from the 1980s do not appear in most Google searches
because they predate the online archive for The Chronicle of Higher
I scanned them from the Stanford Library microfilm collection.
- Stanley Pogrow,
“In an Information
Economy, Universities and Businesses Compete for Workers,”
The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 16, 1981.
- Judith Axel Turner,
“Growing Demand for Computer
Courses Spurs Retraining of College Teachers,” The
Chronicle of Higher Education, July 11, 1984.
- Natasha Singer,
Hard Part of Computer Science? Getting into Class,” New
York Times, January 24, 2019.
- Cade Metz,
“When the A.I. Professor Leaves,
Students Suffer, Study Says,” New York Times,
September 6, 2019.
[The link to the original study is broken on the
site, but is available here.]