Science

There Aren’t Enough Computer Science Classes for All the Kids Who Want to Take Them

By Alyson Klein — September 30, 2021 3 min read
In this 2015 photo, third grader Iyana Simmons works on a coding exercise at Michael Anderson School in Avondale, Ariz.
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There are far more students interested in studying computer science than there are kids who have taken a computer science class.

And that gap is especially pronounced for Black and Hispanic students, as well as those from low-income families, concludes a report released Sept. 30 by polling organization Gallup and tech company Amazon. The report is based on a survey of 4,116 students in grades 5 through 12 in June of this year.

While 62 percent of students in those grades say they want to learn about computer science, only 49 percent had actually taken a computer science course. The difference between kids’ interest in computer science and access to courses is particularly striking for students whose families earn less than $48,000 a year. Fifty-nine percent of those students are interested in learning about the field, but only 37 percent have taken a computer science class.

The same is true for Black students, with 60 percent saying they are interested in taking a computer science class, but only 42 percent reporting they have taken a course in the subject. For Hispanic students, 61 percent say they want to learn about computer science, but only 44 percent have taken a class.

This lack of opportunity is a problem because computer science is a fast-growing field with a yawning labor shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that computer and information technology jobs will grow about 11 percent between 2019 and 2029. What’s more, computer science jobs offer students a chance to eventually earn much higher salaries than they would in other fields. Computer science and IT jobs pay a median salary of $91,000 annually, considerably higher than the $42,000 median salary for all occupations.

“Many of those who might otherwise pursue jobs in the field may simply not see the option as available to them,” the report says. “For many rural or low-income students, this may be because their school doesn’t teach computer science and they lack role models who demonstrate success in the field. For other students, especially girls, enthusiasm for the topic may be dampened by stereotyping and a lower likelihood to interact with friends in computer science activities.”

Access to computer science courses also matters because students whose schools offer computer science courses are more likely to be interested in the topic. Sixty-eight percent of kids who say their schools offer computer science courses say they want to learn more about the topic, compared with 49 percent in schools that don’t offer the classes.

And students whose schools offer computer science are likely to stay interested in the field throughout school. In schools that offer computer science classes, 85 percent of 5th graders want to explore the topic and 59 percent of 12th graders are interested. But 63 percent of 5th graders in schools that don’t offer the courses want to study computer science, and that tumbles down to 23 percent for 12th graders.

There is also a big gender gap when it comes to interest in computer science. Fifty-three percent of girls report wanting to study the topic, compared with 72 percent of boys. Girls are also much less likely to say they want a job in the computer science field—just 26 percent expressed interest, compared with 43 percent of boys.

But, among Black students, girls were just as likely as boys to say they want to pursue computer science, with 61 percent of Black girls expressing interest versus 59 percent of Black boys.

What’s more, 44 percent of Black girls say they talk about or participate in computer science activities outside of school, compared with 30 percent for white girls.

“These findings underscore the importance of efforts to improve the prevalence and quality of computer science classes, especially in rural environments and among Black and Hispanic students in urban areas,” the report says. “Without such early exposure to the subject, students are less likely to take computer science courses in college—and those who do may be less successful than students who had such experiences.”

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