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7/19/2007
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Outreach Programs Help Pump Up Tech Degree Enrollment At UMBC

While enrollment in computer science programs has declined at most universities, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is reporting a big increase -- including many more females.

While enrollment nationwide in undergraduate computer-related degree programs have been steadily falling in recent years, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is bucking the trend this fall.

UMBC's department of information systems is looking at a 40% increase in freshmen enrollments for the fall semester, compared with four-year averages. That means a jump to 41 students versus the average of only 28 students.

A significant increase in the number of female students enrolled is largely responsible for the jump. In the fall, females will account for 41% of the department's freshman class, versus an average of only 23% over the last four years.

What's the secret for the upswing? University officials credit outreach programs targeting high school students, teachers, and guidance counselors, as well as middle school and junior high school kids.

Presentations by UBMC faculty and students from the department of IS to the high school crowd, as well as outreach programs from UMBC's Center for Women and Information Technology for middle school and junior high students, is helping to enlightened students overall, said UMBC IS department chair Dr. Andrew Sears in an interview.

UMBC outreach efforts have focused on explaining to students and counselors the different kinds of jobs that tech-related degrees can lead to and dispelling misperceptions about outsourcing trends. The encounters, which take place at events at the high schools and at the university campus, also include explaining the difference between computer science degrees and other IT related degrees, such as information systems.

"Although some students realize that a career in technology doesn't mean sitting behind a computer monitor for 12 hours a day, they might not realize how people-oriented these jobs can be," Sears said.

UMBC's IS program includes a bachelor of science in IS and a bachelor of arts in business technology administration, which a UMBC spokesman says is "less technical."

Both UMBC programs have long stressed project management and interpersonal skills, which are increasingly mentioned by employers as being among the traits they're looking for in IT staff.

Helping students build their interpersonal skills is an important part of the UMBC IS curriculum, said Sears, who suspects that female students are attracted by that aspect of the programs as well.

While more freshmen will be studying IS this fall at UMBC, most U.S. universities have been struggling with declining enrollment in their technology-degree programs for the last several years.

Enrollment in bachelors of computer science programs at 253 U.S. universities was down about 40% in 2006 compared to four years ago, according to the Computing Research Association.

Nationwide, the number of new computer science majors in fall 2006 was 7,798, or about half what it was in the fall of 2000, when there were 15,958 new students majoring in computer science at about 253 universities that have PhD-granting computer science departments, according to CRA.

Much of the downfall in enrollment has been blamed on students and their parents being wary of technology-related studies because of fear about outsourcing, off-shoring, and tech industry layoffs in the aftermath of the dot-com bust.

UMBC did not have recent enrollment figures available for its computer science degree program, which is run out of a university department that's separate from the department of IS.

However, a UMBC spokesman says UMBC remains among the top 3 universities in the U.S. in the production of IT degrees, according to data from the National Science Foundation.

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