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CS growing pains

11/4/15 5:10am

Since fall 2012, student enrollment in the introductory computer science classes has more than tripled. And why shouldn’t it have? Not only is the Rice computer science department one of the top 20 in the nation, it’s also full of engaging professors dedicated to seeing their students succeed. And, as many students are aware, jobs in computing are among the fastest growing and highest paid in the nation.

However, not everything about the CS department is sunshine and rainbows. Students must follow a rigid sequence of prerequisite classes their first two-and-a-half years before they can begin to take electives, making it difficult to transfer into the major late and still graduate on time with a BS, although a three-year BA track is possible. Though the number of students declaring a CS major has tripled, the number of professors and sections offered for each required class has for the most part remained the same, with the exception of Computational Thinking (COMP 140). Unfortunately, that means the size of many required CS courses has increased to the point that few classrooms can adequately hold every student enrolled in the class, forcing students to sit on steps during lectures and, in the most egregious cases, during midterms.

The lack of faculty growth in the computer science department doesn’t just affect CS majors. Because CS majors fill computer science classes to the brim, incredibly useful and practical CS classes are forced to exclude non-majors. Disciplines like sociology, psychology, statistics and almost all engineering fields are becoming increasingly more dependent on people with a knowledge of computer science, yet the CS department has restricted their access to amazing courses like COMP 140 to ensure enough seats for CS majors. As a result, many students are attempting to find jobs and internships without the programming skills they need to improve their chances of being hired. The growth in undergraduate CS majors and lack of response in adjusting the faculty size has ramifications across the university and for the careers of many of Rice’s students.

The solution “We should hire more faculty or instructors” is easier said than done. A plethora of trade-offs and decisions must be made by students, faculty and administration to ensure Rice is best equipped to handle the current and future growth of computer science. As a student body, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to the university and to future owls to voice our opinions. If we don’t notify the administration of the problems, they won’t be aware of them.

The CS Club sponsored a Town Hall meeting in conjunction with Dr. Sarkar, Dr. Saterbak and Dr. Nakhleh on Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. to talk about student concerns regarding department growth and how the CS department can best respond to those concerns.

If you feel the overcrowding of computer science classes and lack of opportunities for non-majors affects you in any way, contribute your feedback! Help continue the momentum of the department by being part of the solution.


Nicholas Hansen-Holtry is a Sid Richardson College senior

Raymond Cano is a Wiess College senior

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