Thursday, April 27, 2017

Higher Ed Can’t Handle Comp Sci Demand…Why?

By Professor Doom

     Even a casual inspection of the want ads reveals incredible job demand for people with skill with computers. Alternatively, the cost of hiring someone to fix your computer when there’s a problem reveals that there’s clearly a shortage of people that know what they’re doing with computers. Daily experience with computers would be certain to create quite a few people curious to know what makes that $1,000 chunk of plastic, glass, and metal tick as well.

       The entire modern world runs on computers, and has for a generation now…surely the folks running higher ed, with their fancy advanced degrees in Vision and Leadership, knew there’d be a big demand for knowledge of computers, right? Since they had to have seen it coming, higher ed should be well prepared for the increased demand based on all the obvious factors I’ve identified.

     Not a chance:

--CS is short for “Computer Science,” and the number of majors has nearly quadrupled in the last 10 years. That’s the majors, the non-major students interested in such courses has at least tripled. I’ll be addressing other aspects of the report, below.

     I was a computer science major, myself. I changed after taking semester after semester of courses based on dead languages (Fortran, Lisp, and a few others I’ve long forgotten), deciding instead to learn something relatively permanent like mathematics. Hey, higher education is slow to adapt with the times.

Admin: “Say, didn’t you take some computer science courses?”
Me: “Sure.”
Admin: “We need someone qualified to teach the computer science courses, and we can’t hire anyone willing to work for what we’re paying…”

---for years, my fake community college struggled to find someone both competent to teach and qualified to teach the Mickey Mouse courses for a computer science program so feeble that our school wouldn’t hire our graduates for our deeply understaffed IT department. 

     Higher ed is slow to adapt with the times, but that sure didn’t stop the proliferation of Gender Studies and Ethnic Studies courses on our campuses, or even Game of Thrones-related courses. Of course, finding qualified teachers for these courses is pretty easy, since there’s little demand for this kind of information in the real world…there’s no place else that’ll hire people knowledgeable in this “material.”

     One of the big problems for higher education is finding people qualified to teach computer science courses who are also willing to work in higher ed. Demand for people with computer skills is so high that working in higher ed would mean a huge pay cut and great loss of job security. If we paid computer science teachers as much as administrators, the problem would be cleared up overnight, of course, but admin won’t stand for that: they’d immediately demand even more outrageous pay for their alleged service. Admin’s primary purpose on campus is to spend as little as possible for education, the better to secure their own salaries.

      Many campuses (including my old school) have actually closed down their computer science departments, rather than pay an appropriate wage. Students just end up taking another Gender Studies course or the like….not nearly so educational, but there are golden parachutes to pay for, after all.

      But what to do about all the demand? Some places still have their computer science departments, so what’s their response?

     The report I’ve linked above has some helpful pictures describing how schools are dealing with the influx of demand:


      Well over 80% of schools have “significantly” increased class size. That word is so vague, I remember when class sizes were “significantly” increased from 25 to 30 students…now we have class sizes in the hundreds quite regularly. It’s a great deal for admin: my pay hasn’t increased, but I commonly teach classes 5 times as large as anything I taught 30 years ago.

       The second most common response is to offer more sections of computer science courses. Who teaches the extra sections? Another helpful picture answers that:

      Having adjuncts teach the courses is another great profit opportunity for admin. Adjuncts are paid less than minimum wage (more bonuses for admin as they lower the per student costs!) and garner no benefits. Similarly, using the grad students as teachers works out well—nothing against grad students at all, but I do wonder why we should charge full tuition when the teachers are trainees. Around 45% of schools have responded to the huge increase in students by actually adding a few full time faculty so that’s something, I guess.

       It’s so funny to hear admin talk about how they care so much, about everything. That caring never seems to translate to caring about faculty. The larger classes and heavier class loads represent extra work for the faculty. According to the report, about 50% of institutions have told faculty “accept the increased load as a fact of life.” Honest, ASU’s deal of “25% more work for 0% more pay” doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s industry-wide for admin to just pile on the work and tell faculty to suck it up.

     Sadly, America is all about identity politics today, so no report is complete without bemoaning how terrible the lack of diversity is. No matter what, it’s always important to represent things as negatively as possible, and this report says the news is “mixed.”  The representation of women has been heading up, though the report does what it can to say it’s just not enough…the numbers are utterly irrelevant, however, because we have no result, theoretical or empirical, saying what percent of women computer science majors is “best.” 

      Similarly, the report notes that the number of “underrepresented minorities” has increased, as well as the percentage…but what’s the baseline for calling something “underrepresented”? There isn’t one, and no matter what we see in the data it isn’t enough, for some reason. Despite the obvious flaws here the report manages to insinuate that we really need to do more, as the same thing happens here that happens in many other fields that eventually become very technical:

Our course data for both female and URM students shows decreases in each year as the course level increases. Further study is needed to determine whether a leaky pipeline exists, or whether there is another explanation for this trend.

     As you go higher up, as the material becomes more difficult, those “underrepresented” folk that are (viciously) lured into disciplines they would not have otherwise chosen find out that they have a better idea what they want than college administrators…we really need to stop applying identity politics to higher education (and probably stop applying it everywhere else, as well).

     Back to the point, higher ed has seen a tremendous influx of students interested in computer science, and the response has been abysmal: when programs aren’t shut down due to lack of sufficient profit margins, they’re kept by increasing the class sizes (i.e., lowering quality) and lowering the standards for teachers (i.e., lowering the quality)….the students are expected to pay more all the same, and, similarly, faculty are expected to just stand by and watch admin reap the benefits of more growth that has nothing to do with administrative ability.