Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Econ Major Rising in Popularity

From Tyler Cowen:

The number of smart kids studying computer science peaked a few years ago and has dropped dramatically since. The number of new computer science majors today has fallen by half since 2000, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Merrilea Mayo, director of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable at the National Academies, says the drop-off was particularly pronounced among women.

Meanwhile, elite schools are reporting that the number of economics majors is exploding. For the 2003–2004 academic year, the number of economics degrees granted by U.S. colleges and universities increased 40 percent from five years previously. Economics is seen by bright undergraduates as the path to a high-paying job on Wall Street or at a major corporation.

The drop in computer science majors is a bit troubling. Those are the kids who come up with things like Microsoft, Facebook, and even Grand Theft Auto. There's a popular assumption that in the future making big money will largely entail moving money (as opposed to making a product or providing some non-financial service). While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it does raise questions about who will be the ones making the technical and engineering advances in the scientific field that will continue to propel mankind forward for the foreseeable future.


Archivista said...

I think part of the problem is that computer science programs, in general, turn people into tools. A computer science major graduating today is likely to be used as a tool by a company and may not have many opportunities to work on interesting problems. A lot of the real technological innovation is happening outside the "computer science" career path, maybe in other disciplines all together. The situation, I think, is leading a lot of tech-savvy people into other disciplines...not necessarily as an abandonment of technological innovation, but as a way to ensure that innovation solves real problems.

Jb said...

That could be true, and it certainly was true a few years ago when it seemed like you could find at least a handful of extremely computer savvy people primarily studying liberal arts, humanities or even other sciences; but there is annual tradition in America when the public gets bombarded by reports a shortage in mathematicians, engineers, and other scientists. Typically we've been able to compensate for those shortcomings by importing that expertise, but at the rate the U.S. is treating its visitors, here won't be much incentive for promising students to study (and subsequently stay) here. Sooner or later, Indian computer geeks are just going to stay in India -- where a lot of computer jobs are being outsourced even as we speak -- and after a while all of that computer expertise transforms itself into computer dominance.