Many of you will remember the excellent coverage in Computerworld of the H-1B work visa, principally by writer Pat Thibodeau. He now has an article in the house magazine of IEEE-USA. (Over the years, I have, and continue to be, quite critical of the organization, but the article is very good and IEEE-USA is not the subject of my post here.)
As Thibodeau points out, the yearly production of new computer science (CS) graduates has waxed and waned over the years, in response to the perceived industry demand. Of course, there is a lag, and the freshman who eagerly started CS majors in 1998 encountered one of the worse markets when they graduated in 2002, but the elasticity of supply has been strong, both up and down.
Thibodeau cites several examples of universities in which CS enrollment is up sharply. However, there is more to the story than what meets his reporter’s eye.
Among other things, it is important to keep in mind that “numbers are power” in academia. The larger a department is, the more faculty it is allowed to hire; the more faculty it hires, the more external research funding is brought in, the more visible the department is in the research world, and so on.
In addition to such cynical reasons for expansion of enrollment, there are more altruistic ones. At Stanford, for instance, the CS Dept. embarked on a highly aggressive campaign to raise the enrollment numbers, yes, but they especially focused on drawing in more women. In any event, it was not the case that students suddenly, spontaneously started flocking to CS.
In my own department, CS at UC Davis, our numbers are up even more sharply, but for a different reason. Our campus administration decided a few years ago to greatly expand the size of the student body, both because “numbers are power” in academia and because the administration hopes that the school will qualify as a Hispanic Serving Institution. Whereas an upper-division course in my department would typically have an enrollment of 50 or so in the past, it is now common to see sizes of 150 or more.
So in addition to the obvious question of the level of demand for new CS grads in industry, there is the less obvious point that the CS departments themselves have a demand for CS students, and enrollment trends are multifaceted rather than strictly a function of industry demand for graduates.
Now, what about that industry demand? Thibodeau writes
Salaries for new grads are rising, too, which suggests that demand is real. The Hay Group division of Korn Ferry, an executive search firm, reported in May that salaries for new grads seeking jobs as software developers were $63,036, a 1.5% increase from last year.
Another survey by The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that the average starting salary for computer science graduates this year was expected to reach $65,540, a nearly 7 percent increase.
A key word here is expected, i.e. that 7% number was a projection. The actual number turned out to be 3.9%. And note that the Korn Ferry number, only 1%, is specifically for software developers, which is the main type of job for foreign CS grads.
In other words, once again the data put the lie to industry claims of a tech labor “shortage” and a corresponding “need” for H-1Bs. And as longtime readers of this blog know, I have always held that the main adverse impact of H-1B on U.S. citizens and permanent residents has been on the older workers, age 35 and up.
On an unrelated side note, I was glad to see Thibodeau quote Dartmouth CS professor Hani Farid, whose research involves determining whether images are forged or not. Fascinating stuff, and I urge any Dartmouth CS students to learn from the real master here. But keep in mind that, unlike most real world CS applications, for this one you’ll really need to know some math!