New computer science degree for non-engineers

CU-Boulder undergraduate Ariel Aguilar is combining studies in psychology and computer science, with a focus on software tools and how children acquire language. Photo by Casey Cass.

By Clint Talbott

Students enrolled in the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences will soon be able to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in computer science, following a vote  this fall of the University of Colorado Board of Regents.

At present, CU-Boulder students seeking a degree in computer science must enroll in the College of Engineering and Applied Science, and if they also would like to study an arts and sciences discipline, they must complete a double degree.

But computer science is no longer just for engineers, and rising demand for employees with these skills spans many disciplines, said Provost Russ Moore.

“This new degree is one example of the interdisciplinary possibilities available to CU-Boulder students that will strengthen their future opportunities in the 21st century workplace,” Moore said.

The regents approved the degree during a meeting at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. The B.A. degree to be offered by the College of Arts and Sciences differs from the B.S. degree offered in engineering in that it is specifically designed for students studying arts and sciences disciplines, said Steven Leigh, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The B.A. also is structured to offer room in the degree to pursue double majors.

The new degree was proposed because the demand for computer-science skills in the U.S. labor market far outstrips the supply, said Kenneth Anderson, associate professor and associate chair of the Department of Computer Science in engineering.

“These graduates will be attractive to technology companies because the task of software-product development requires more than just workers skilled at programming, but also requires workers skilled in psychology, communication, business, quality assurance, etc.,” said Anderson.

In 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that computer-science jobs will account for nearly 60 percent of all job growth in science and engineering fields between 2008 and 2018. The projection has been accurate so far, Anderson noted.

The dean’s office conservatively estimates that 30 students in the College of Arts and Sciences would enroll in the program in its first year and that enrollment could grow five-fold in six years. Based on the experiences of peer universities in other states, CU-Boulder officials do not anticipate that the new degree will diminish interest in the existing computer science B.S. degree that is offered by the College of Engineering and Applied Science and enrolls 340 students.

CU-Boulder will be the only public institution of higher education in the state to offer a Bachelor of Arts in computer science. Colorado College, which is private, is the only Colorado institution currently offering this degree.

Leigh hailed the new program as a boon for current students and an incentive for prospective students.

“The degree program will promote our desire to engage strategically with businesses in our area, benefitting them by recruiting great students, training students rigorously—possibly with local internships at software companies—and providing a broadly and deeply educated workforce,” Leigh said.

High-tech companies responding to Anderson’s request for feedback on the new computer-science program were enthusiastic.

“Computer scientists are to the 21st century what manufacturing line workers were to the 20th—the production engine of the most significant advances in productivity,” wrote Tim Enwall, CEO of Boulder-based MobiPlug, which offers home-monitoring and control products.

Adam Rubenstein, president and CEO of Collective IP in Boulder, underscored the need for graduates who have not only computer-science skills but also training in science, tech and math disciplines. There is an “unambiguous scarcity of a qualified work force” in computer science, he said.

“Make no mistake: There is a severe crisis felt by every industry, not simply technology-specific, regarding the insufficient availability of high-tech workers. A fierce competition exists for today’s finite talent pool, yielding a suppressed degree of productivity and innovation.”

 

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