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July 12, 2007

UMBC IT Enrollments on Rebound

Outreach Efforts to High School Students, Counselors Have Fall
Enrollments Up for Freshmen & Females

CONTACT: Chip Rose, UMBC News

Undergraduate enrollments in UMBC's Department of Information Systems (IS) are on the upswing for fall 2007, particularly among young women. The enrollment increase is a positive sign in light of a recent national decline in college students entering information technology majors and is partly due to the department’s efforts to educate high school students and counselors about the various IT disciplines of study, the truth about outsourcing and the improved job market for IT majors.

Nationwide, newly declared computer science majors plummeted to 8,000 in the fall of 2006, from 16,000 in 2000, according to the Computing Research Association. According to UMBC IS department figures, the fall 2007 semester will bring a 40 percent increase in new freshmen (41 enrollments) over the department’s previous four-year average (28).

Equally noteworthy is the fact that the department’s fall freshman class will comprise 41 percent women up from a 23 percent average over the previous four years. In an industry that is still typically dominated by men, the number of women enrolling as first year students in UMBC IS programs is up approximately 150 percent from the past four years.

UMBC is one of the largest producers of undergraduate IT degrees in the nation, according to the U.S. Deptartment of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Historically, UMBC’s Center for Women and Information Technology (CWIT) has worked to close the IT gender gap through education and outreach efforts. One of CWIT’s primary goals has been to encourage more women and girls to prepare for careers and become leaders in information technology.

Andrew Sears, chair of information systems at UMBC, believes the enrollment jump is due in part to his department’s advocacy and outreach initiatives over the past two years. Many universities and companies have been working to get the message out that IT industry demand for skilled graduates has rebounded strongly from the dot-com crash and economic downturn of the 90’s. A recent American Electronics Association report said the U.S. technology industry added 150,000 jobs in 2006 and starting salaries for new college graduate with computing degrees average about $52,000 a year.

“We believe there is a serious disconnect between the reality of today’s strong job market for information tech majors and the perceptions of many high school counselors, educators and the families of would-be IT students, so we’ve been working hard to reach them,” said Sears.

“This year’s fall enrollments in our B.S. in Information Systems and B.A. in Business Technology Administration programs combined are encouraging and nearly equal our 2002 high water mark, so we are hopeful that the message is getting through,” said Sears.

UMBC’s Information Systems department has embraced a proactive, grass-roots approach to IT education advocacy. “We felt it was important to talk with high school education professionals about what IT is really all about, the number and variety of jobs that are available and how our degrees prepare students for these exciting opportunities,” said Sears. “In the last two years we have devoted departmental energies and resources not to hype IT, but to share facts.”

The IS department held its first “IT Discovery Event” in 2006, where high school career and college counselors and technology education leaders were invited to a half-day seminar covering topics like the difference between information systems and computer science and the IT job growth projections and variety of career options in the industry. Nearly 50 high school counselors from the Baltimore/DC region attended and more than one-third expressed interest in scheduling separate group visits to the IS department for their students. The department also has had representatives invited to events that, in the past, were reserved for college admissions professionals to talk about IT curricula and job prospects.

Sears defines his department’s hands-on approach pretty simply. “No one can tell our story like we do,” he said. “Our goal is to get the facts into the hands of guidance and career counselors, prospective students, and the parents of these students. This will help them better understand the vast array of opportunities that are available, the skills that they really need to succeed and the fact that an IT career is much more than sitting in front of a computer all day.”

Posted by crose at July 12, 2007 7:45 AM