An article in The New York Times—“The Hard Part of Computer Science? Getting Into Class” (January 24, 2019)—by Natasha Singer tries to account for the current stage of enrollment in Computer Science programs across the nation. “Lured by the prospect of high-salary, high-status jobs, college students are rushing in record numbers to study computer science,” she writes, “Now, if only they could get a seat in class.” The flip-side of the issue is also prominent: “a surge in student demand for computer science courses is far outstripping the supply of professors, as the tech industry snaps up talent.”
Cornell CIS Dean Greg Morrisett was interviewed for the New York Times article, noting: “I had a faculty member who came in with an offer from a bank, and they were told that, with their expertise, the starting salary would be $1 million to $4 million. There’s no way a university, no matter how well off, could compete with that.” An undergraduate student might have an urgency to major in CS as a gateway to a lucrative tech sector job, but the article makes clear that the surge in demand for classes translates into a near-term need for professors. For this reason, perhaps current and prospective CS majors will turn their attention to careers in research and teaching, and in a generation achieve some parity between supply and demand. Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, noted soberly: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.” CS majors may want to be part of making things better by making plans to join the ranks of CS faculty.
Reached for comment on the article, and how it pertains to Cornell CIS in particular, Dean Morrisett said: “I’d like our students to understand that this isn’t just a local phenomenon and that we can’t easily solve the huge classroom and advising problems overnight, but that we are working to address the issues, that the university has been super supportive, and that the faculty are really giving it their all to make sure that we serve as many students as we possibly can.” Morrisett also underscored a further special attribute of Cornell CS: “One thing that distinguishes us from other programs is a high degree of commitment to serving any student who wants to major in CS, no matter his or her background. In turn, that commitment has led to a level of diversity that makes Cornell really stand out.” There is evidence of Cornell CS not only preserving diversity in the representation of women and under-represented minorities, but also pursuing it as a top priority.
If you can get a seat in a CS classroom at Cornell, it seems a very lucky—and a highly promising—place to be.