Computer Science Becomes Cool Major Again

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Computer science has become the most popular major at Stanford, part of a swell of popularity of the discipline over the past three years. U.S. News & World Report points to the myriad opportunities in an otherwise tight job market, but then there's also the cool factor.

Mehran Sahami, computer science professor and associate chairman of the department's education program, told SiliconValley.com:

"Today's students have grown up using many computing technologies, including Web search engines, social networks and smartphones."

The computer science major "affords them the opportunity to go from being consumers of computing technology to producers of it, and that's a tremendously powerful transition."

Stanford, of course, occupies a stellar reputation for training computer nerds as well as entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, the University of Washington has been gaining distinction in that arena as well with the rising demand for tech talent in the Seattle area, according to a New York Times story.

Professor Ed Lazowska, however, notes that despite the demand for engineers, the university turns away about three-quarters of the students who apply because it lacks the capacity to teach that many, a problem mentioned in a 2011 report by the Computing Research Association, which tracks trends.

Unlike many majors, computer science students can launch high-paying careers with just an undergraduate degree. Enrollment in computer science started dropping after the dot-com bust, reaching its lowest point in 2005 before starting its rebound.

SiliconValley.com reports that UC-Berkeley is seeing a similar trend, though psychology and business are the most-favored majors at other Bay Area universities.

It says Stanford in 2009 redesigned the computer science major making it more interdisciplinary with electives such as studio art and biology. That prompted enrollment to rise 83 percent in just two years. And rather than designed to weed out students, its program is "designed as funnels, to bring students into the discipline."

Stanford's previous most-popular major was human biology. But as a recent Washington Post story pointed out, the job market is tight for lab scientists in biology, chemistry and medicine, even for job candidates with Ph.Ds.