Spotlight: Demand for Computer Science Classes

Across the 5Cs, the growing popularity of Harvey Mudd College’s innovative and accessible computer science classes has lead to increased difficulty for students from schools that lack computer science programs to take the classes they need for their majors, minors and general interest in the subject. This is due to Mudd’s computer science department lacking the faculty and resources to teach all the classes that are needed with the onslaught of interest.

With an increase in the number of jobs in the technological field, which largely utilizes the skills taught to computer science majors, more and more people are focusing on gaining that skillset. The resources available at the 5Cs, however, are having trouble keeping up.
The teaching faculty for computer science majors across the whole 5Cs consists of Harvey Mudd’s computer science program, equipped with thirteen faculty members, and Pomona College’s staff of professors. According to Ran Libeskind-Hadas, Chair of the computer science department at Mudd, Pomona’s classes tend to be smaller than Mudd’s classes, making them harder to get into. The two programs are independent from one another but have lots of overlap as well.

This makes Mudd the go-to school for computer science majors from all the other schools. Along with the computer science majors within Mudd’s own student population, the demand is far exceeding what Mudd’s computer science department can accomodate.

According to Amy Marcus-Newhall, Scripps’ Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, Harvey Mudd had around 100 enrollments in HMC computer science courses from the other Claremont Colleges in 2010-2011.  By 2012-13, they had 288.  By 2013-14, they had 553.  The majority of these enrollments are in CS 5, the introductory course.  

According to Libeskind-Hadas, other 5C schools, including Scripps made computer science an option for an off-campus major without consulting the faculty at Mudd. This left the computer science department with a larger demand for  their classes than for which they were prepared.
The overwhelming demand for Mudd’s computer science courses, and CS 5 specifically, comes from much more than just lack of resources. In the fall of 2006, Mudd’s computer science department decided to re-invent its introductory course to make it more open to students of various levels of background in computer science.

Prior to this revision, the course had been rudimentary and more appealing for those with prior computer science experience. As a result, it was found that often students with less experience were intimidated by other students who knew much of the information already--creating an uninviting classroom environment.

Realizing this and wanting to make the subject more accessible, Mudd’s computer science department re-constructedthe course, putting more power into the hands of the students in terms of options for projects and not mixing students of varying levels of experience, in an attempt to eliminate the intimidation factor. This revolutionized the program and interest skyrocketed, especially amongst women.

Prior to this reinvention, nationally, an average of 15 per cent of undergraduate computer science majors were women. Harvey Mudd followed this pattern as expected with 14 per cent of undergrad computer science majors being female. However, after the introduction of the new course in 2006, 47 per cent of Mudd’s undergraduate computer science majors were female, placing it high above the national average. This caused an immense interest in Mudd’s methods and course content among schools across the country who wanted raise their numbers as well.

“The Academic Deans Committee (ADC; includes the Deans from all seven Claremont Institutions) discussed, and continue to discuss, the significant rise in computer science interest and how best to accommodate this,” Marcus-Newhall explains. “A working group of faculty and administrators continues to monitor and work on the increasing interest and demand in computer science and how best to address it.”

As this field has grown immensely over the past decade and continues to grow at an increasingly fast pace, the need for students with computer science knowledge and interest in the subject as a whole continues to increase.

Marcus-Newhall explained that in order to keep up with the demand and accommodate the growing number of women interested in the subject, the academic deans across all the 5Cs are seeking to find a consortial solution to the problem, and that the immense difficulty with enrolling that students dealt with this year “shouldn’t be seen as a permanent situation.”
The popularity of computer science majors, minors and programs has grown immensely over the past few years, making the growing need for more faculty and resources clear. With the growing popularity of this field and progress being made in this field the Claremont Consortium needs to adapt to the growing demands being placed on the departments currently in place.

Scripps Students’ Thoughts

“I don’t think that Scripps students should wait until the administration makes room and classes available for CS [computer science] majors. I believe that the future of CS at Scripps lies in our ability to teach ourselves through free online courses such as Code Academy and Khan Academy. There have been Code Literacy workshops at Scripps in the past and I hope that we continue these valuable free informational sessions to better prepare ourselves for
a career after Scripps.”

Sarah Chung ‘15 (Economics & Music Double Major) Co-President of the Scripps Women in Finance, Accounting, and Consulting club at Scripps, Co-President of Scripps Women in Technology

“In regards to CS courses at the Claremont Colleges, I think that Mudd is stretched thin as it is and can barely accommodate its own students in CS. Overall, I think Keck or Scripps seriously needs to consider making their own CS department. We have such a large pool of talent here and Scripps needs to take the lead in developing a strong CS department to help combat the gender discrepancy in the tech industry. The tech industry needs women like us, but we also need to learn the practical skills that are vital for a career in tech.”

Alicen Lewis ‘15 (Digital Media Studies Major and Psychology Minor) Founder and Co-President of Scripps Women in Technology