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Should computer science courses be mandatory?

The real challenge in American higher education is not that we don’t have enough college graduates. If New York Times columnist Charles Blow is right, it’s that too many of them are majoring in English, art history, or ethnic or gender studies, and not enough in science, technology, engineering and math.

Take computer science, for example.

Blow points to data compiled at Georgia Tech showing vast disparities in who is taking the computer science advanced placement exam. Blacks, Hispanics and women still lag significantly in computer science preparation, the study found, comparing the percentage of the population taking the AP computer science A exam to the population in the state.

“No matter what strides we make — or don’t — in the march toward racial and gender equality in this country,” Blow asks, “is this an area in which the future will feel more stratified, and in which the inequalities, particularly economic ones, will mount? Is science education a new area of our segregation?”

“Women make up nearly half the workforce but have just 26 percent of science, technology, engineering or math jobs, according to the Census Bureau,” the New York Times noted in a 2013 editorial. Blacks make up 11 percent of the workforce but just 6 percent of such jobs and Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the workforce but hold 7 percent of those positions.”

The problem, STEM advocates say, is twofold. First, the jobs these students are avoiding pay better, and second, there are simply more of them.

California currently has more than 75,000 open computing jobs and only 4,324 computer science graduates on hand to take them, says Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, in Tech Crunch.

The answer? Chaudhry wants computer science to be required in California K-12 education.

He notes that “56 percent of California high schools don’t offer computer science courses at all. Only 13 percent of high schools offer advanced placement (AP) courses in computing. Schools that teach computer science offer such a hodgepodge of courses that it’s hard to fit them into any particular department — with most labeled as electives.”Even within STEM majors, Chaudhry argues, more emphasis on computer science is needed. “Currently, only 2 percent of students taking science or math AP exams ever take the computer science A exam,” he writes, “even though computing jobs account for 60 percent of all science- and math-related jobs. In practical terms, this means that by 2020 our nation will have more than 1 million unfilled programming jobs because there will be only 400,000 computer science graduates available.”

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