Computer Science Courses on the Decline

Computer science is on the decline in American high schools. According to new research from the Computer Science Teachers Association, not only have the number of students enrolled in computer science has dropped significantly in the last four years and so have the number of AP computer science courses offered at high schools.

The survey, the 2009 CSTA National Secondary Computer Science Survey, collected responses from some 1,100 high school computer science teachers conducted in spring 2009. Of those, only 65 percent reported that their schools offer introductory or pre-AP computer science classes. This compares with 73 percent in 2007 and 78 percent in 2005.

Only 27 percent reported that their schools offer AP computer science. This compares with 32 percent in 2007 and 40 percent in 2005.


The survey also asked participants whether their schools offered computer science content in courses other than introductory or AP computer science classes. Seventy-four percent reported that their schools do, compared with 85 percent in 2007. (Numbers were not available from 2005.) These classes included Web design (67 percent), computer graphics (51 percent), communications (40 percent), programming (39 percent), networking (16 percent)), and applications (11 percent), among several others.

"The continuing drop in students taking AP CS is a serious warning sign about the state of computing in this country, as a student taking AP typically indicates his or her interest in majoring in that field in college or pursuing a career in that area," said Chris Stephenson, CSTA executive director, in a statement released Monday. "Our innovation economy requires that students take an interest in computing, but a host of factors point in the other direction."

But among schools that offer CS courses, enrollments have not seemed to change much over the last three years. Of those participating in the survey, 23 percent reported that CS enrollments have increased; 22 percent said CS enrollments have decreased; and 55 percent reported no real change in enrollments. But a full 70 percent said there are qualified students who are not taking the CS courses offered by their schools.

So what are the challenges that are leading to the decline in computer science?

Thirty-one percent reported that NCLB had a negative impact on their CS programs, with the bulk (62 percent) saying it had no impact. Participants also cited lack of teacher subject knowledge, lack of student subject knowledge, difficult subject matter, lack of student interest, and lack of hardware and software resources. But the top 3 reasons cited for the decline were lack of curriculum resources (No. 3), lack of staff support or interest (No. 2), and rapidly changing technology (No. 1).

"Computer science teachers are calling out for more effective professional development opportunities, such as workshops, conferences and networking opportunities, to keep up with the state of the field and offer rigorous and challenging courses that engage students," CSTA's Stephenson said.

The hindrances to professional development cited by participants included facilities and resources, training opportunities, training cost, and, at No. 1, time for training.

Complete results from the 2009 CSTA National Secondary Computer Science Survey, as well as comparative results from previous surveys, can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .