What is Computer Science?

No other subject will open as many doors in the 21st Century, regardless of a student’s ultimate field of study or occupation, as computer science.

Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) in Running the Empty: Failure to Teach K-12 Computer Science in the Digital Age, 2010

What is Computer Science?

Put simply, computer science (CS) is learning how to use the power of computers to solve problems. It’s the study of computers and algorithmic processes, their principles, their designs, their applications, and their impact on society. CS core concepts provide foundational knowledge of computing principles, giving students opportunities to develop as logical thinkers who carefully weigh the societal and cultural impacts of computing, promote inclusion and celebrate diversity.

Why is Computer Science Important?

CS teaches problem solving and important skills like communication, collaboration, and design. CS is an essential component of a broad and comprehensive education, a core competency that is increasingly important in a world where computing is ubiquitous.

There are tremendous career opportunities, and CS is relevant to all career pathways. Digital technologies are largely responsible for the global connectivity of the economy.

Computer Science is a liberal art: it’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have a mastery of to some extent.

Steve Jobs ~ Co-Founder, Apple Computer

Impact of Computer Science Education

This fundamental knowledge prepares students to flourish as 21st-century workers and citizens, regardless of their ultimate field of study or occupation. CS permeates many aspects of daily life and big data, software, and the Internet are integrated into businesses and products throughout society. The knowledge and skills learned from studying CS prepare students for careers in many sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, retail, graphic arts and management of natural resources. A computer science education prepares youth to enter a high-demand, high-wage workforce:

  • Nationally, there are 1.4 million CS jobs but only 400,000 qualified applicants to fill them.

  • Higher education cannot produce enough CS graduates to meet demand; only 3% of graduates have a CS degree.

  • In CA, CS instruction is the exception, not the norm. Statewide, only 45% of high schools offer at least one CS course. In the 6 targeted CS4NorCal counties, only 32% of high schools offer at least one CS course. Meanwhile elementary school CS, if provided, likely is an extended-day activity.

Labor Market Information

In the United States

  • Many fields depend on sophisticated technologies developed by skilled CS professionals - agriculture, retail, health information technology, financial services, genomics, communications, and clean technology.

  • CS jobs are the “#1 source of new wages in the U.S.” (Conference Board HWOL, April 2016); of 553,327 computer science jobs available, only 11% of students entering the workforce had the CS credentials to fill them (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016).

In California

  • Computer science in California California currently has 59,000 open computing jobs (3.2 times the average demand rate in California).

  • The average salary for a computing occupation in CA is $115,754, which is significantly higher than the average salary in the state ($59,150).

  • The existing open jobs alone represent a $6,829,459,751 opportunity in terms of annual salaries.

Educational Challenges to CS Careers

Access to CS Courses

  • In California, only 47% of all public high schools teach a foundational computer science course, with access lower in rural districts and districts that serve high populations of students of color and low-income students (Kapor Center, 2018).

    • Access to CS courses is limited to 25% of schools in small-town schools.

    • Access to CS courses is limited to 32% of rural schools

  • Only 29,047 exams were taken in AP Computer Science by high school students in California in 2019 (12,423 took AP CS A and 16,624 took AP CSP).

    • Only 31% of test-takers were female .

    • Only 7,268 exams were taken by Hispanic/Latino/Latina students

    • Only 561 exams were taken by Black/African American students

    • Only 44 exams were taken by Native American/Alaskan students

    • Only 69 exams were taken by Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students.

  • Only 786 schools in CA (33% of CA schools with AP programs) offered an AP Computer Science course in 2018-2019, an increase of 101 from 2017-18.

  • California colleges awarded only 7,311 bachelor's degrees in Computer Science in 2018; only 19% were earned by female students.

  • According to a representative survey from Google/Gallup, school administrators in CA support expanding computer science education opportunities: 70% of principals surveyed think CS is just as or more important than required core classes.

Teacher Preparation

  • School administrators say the main barriers to offering computer science are a lack of qualified teachers and the budget to train teachers (csedu.gallup.com, 2015).

  • Teacher preparation programs in California did not graduate a single new teacher prepared to teach computer science in 2018.

  • Further compounding this issue is a lack of research on how to support in-service teachers with developing the content and pedagogical knowledge to integrate CS across elementary subjects (Yadav, et al., 2018) and/or support stand-along CS subjects.

Rationales for CS Education