Last year I wrote about the search for a sexier topics among computer science types that it was hoped would renew student interest in the field. The latest data indicates that interest in CS as a major appears to have dropped 70% in recent years. Data to be released March 1st by CRA will reveal “a second year of double digit declines” in the number of enrolled CS students: http://www.cra.org/wp/index.php?p=104.
The peak years of interest for the field were the early 1980s and the late 1990s, which may point to a cyclical process (just like the cyclical warming of our atmosphere!) but the current interest levels are equivalent to those reported for the the mid-1970s. No equivalent data exists for information schools or LIS programs but most that I know are informally reporting very healthy enrollments. Of course, most iSchools are graduate programs so the comparison is not entirely fair. That said, computer science graduate programs are reporting declines also but the numbers are still up over their recent lows of 2000-2001. In absolute terms, there are still roughly 50,000 CS graduate students in the US each year, which swamps the number of information program grads by about a factor of 10. Still, these metrics are only part of the story. Our school graduates about 100 people per year and we have no plans to grow this number although there is healthy demand from applicants. A fuller picture also would have to look at the employment patterns of graduates and this is a complicated picture. CS grads generally do earn better than average wages but there are serious declines in employment prospects for programmers and database administrators. Similarly, our grads tend to get jobs pretty quickly (half are employed before they graduate) but the variability in salary is quite significant, depending on where grads ply their trade. As a senior professional told my intro class this week, there will be no jobs for them as traditional catalogers, but plenty of opportunities for them to help implement better information systems and services. Regardless, in the sex appeal stakes, we all know information trumps computation.