At the height of the dot-com boom three years ago, students packed into computer science classes, often hoping to snag million-dollar jobs after graduation.
Now, with the stock market falling, enrollment has plummeted, and the computer science department is trying to figure out how to lure students back.
The numbers are bleak.
Three years ago, 262 undergraduates crowded Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I.”
Last semester, only 91 enrolled.
The downturn has been reflected in other classes in the department.
Computer Science 51: “Introduction to Computer Science II” has seen enrollment drop by more than 50 percent in the last three years.
Enrollment in Computer Science 121: “Introduction to Formal Systems and Computation,” which is required of all computer science concentrators, has dropped 33 percent.
According to Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, who teaches CS121, the recent drop has precedent.
“This is not the first correction we have seen, looking at decade-scale enrollment trends,” he wrote in an e-mail. “In the 1970s, enrollments in the first computer science courses were over 500, as high as 700 one year as I recall. These things do ebb and flow.”
Director of Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science Steven J. Gortler says he does not see the dropping enrollments as a problem.
“Smaller classes, from a teaching perspective, are very nice since classes have been growing faster than we could accommodate them,” Gortler says. “Now the question is whether or not [the department] will still be pressured to grow at such a high rate.”
However, he says informal talks are ongoing that could lead to changes in the infamously difficult introductory computer science courses.
Gortler says that any plans are still very much in the works.
Students often complain about the intense workload of the introductory courses and the competition from students who learned to program computers in grade school.