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Monday, May 20, 2024

Data science, computer science majors show biggest increase in student enrollment

Increase of enrollment in Computer, Data & Information Sciences is primarily due to tech sector growth and expanding job opportunities.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison released a list of the majors that added the most students between the fall semesters of 2018 and 2022 last week. Topping the list was data science, which added 914 students since the major’s inception in 2018, followed by computer science with 642; both are contained within the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences.

Rounding out the top five were consumer behavior and marketplace studies in the School of Human Ecology (SoHE), psychology and global health, which is housed in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).

These majors correlate to professional fields experiencing high levels of growth. Forbes projects data scientists, computer programmers, cybersecurity analysts and health services managers to be among the fastest-growing fields of this decade. 

In just four years, from 2018 to 2022, computer science went from a graduating class of 406 students to 739 — an increase of around 55%. It is currently UW-Madison’s largest degree program, with around 2,200 — more than one in every 20 — undergraduate students currently enrolled.

Computer Science department chair Professor Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau credits the increase in enrollment in part to the fact that “tech is spreading beyond its normal confines, and helping to shape and define the future in almost every human endeavor.”

Arpaci-Dusseau cited Verona-based tech company Epic Systems, the nation’s leader and pioneer in the field of digital medical records, as a clear example of industry growth. Founded by Judith Faulkner, a UW-Madison computer science alumna, Epic Systems now holds the medical record of over 250 million patients.

“[Epic Systems] is just one example of how computing, data and software are transforming the world,” said Arpaci-Dusseau. 

Although the major grew, the proportion of female students has remained low. In 2018, 19.7% of computer science majors were female. In 2022, that number fell to 17%. 

This is far from a problem exclusive to UW-Madison — in 2018, only 19.9% of computer science majors nationally were female. The university also supports numerous initiatives that exist to expand diversity and create space for female students. 

“The number of women in our program currently is larger than our entire program was about 15 years ago,” said Arpaci-Dusseau. “So perhaps that is one form of progress.”

Although it has fewer students enrolled overall, the data science major also experienced enormous growth since it was founded. It has graduated over 900 students since its inception in 2019, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates sustained growth over the coming decade.

Yazhen Wang, the chair of the Department of Statistics under which data science falls, attributed the major’s growth to the increased job opportunities it provides. 

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“Industries are recognizing the power in using data to understand trends, answer questions and drive business decisions,” Wang said.

In an increasingly data-driven, digitized environment, the field of data science has expanded and become more lucrative, with a median income of around $100,000. BLS predicts the next decade will see the addition of more than 40,000 data science jobs in fields such as healthcare, IT and finance.

Consumer behavior and marketplace studies was the fastest-growing major outside of the School of Computer, Data, and Information Sciences. According to SoHE, students in the program learn to, “[leverage] technology and research to understand and improve the global customer experience.”

Cliff Robb, the Consumer Science department chair, attributed much of the major’s growth to the unique niche it occupies. 

“It is an attractive major for those who embrace both [analytics and creativity],” Robb said.

SoHE’s relationship with its students also plays a major role in its appeal. According to Robb, the department “highly value[s] the fact that our faculty know who the students are, and we try to design classes where meaningful connections can be made” — something he noted can be challenging to find at an institution of UW-Madison’s size.

“I think students see these trends and wish to participate, which is fantastic,” said Arpaci-Dusseau of computer science’s rapid growth. “We need them to help shape the future.”

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Cormac LaLiberte

Cormac LaLiberte is the current editor of the college news desk. He is a junior studying linguistics, and has previously reported primarily on social issues pertaining to UW-Madison. Get in touch on Twitter @CormacLaLiberte.

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