CSU Computer Science Combatting Perceived Downturn In IT Market

Despite a recent nationwide trend of declining enrollment in computer science programs, information technology (IT) job and internship opportunities are growing for computer science majors and new graduates particularly from Columbus State University.

Most of our graduates, especially our recent ones, have received good jobs with many receiving multiple offers from both local and regional companies. We also have significantly increased the number of internship opportunities; but, we are having a difficult time attracting enough students to take advantage of these opportunities, said Professor Wayne Summers, distinguished chair of the TSYS Department of Computer Science at Columbus State University.

CSUs computer science enrollment has declined since the turn of the millennium, following a nationwide trend which has been documented by Information Week and the Web-based journal CNET News which has identified the decline at such institutions as Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Closer to CSU, Georgia Techs College of Computing has experienced a 50-percent enrollment decline over the past four years. Heavy among contributing factors, experts say, is the economys 2000-01 dot-com bust and subsequent job layoffs and outsourcing by U.S. companies.

Summers, and many of his colleagues, contend the national media has played up the downturn in the IT job market, making the career field appear less attractive to potential newcomers.

Ironically while enrollment has declined, job opportunities are growing,Summers said. He cites a stabilizing IT job market in 2005 and continuous demand for newly trained workers particularly skilled in emerging fields including robotics and information security. Earlier this year, Information Week reported U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics as showing a 3.7 percent unemployment rate among IT workers, down from a high of 5.5 percent a year earlier.

Summers also echoes Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates by warning that continuously declining or stagnated undergraduate enrollment in computer science programs domestically will create a vicious cycle or a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A shrinking supply of young, tech-savvy workers in the United States will force companies to seek such talent from overseas and that would include larger-scale exporting of jobs to countries such as India and China where computer science education at the university level is flourishing, Summers said. Consequently, few job opportunities would validate a paralleled lack of student interest and ensure a technologically deficient U.S. workforce on a global scale, he added.

Gates, meanwhile, recently told a University of Washington audience that declining computer science enrollment has the United States on the verge of falling behind India and China in innovation.

Summers has described the potential crisis with a global perspective. From 1988-94, he administered an Indiana University satellite computer science program in Malaysia and concurrently conducted workshops throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei as among the early experts of computer network security. Since returning to the United States, he has conducted workshops around the world on Internet programming and publishing and network security.

Dedicated to reversing a negative national trend, Summers is steering the following CSU measures to increase computer science-major enrollment:

Pursuit of National Science Foundation grant money to support expanded student recruiting (to include initiatives targeting women and minorities) and in-service training programs targeting area high school teachers and students as a means to generate excitement about the field.

New-faculty recruitment prioritizing cutting-edge expertise: Summers cites three fall 2005 additions: YongMi Kim (bioinformatics), Rodrigo Obando (robotics, visualization and computer gaming) and Angkul Kongmunvattana (micro architectures, embedded computing).

Collaborative recruiting with CSU Enrollment Services: Summers recently accompanied CSU recruiters to four high schools to maximize the pitch for computer science majors.

Expanding CSUs recently established Center for Information Assurance Education thats the basis for a concentration option in graduate-level studies: Goals include additional faculty support and meeting National Security Agency standards for accreditation as a Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education.

Increasing internship opportunities for students with local companies: Many employers such as Aflac seek experienced new hires, said Summers. Among the eight internships and co-op opportunities available to CSU students, three internships have recently been established at Fort Benning and CSU is targeting TSYS for additional opportunities.

Summers also cited CSUs continued 2005 enrollment decline in computer science as attributable to a ripple effect from the February 2004 downsizing of 237 jobs at Columbus-based TSYS, one of the nations largest employers of entry-level programmers. TSYS also is the namesake of, and traditional collaborator (as a 1996-2003 ICAPP partner) with CSUs computer science department.

In 2005, CSU is revitalizing its TSYS relationship, said Summers. TSYS has a sizeable number of openings for entry-level programmers and we are exploring options with them for helping meet their needs.

Summers also acknowledges that recent technology innovations in other fields, ranging from criminal justice to art, are drawing away potential computer majors. Ten years ago for example, young people excited about computers enrolled almost exclusively in computer science programs; but today, IT is integral to many professions that are attracting this same type of student.

However, computing and innovative IT specialists remain fundamental to the economy especially from Columbus to Atlanta, Summers said. In addition to TSYS and AFLAC in Columbus and Coca-Cola and Lockheed Martin of metro Atlanta, an abundance of smaller employers, as well, create a healthy demand for workers. Last spring, a smaller, downtown Atlanta firm hired two of our graduates while looking to fill 40 positions.

Summers also has factored in the national news medias extensive coverage of the industrys previous downturn. The job opportunities are there for workers with up-to-date skills, but its going to continue to be tough to rekindle that interest in our young people particularly if the national media continues to overlook the trend these opportunities have presented.

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Contact: Wayne Summers, (706) 568-5037; E-mail: summers_wayne@ColumbusState.edu