As demand for college graduates with technical degrees soars, new majors are emerging that are hybrids of computer science, information systems and computer engineering.
Penn State University, for example, created the College of Information Science and Technology a decade ago as an interdisciplinary program that combines engineering and business courses. The college offers three bachelor's degrees: a B.S. and a B.A. in Information Sciences and Technology (IST) and a B.S. in Security and Risk Analysis (SRA).
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Demand for students who complete the more rigorous B.S. degrees is high.
"Around 78% of last year's graduates were placed in May 2012," says Mary Beth Rosson, associate dean for undergraduate studies at Penn State's College of Information Science and Technology. "Starting salaries for IST majors averaged $60,500 and $59,200 for SRA majors. The placement rate for students who did the dual major - IST and SRA, which is easy to do - was 91.6%, definitely giving them a high value. Around 40% of our students did get a signing bonus."
Rosson sees less demand for the B.A. program both from students and recruiters.
"It's an experimental program. We have had it for a few years, but we haven't gotten much uptake on it," Rosson says. "We designed it to be flexible, so you could double major in biology or history and IST. But it's been difficult to get it going."
Recruiting for Penn State's IST grads is strong this year, with 50 companies trekking out to the main University Park campus for interviews. Altogether, Penn State has about 800 undergraduates pursuing IST and SRA degrees.
"Our top companies in terms of numbers of hires are Price Waterhouse Coopers, Delloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton, Capital One, Cognizant, Freddie Mac and Northrup Grumman," Rosson says. "A lot of our students go into consulting type of positions. Our students are very business savvy because they have two or three internships."
Rosson says techie teens who love math, algorithms and mastering computer processes should focus on computer science, while those who like working with people should consider a major like information sciences and technology.
"If you want to work with computing technology in the context of people and problems, that's why you want to come here," Rosson says. "Our programs emphasize the human, social and cultural context of computing....Recruiters love our students because they are ready to work. They're problem solvers, they're good in groups, and they have good communications skills."