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[My Computational Complexity Web Log] Is the AP Test to Blame for Shifting CS Enrollments?

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  • Lance
    It is no secret that undergraduate enrollments in computer science have been dropping over the past five years. Students follow the money and, with the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 14, 2004
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      It is no secret that undergraduate enrollments in computer science have been dropping over the past five years. Students follow the money and, with the perception of a weaker job market in computer-oriented careers, less students are willing to study computer science.

      Why does computer science follow the job market so closely? We don't see such swings in physics or history but such swings are common in engineering disciplines. Are undergraduate viewing computer science more as engineering than science? And why?

      One theory I recently heard puts the blame on the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Exam given to high school students. The reasoning goes as follows: The AP exam has a strong emphasis on the Java programming language and so high school teachers, teaching to the exam, focus most of their course on syntax and coding of Java. This gives the impression to students that computer science = programming.

      I don't agree with this assessment. I looked at some sample CS AP tests. The tests, particularly the AB exam, requires some knowledge of data structures and simple algorithms. Nothing deep but enough that students should realize that computer science is more than just programming.

      There was a surge of interest in computer science when I started college in the early 1980's (with the advent of personal computers) before an AP test in Computer Science even existed. Also I've heard of declines in enrollments outside the US where they don't use the AP tests.

      But in the end we shouldn't be that worried about shifting enrollments. Advances in computer technology have helped drive computer science from a virtually non-existent discipline forty years ago to one that many universities now consider one of their most important departments. Better to have enrollments that swing up and down with the state of the computer industry than one that stagnates at the low end.

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      Posted by Lance to My Computational Complexity Web Log at 9/14/2004 06:42:47 AM

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