According to a recent article titled 6 things you need to know about STEM on money.cnn.com, the Department of Education has found that “STEM jobs are growing at 1.7 times the rate of non-STEM jobs.”
STEM is the acronym for the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Workers in these four fields “drive our nation’s innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas, new companies and new industries…are less likely to experience joblessness…and play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy,” according to the United States Department of Commerce.
Douglas Dankel, the undergraduate coordinator of the Department of Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at the University of Florida, said that there has been an increase in the number of students in his department over the last two and half to three years and the current introductory programming class for computer science is the largest its ever been at UF.
“If you actually look historically at the department, we’re on I think our third swing up in terms of number of students,” Dankel said. “In each case, it was a situation where Bureau of Labor Statistics and other groups were forecasting that there were going to be more jobs in computer science. At that point, people saw it as something that was a good career, so more students are coming into the program.”
Dankel utilizes code.org, which compiles data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to find information on current trends in the STEM fields and, more specifically, computer science.
“They point out that there’s a total of 400,000 computer science students that are going to be graduating between 2011 and 2020,” Dankel said. “Yet at the same time, there are 1.4 million computing-related positions that are going to be available. So we’ve got a shortfall of one million people in computer science.”
The Census Bureau reported that 74% of college graduates with STEM degrees are pursuing non-STEM careers. Dankel said this may be partially due to the fact that if you look at all of the jobs in science and engineering, 60 percent of available jobs are in computer science and 40 percent are available for all of the other sciences combined. There are also five times more jobs available for computer science students than there are for all of the other engineering disciplines, which computer science falls under, combined.
“Now when I say sciences, that’s physics, chemistry, all of the engineering disciplines, the social sciences as well,” Dankel said. “And only two percent of the students are computer science students. So computer science, the jobs are there. These other fields, they’ve got way more students than they actually have positions available.”
Cameron Willey, a 22-year-old computer science major in his fifth year at UF, said that the surplus in computer science jobs is appealing. However, it was not the primary reason for choosing his major.
“Computer science is in every industry in the world today and is constantly making leaps and bounds in advancing technology,” Willey said. “I picked my major because I was undecided coming out of high school and I have family members in the field who recommended it to me.”
After taking a few classes, Willey found that the field interested him: “I enjoy being presented with a problem and given the freedom to go out and find or build a solution that leverages technology.”
Willey has already accepted a job working as a systems engineer, which he will start after he graduates in May 2015.
Dankel believes that one reason there is a gap between computer science students and the number of jobs available is due to the lack of teaching the subject in the grade schools and high schools.
“Some schools might have like a drafting class, mechanical drawing class, or they might have a robotics club,” Dankel said. “You’ll see some stuff like that in some of the schools. But there really isn’t a push to try and get students to see engineering as a field for them to go into.”
The opposite is true for fields like English and history, which everyone is required to take.
“So one of the things code.org is trying to do is to say hey we need to start having junior highs, even elementary schools, offering computer science and getting people to see this is a good field to go into,” Dankel said.
Another reason for the shortage of students could be the small number of females in the field; despite the fact that when the discipline began, there were actually more women than men involved.
“I think a lot of women look at computer science as being a nerdy discipline to go into and we probably have less than twenty percent of our students being female,” Dankel said. “And that needs to be something that’s corrected in the high schools and junior highs.”
Dankel believed the solution to recruiting more students into the field is to show them the data.
“Normally when you show them the figures, their jaw just drops,” Dankel said. “I think it was last year, computer science was ranked the best job type to have. The Bureau of Statistics goes through and they rank different job categories. Computer science is always in the top 10 and salaries are very, very high, as well. You combine all of that and going into computer science is a great, absolutely great, thing to do.”