Why Don’t Women Major in Computer Science?

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In lists of college majors with the highest starting salaries, engineering always dominates; according to Forbes, the only non-engineering major in the top-five top-earning list is computer science. Which makes it all the more worrisome that women make up a measly 12 percent of CS majors — down significantly from the 1980s, when women made up more than a third of CS grads.

The Huffington Post’s David Thielen offers suggestions for bringing more women into computer science, starting from making coding competitions more female-friendly and emphasizing the collaborative side of programming. Leaving aside the fact that not all women prefer jobs that involve social interaction and teamwork, Thielen has some suggestions that might help give coding a rep that’s less nerd-alone-in-a-room-with-a-jug-of-Mountain-Dew and more, well, fun.

Even more encouraging, though, is the fact that at Johns Hopkins, women make up 22 percent of all CS majors — nearly twice the national average. That’s in part due to robust support networks, like the Women in Computer Science group which offers weekly coding circles, guest speakers, and meetings both formal and informal. The school also hosted last year’s International Celebration of Women in Computing. That’s a great start, but then again Johns Hopkins tends to attract students with a more CS-ish bent; we’d be thrilled to see their numbers of female CS grads rise even higher. Harvey Mudd College in California saw its share of female CS majors rise to 38 percent after redesigning its intro courses to focus more on computational interaction; other schools are creating special scholarship programs targeting women, or actively recruiting high school students into their CS programs.

It may take a little extra effort to get women into CS programs. As Jonecia Keels, a recent computer engineering grad, told the Chronicle, “In my high-school class, I was the only female and the only minority. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs—all the influential people in the field didn’t look like me.”

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