Computer classes buck trend
Student demand is overwhelming resources
of School of Engineering and Applied Science
science professor Kevin Sullivan in the lab with his students
Mark Twain said in a different context, reports of the death of
computer science classes have been greatly exaggerated.
recent article in the Washington Post noted that, in connection
with the dot.com bust, enrollment in computer science classes
at mid-Atlantic universities fell last year by 1 percent.
article cited a report by the Computing Research Association and
quoted sources in higher education particularly at Virginia
Tech and George Washington University who saw a drop in
interest among entering first-year students in declaring majors
in computer science. The piece suggested the drop-off signaled
a growing trend away from computer science.
a trend, if there is one, hasnt been seen at U.Va.
engineering, we say that 1 percent is the noise, or a random fluctuation
that does not necessarily reflect a trend, said Paxton Marshall,
assistant dean of undergraduate programs at U.Va.s School
of Engineering and Applied Science.
student demand for computer science classes still overwhelms the
resources of the department, said Jack Stankovic, computer
science department chair. With all the first-year engineering
students enrolling in Computer Science 101, plus a number of undergraduates
in the College
of Arts & Sciences who want to minor in computer science,
the classes are packed and enrollment has to be capped, he said.
development is projected to be the largest creator of jobs
in the U.S. economy in the coming years.
associate professor of
unfortunately, engineering students working on their majors take
preference over A&S students working on their minors, so in
some cases, College students have not been able to complete minors
in computer science because they havent been able to get
into the classes they need, Stankovic said.
number of first-year students accepted as majors in computer science
fell by one last spring, to 54 from 55 the year before, but the
number of first-year students accepted into computer engineering
rose to 46 from 42, and those in systems engineering rose to 100
from 92 the year before.
at the graduate level also remains strong, said Alf Weaver, professor
of computer science. Last year, the department received 701 applications
for 35 places, the most ever.
the undergraduate level, about 550 students fill the chemistry
auditorium in two or three sections for the spring offering of
Computer Science 101, said Jim Cohoon, associate professor of
computer science who has taught the class for 10 of the past 12
years. Its a fun class to teach, he said.
with classes bursting at the seams, U.Va. is not turning out enough
CS majors, said C.J. Livesay, director of engineering career services.
Theyre taking jobs, not only as software engineers or hardware
developers, but also as database managers for manufacturers, services
companies and management consultants, he said. CS majors who graduated
last spring reported median salaries of $53,000, compared with
the national average of $49,500 as reported by the National Association
of Colleges and Employers.
the demand for computer programmers may have slipped in recent
months, the industry demand for capable software designers still
vastly outstrips the supply, said Kevin Sullivan, associate
professor of computer science. Software development is projected
to be the largest creator of jobs in the U.S. economy in the coming
years. The job growth is still there.
an effort to explore new ways of meeting the demand for computer
science classes from Arts & Sciences students, the College
will launch a three-year pilot program next spring, said Charles
Grisham, chief technology officer for the College and professor
of chemistry. The Honors Program in Computer Science will accept
five to 10 qualified students each year. The students, who may
take up to 10 classes in computer science, will be on an equal
footing with other engineering students in terms of gaining admittance
into the CS classes, he said.
engineering students majoring in computer science (which focuses
on software development), computer engineering (which focuses
on hardware development), and systems engineering (which focuses
on developing business and engineering applications for computer
software) together make up about 40 percent of the engineering
schools student body, up from about 30 percent in 1991.
computer science department, which has 25 active teaching faculty
members, harbors ambitious goals top 10 status nationwide,
up from its most recent U.S. News & World Report ranking of
27. Curriculum reforms adopted over the past two decades have
strengthened the program and kept pace with changes in industry,
said Worthy Martin, associate chair of the computer science department.
of U.Va.s computer science faculty has high national visibility,
with three assistant professors winning coveted NSF Career Awards
in recent years. Respect for the quality of the work done here
helps bring an average of $5 million to $7 million a year in research
funding into the computer science department alone, according
computer science department is in pursuit of excellence, both
in teaching and research, Stankovic said. Paradoxically, the better
it becomes, the greater its pressures will be.