Tech Diversity Begins with Computer Science Access

Recent technological advances driving the current and future state and national economy across industries are all linked to the field of computer science. Economic projections indicate that the fastest-growing and highest-paying occupations within the next ten years will be in the fields of computing and mathematics. In California, by 2018, there will be a demand for over half a million new computing-related jobs, growing twice as fast as the average rate for all occupations (22% growth in 10 years; Lacey & Wright, 2009). Further, computer science jobs are among the highest-paying occupations, with an average mean annual salary of $78,730 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011).

Given the rising demand for skilled computer science professionals in California, it is vital that the state’s public schools provide a solid foundation in computer science coursework. Yet, California’s K-12 and higher education system is failing to prepare its students to fill the jobs of the future. LPFI’s analyses of 2013-2014 data from the California Department of Education and the College Board revealed that 65% of California’s public high schools offer no computer science courses . Just 35% offer at least one computer science class, and fewer than 14% of California’s public high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science–a course which is critical to exposing and preparing students to major in computer science in college. Without access to advanced placement computer science courses, students are eight times less likely to pursue computer science in higher education (Mattern, Shaw, & Ewing, 2011).

Moreover, access to computer science courses in California high schools vary by ethnicity and income, with the majority of schools attended by students of color much less likely to offer advanced computer science courses. California Department of Education data reveal that among high-minority (more than 50% of students from African American, Latino, or Native American backgrounds) public high schools in California, only 28% offer any computer science courses, and just 7% offer AP Computer Science. These numbers stand in stark contrast with low-minority (less than 50% of students from these backgrounds) public California high schools, among which 44% offer at least one computer science course, and 24% offer AP computer science. Furthermore, just 29% of California’s Title 1 public high schools (schools with at least 40% of students eligible for Free or Reduced Price Lunch) offer some form of computer science courses, as compared to 52% of the California public high schools serving higher income students.

Thus, Latino and African American students are vastly underrepresented among AP Computer Science testtakers, relative to their overall population. Just 9% of 2014 AP Computer Science testtakers were Latino, although they comprise 51% of the statewide high school-aged population (College Board, 2014; U.S. Census, 2010). African American students represent 7% of the California high-school aged population but only 2% of the AP computer science testtakers. While Asian and White students are just 36% of the statewide high school-aged population, they represent 81% of the AP Computer Science testtakers in California.

These disparities in access at the high school level lead to severe underrepresentation in computer science fields. African American and Latino students combined account for just 17% of all computer science Bachelor’s degrees, 7% of all computer science Ph.D.’s, and only 9% of the computing workforce nationwide (NSF, 2012, 2013). LPFI’s computer science initiatives and programs aim to fill this gap and decrease disparities in computer science access, in order to impact the diversity of the computing industry to better reflect the demographics of the state and the nation.