WASHINGTON—The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a leading science and tech-policy think tank, today welcomed an announcement from the Trump administration that the U.S. Department of Education will prioritize computer science options among STEM initiatives. ITIF released the followed statement from its president, Robert D. Atkinson:
I applaud the administration for tasking the Department of Education for prioritizing STEM education and in particular, computer science. This is good public policy that is long overdue. It will pay dividends throughout the economy, because computer skills in particular are in high demand in a wide range of industries, not just high-tech sectors.
The fact is computer science is the most important STEM field for today’s economy—yet it isn’t even represented in the “STEM” acronym, and it’s the discipline that the fewest high school students study. ITIF has researched this issue in detail, and our findings were discouraging. Consider that number of high school students taking AP computer science has more than doubled in recent years—from about 20,000 in 2010 to almost 50,000 in 2015—but that figure still pales in comparison to the number of students taking AP calculus. And in California, more high school students take ceramics than computer science.
That can’t continue if the United States is going to continue to have a globally competitive economy over the long term. Computer science education cannot be a fringe subject or skills-based course. We should treat it as a core science on par with biology, chemistry, and physics. Universities also need to expand their course offerings to meet growing demand for computer skills among both students and employers.
It is not enough to rely on the “market” to determine how many workers will acquire computer science skills, if for no other reason than because educational institutions don’t do a very good job of responding to market signals. It is incumbent on federal and state governments to require or provide incentives for educational institutions to bolster their ability to train a broader group of students in computer science. Expanding computer science education should be considered an essential component of U.S. innovation and economic growth policy.
For more analysis of this issue, see ITIF’s May 2016 report, “The Case for Improving U.S. Computer Science Education,” by Adams Nager and Robert D. Atkinson.