At first glance, it might seem that way-computers have become as ubiquitous on campus as quadrangles. The fall 1998 survey of college freshmen conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA (http://www.gse.ucla. edu/heri) found that 82.9 percent of freshman use the Internet for research or homework, 54.2 percent visit online chat rooms, 65.9 percent use e-mail, and 80.4 percent play computer games on occasion. Yet, despite the popularity of digitalia, not everyone is studying Modern Geek. In fact, conferred bachelor's degrees in the computer sciences lag behind those in education, engineering, social sciences and history, and even psyc hology. Computers may have revolutionized how but not necessarily what we study.
The once and future champion in terms of bachelor's degrees conferred remains business management which, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Condition of Education 1998, at the National Center for Education Statistics' Web site (http://nces. ed.gov), took the overall lead from "social and behavioral sciences" in 1981, and has yet to relinquish its title.
Even as late as 1994-95, there were almost five times as many business management degrees conferred as there were for "computer and information sciences" or "communications and communications technologies."
Evidently, most students realize that venture capitalists can make a lot more money taking geeks public than the other way around. This proves once again that the business of America is majoring in business.
Think that's an overstatement? Not when you consider that the student population of the country is at a record high, thanks to those frisky baby boomers. Twenty-five years ago, elementary and secondary enrollment peaked at 51.3 million as boomers reached school age. Now that their children (known to some phrase-mongers as the Echo Boomers) are in the education pipeline, the number of high school graduates is expected to increase from 2.5 million in 1993-94 to 3 million by 2005-2006 (a 21 percent rise), with more than 60 percent of that number expected to enroll in college-which should be very good news to manufacturers of beer kegs as well as the makers of NoDoz.
The fact that computer science as a field of study is a relative loser (in terms of enrollment only-no letters, please) is also due to the surge of women attending college. In contrast to the high school class of 1970, which saw 55 percent of men and 48 percent of women go on to higher ed, by 1994, 60 percent of men were getting hazed by upperclassmen while 63 percent of women were acquainting themselves with bad institutional food. The change has been more marked in the last decade: According to the Department of Education's Digest of Economic Statistics, between 1985 and 1995, the number of men enrolled in post-secondary institutions increased by 9 percent, while the number of women enrolled enjoyed a 23 percent increase. Between 1970 and 1994, the percentage of doctor's degrees awarded to women rose from 13 percent to 39 percent.
What does enrollment among women have to do with computer science? Men are still more likely to major in the field, that's what, while women are more likely than men to take up education as a major (according to The Condition of Education 1998 at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs98/condition98). Education is clearly an issue close to the hearts of those who make it their field of study, borne out by the fact that the specialty is at the same time popular and yet one of the lowest-paying fields for recent college grads. For the academic year 1994-1995, bachelor's degrees in education outranked not just those in computer science, but engineering, life sciences, and health professions. Meanwhile, between 1977 and 1993, starting salaries for those graduating in education (in 1997 contant dollars) have never been better than 11.7 percent below the median (in 1993 that was $24,156) for all college graduates.
Geeks, on the other hand, stand a good chance of making a bundle right out of the commencement gate. For the same period, salaries for computer science and engineering graduates have never been lower than 34 percent above the median. If you're a teacher and this depresses you, just remember that no one has yet written a movie called To Information Systems Analyst, with Love, or a book called Goodbye, Mr. Chip.