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The state of the CS department (April 2017)

It’s preregistration time at Grinnell. That means that most second-year students should have declared their first majors [1,2,3]. Since we have three classes in place, it seems like an appropriate time to look at the state of the department.

Iowa [4].

More seriously, though, it seems worthwhile to consider our numbers. As of today [5], we have 131 majors. I signed one more declaration on Friday, so we will have 132 majors on Monday. I know of at least three students with other majors who plan to add a Computer Science major. How big is that?

Economics is currently the largest major on campus, with 136 majors. With 131, we’re closing in on them [6]. After CS follow two departments with over one hundred majors: Political Science, with 125, and Biology, with 118 [7]. The rest all have under 100. How do majors distribute? Let’s see: Biological Chemistry (92); Psychology (92); English (83); Sociology (82); Mathematics (80); Chemistry (68); History (63) [8]; Physics (57); French (38); Anthropology (37); Gender, Womens, and Sexuality Studies (36); Spanish (36); Studio Art (35); Philosophy (27); Music (21); Art History (18); Theatre and Dance (18) [9]; Religious Studies (16); Russian (14); German (12); Classics (11); General Science (8); and Chinese (7). Grinnell also has 21 independent majors. It looks to me like most departments are doing reasonably well in terms of students, although I expect most would like a few more [10]. But Econ, CS, Political Science, and Biology do stand out, and likely deal with different kinds of pressures than other departments.

Computer Science currently has six full-time faculty plus one visitor and one faculty on Senior-Faculty Status to support this cadre of students. We can handle the current number of majors, but both we and the students would clearly have a better experience if we had more faculty. I’m hoping that the College sees things the same way [11]. I do know that many folks across campus understand our situation and are trying to do their best to support us.

What other statistics can I come up with quickly? Our 131 majors include 35 majors in the class of 2017, 46 in the class of 2018, 49 in the class of 2019, and 1 in the class of 2020 [12]. On Monday, we’ll have 50 in the class of 2019. Our Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research tells me that the most they’ve seen in any major and any class year is 47, and they’ve looked back to 1991. We’ve set a record! Of course, the increase in double majors College-wide has likely had some effect.

I should probably ask OASIR for breakdowns of our majors in terms of different demographics (e.g., gender, race, international/domestic). My quick glance suggests that we have 46 CS majors who self-identify as women. That’s about 35%. We should be doing better. While we work hard to support our women in computing, it’s clear we need to do more as a department. As our SEPC noted, the rapid growth of in number of majors has made it hard to maintain the culture of the department and to ensure that all our majors share our values of inclusivity. But we still have many students working with us to ensure that our culture and values persist, so I am hopeful.

Even without OASIR, I can tell that we have fifty double majors. The two most popular double majors with CS are Mathematics, with 14 double Math/CS double majors, and Economics with 10 double Econ/CS majors [14]. We also have CS students whose other major is Political Science (4 students), Physics (3), Sociology (2), Studio Art (2), Music (2), Anthropology (1), Art History (1), Biological Chemistry (1), Biology (1), Chemistry (1), Classics (1), French (1), GWSS (1), History (1), Philosophy (1), Psychology (1), Spanish (1), and Theatre and Dance (1). I really appreciate that our students have so many different interests and skills.

Was there a point to this musing? Well, I wanted to gather some data and think about the implications. I’ve gathered some data. I’ve considered some implications [16]. I’ve provided information so that you can do the same, at least if you’re a data junkie like me. Have fun!

[1] We think it’s important that students explore different interests and options in their first year or so. Hence, most students don’t declare their major until somewhere in the second year. We do require them to declare a major before they preregister for fall of their third year.

[2] Although students should have declared their first majors, not all have. As of 22 April 2017, there are still fifteen undeclared students in the class of 2019. I know one of them who plans to study abroad in the fall, and therefore didn’t stress about doing things on time.

[3] I did say first major. About 1/3 of Grinnell students now declare two majors. Some declare both at once. Others wait until later. I know of at least one who declared a second major toward the end of their seventh semester.

[4] No one ever laughs.

[5] Today is 22 April 2017.

[6] Econ has 44 majors in the class of 2017. We have 35. Those numbers suggest that starting in June, Computer Science will be the largest major at Grinnell. My CS colleagues at Carleton tell me that they became the largest major there last year.

[7] Since we don’t have a separate Department of Biological Chemistry, the Biological Chemistry majors should probably be split between Biology and Chemistry, which would make Biology Grinnell’s largest major. There are also four General Science-Biology majors.

[8] If you look on DB, you’ll see 81 History majors. However, due to a bug in the search algorithm, that includes the 18 Art History majors.

[9] The major is currently Theatre, but the department is Theatre and Dance and the department intended to change the name of the major when they changed the name of the department, so I follow their preferences.

[10] I do not want a few less. Our majors are great people, and I’m glad that they are in our department.

[11] At most institutions, I would have to convince the Dean. At Grinnell, I have to convince our faculty-led Executive Council. That’s probably a harder job. Maybe I should try to convince the Board of Trustees that Grinnell generally needs more faculty and hope that one of them ends up in our department.

[12] Yes, I know that I said that Grinnell normally encourages students to wait until their second year to declare a major. However, we don’t stop students from declaring earlier. Music has at least three declared majors in the class of 2020, but there are some advantages to declaring the music major early.

[14] If I use the database as a guide, I might separate Math/CS majors from CS/Math majors and Economics/CS from CS/Economics. However, I don’t think that the ordering really tells me much [15].

[15] Hmmm … maybe it does if the first major comes first. Looking at ordering might allow me to do some predictive analytics on other students in the class of 2019 who will add a CS major. That’s probably a job for another year.

[16] There are also some snarkier implications that I considered but did not record herein.

Version 1.0 of 2017-04-22.