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Want a job? Get a computer science degree

Recession drives more undergrads to pursue computer-related degrees, courses

By , Network World
February 22, 2010 12:04 AM ET

Network World - Here's a tip for incoming and current college students: If you want to have a high-paying job on graduation day, study computer science.

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That's the advice coming out of the top U.S. computer science programs, which are seeing rising enrollment and applications as more college students discover that their job prospects are better — and their starting salaries higher — if they have a computer-related degree.

Leading universities report that enrollment in computer science and engineering courses is up significantly this year among students pursuing computer science majors as well as those studying other subjects, particularly science or business.

"I think the job market is what's driving the growth," says Professor Bruce Porter, Chair of the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, which has seen its enrollment increase more than 5% this year. "The government has made it clear that computer science is a growth field, and I think that message is getting back to students and their parents."

Corporate recruitment of top computer science grads has remained steady throughout the economic downturn. Last spring, at the height of the recession, Georgia Tech's College of Computing had the highest job placement rate of any major on campus and the highest starting salary.

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"We had placed 87% of our undergraduates in jobs as of last spring," says Cedric Stallworth, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Enrollment at Georgia Tech's College of Computing. "The financial sector — credit card companies, insurance companies — are very much interested in computer science students, as are defense companies and software development and networking companies."

Computer science grads from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are being recruited by software, healthcare, trading and agricultural companies. Last year's grads received an average of 2.3 job offers and had an average starting salary of more than $72,000 – the highest of any starting salary in the university's College of Engineering.

"We really didn't see a drop in recruiting efforts," says Cynthia Coleman, associate director of external relations for the University of Illinois' Department of Computer Science. "We have seen a significant increase in companies in other industries that typically haven't recruited in computer science interested in our students. What a lot of our students are going to realize is that every industry has computer science needs."

Solid job prospects

The message about solid job prospects and starting salaries as high as $105,000 for computer science majors is resonating with college students and their parents.

At Stanford University, the number of students declaring themselves as computer science majors is up 40% from last year. The university attributes this dramatic rise partly to the fact that its required computer science courses were streamlined and more areas of concentration added. But the rest of the increase is attributed to the recession.

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