June 29, 2005

Computing is completely integrated into almost everything we do to live our lives, from banking to making travel arrangements to buying clothes and books to gossiping. So why do people think they should only have formal education about computers if it is going to relate specifically to their jobs?

This question was inspired by the results of a study conducted recently by the Computing Research Association (www.cra.org), a trade group for computer professors. The CRA found that new enrollment in North American computer science and engineering programs has dropped four years in a row, falling 10 percent during the 2003-04 school year from the previous year's levels.

A separate study conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA showed that the popularity of computer science as a major among incoming freshmen at undergraduate institutions has dropped significantly over the past four years - by more than 60 percent between 2000 and 2004.

Regarding the CRA research, members suggest the reason for this decline is that college students are reacting to a perceived overall decline in "good" IT jobs in the U.S. They are concerned about the lingering dot-com fallout, as well as the increase in offshoring of tech-related jobs.

However, as most Bank Systems & Technology readers - and professionals in any industry segment, for that matter - are aware, the reality is more complicated. Yes, due to many economic, social and technological factors there are fewer IT-specific jobs overall. But the jobs that remain tend to be more complex and demanding, requiring not only computer expertise but also the ability to analyze, organize, create and communicate.

These are skills that the classic liberal arts education is ideally suited to provide - and there's the disconnect. Perhaps computer science should no longer be taught strictly as a discrete discipline - rather, it should be viewed as another aspect of the humanities, along with literature, history, economics, etc. Colleges - whether they are big universities or smaller liberal arts schools - should incorporate IT into the academic distribution requirements. That way the odds of building a skilled and flexible workforce - for banks and technology companies alike - would improve significantly.

On The Net:

Computing Research Association

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & ...