Advocates say computer science education is fun–and essential

computer-scienceCalls for more integrated computer science education have increased in recent years as studies show that computer science degrees lead to high-paying jobs that help boost the economy.

Computer science, which includes programming and coding, is the highest-paid college degree and jobs in the field are growing at twice the national average, according to Code.org, but fewer than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with computer science degrees.

Some states are working to change that. In May, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill that counts Advanced Placement (AP) computer science as a math or science credit. The course previously counted as an elective, meaning that many students passed it over for other courses that would meet graduation requirements.

(Next page: Why computer science? Plus, take our poll.)

Forty of 50 states do not count computer science toward math or science requirements for high school graduation, and only 1 in 10 schools offer computer programming classes. That could change, though, if more states make efforts similar to those in Washington.

Recent data indicate that only 35 of the state’s 622 high schools offer AP computer science.

According to data collected by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, 150,000 new computing jobs will need to be filled each year for the next 10 years.

Software engineering jobs are expected to grow by 30 percent by 2020, computer and information systems jobs by 18 percent, database administration jobs by 31 percent, and computing programming jobs by 12 percent.

By that time, 2020, there will be 1.4 million computing jobs and 400,000 computer science students–a shortage of 1 million, and a lost economic potential of $500 million.

By 2018, there will be almost three times as many job openings that require computer science knowledge as there will be qualified applicants. Employers said they struggle finding enough applicants with technical knowledge required for computer-related positions.

Students’ lack of interest in this subject doesn’t begin when they get to college, however–it starts much earlier, and experts say that the sooner students develop an interest in and a love for computer science, the better.

Fewer than 1/4 of students are able to enroll in rigorous computer science courses. In fact, 2011 data show that fewer and fewer high schools are offering AP computer science tests: only 2,100 in 2011–a 25 percent decrease from five years ago. When students do take the AP test, those tests account for just .69 percent of all high school AP tests.

Other nations are boosting computer science education. Scotland revised its school curriculum and places a major focus on computer science. In South Korea, many middle and high schools teach introductory computer science, and the subject will be a major part of a proposed new curriculum. Israel initiated an intense review of school computing courses and now has one of the most rigorous high school computer science programs in the world. In the past seven years, India has tripled the number of bachelor-equivalent degrees conferred.

Experts say that helping students develop and sustain an interest in computer science through in- and after-school activities could help students take that interest with them to college and the workforce. Ensuring that students have the opportunity to explore computer science and move past traditional stereotypes opens the field up to many more.

[poll id=”52″]