The ‘Social Network’ Effect Drives Up Popularity of Computer Science

With the movie The Social Network hitting theaters late last year, plenty of students witnessed the story firsthand about the creation of Facebook and couldn’t help but think that the same scenario could have happened to them. As more people saw the movie and it gained widespread attention, it was common for people, especially college students, to start thinking that they too could build something like Facebook. Even though Mark Zuckerberg, the brains behind Facebook, didn’t major in computer science or finish college and earn his degree, it is dreams and aspirations like those that have caused enrollment spikes in computer science programs and the surging popularity of earning degrees in those fields.

Despite a decade of decreases in enrollment for computer science programs and the decline of competitiveness for technology and innovation in America, the inspiration coming from Hollywood’s portrayal of the tech world, according to an article posted in the The New York Times, is turning things around. Celebrity entrepreneurs, such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Facebook’s Zuckerberg, who make everyday products that students purchase and use, give students the inspiration to dream big and set out to achieve those aspirations. According to Mehran Sahami, the associate chairman for computer science education at Stanford, the motivation is called a "Sputnick moment" in which students that use Google and Facebook think about how the creators of these empires are not all that much different from them.

Computer science degrees began to increase in the amount awarded in college graduations beginning in 2010 and will reach 11,000 this year. This comes after a year-to-year plummet after the end of the dot-com bubble in 2004, according to the Computing Research Association. In addition, the association claimed that the number of students pursuing the computer science degree but not yet declaring a major increased by 50% last year. Colleges and universities across the country are doing what they can to attract students into computer science programs by using iPhone and Facebook applications as incentives and steering away from the stereotype that computer science degree programs are for nerds and geeks.

Even with computer science degrees on the rise, those graduates still do not fill the numbers needed for the jobs in the field. Technology continues to be one of the bright spots in the economy with jobs growing at double the rate of job growth overall. But the numbers do look better as Stanford has seen the major at its school double in students and at the University of Washington, enrollment in the introductory computer science courses has reached a record high. In addition, at Harvard the size of the introductory computer science course had almost quadrupled in five years.

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