By Brittany Anas Camera Staff Writer
Advanced placement computer science students sit on one side of Anthony Jiron's classroom at Boulder High.
On the other are C++ programming students in an honors-level course. Jiron teaches the two courses simultaneously. Combining the classes this year was a creative way for Boulder High to save the low-enrollment computer courses from being nixed.
Jiron said he thinks the computer science classes would draw more students if the courses satisfied core requirements, such as advanced math.
It's a solution also supported by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who, on Thursday, introduced a package of legislation aimed at increasing computer science education in K-12 classrooms.
The Computer Science Education Act, according to Polis, would help train American students for the more than 1.5 million high-paying computing jobs expected to be created in the United States by 2018. The bill, he said, aims at helping states increase and strengthen their computer science offerings.
If passed, states will receive at least $250,000 in planning grants, according to Polis' office.
At the University of Colorado, school leaders are proposing a second undergraduate degree program in computer science to increase the number of students in the field, and the Boulder Valley School District has several advanced computer classes available for students.
Polis' legislation would require that states develop computer science standards and curriculum and form a commission to bring states together to address the shortage in computer science teachers.
"Computer science careers will provide good paying jobs for Americans and prepare our economy to compete and win in the global market," Polis said in a statement. "America can only succeed economically if our workforce is prepared for the best paying jobs, such as those in computer science."
Between 2004 and 2008, the number of computer-related bachelor's degrees granted in the U.S. fell from roughly 60,000 to 38,000. The availability of introductory secondary school computer science courses has also decreased -- 17 percent since 2005 -- and the number of advanced placement computer science courses has dropped 33 percent.
Educators at Boulder Valley and CU say interest in computer science declined about a decade ago after the dot-com bubble bust.
At that time, students feared that computer-related jobs would be outsourced overseas, contributing to the decline in enrollment, said James Martin, chairman of CU's computer science department.
Nowadays, students with degrees in computer science are receiving multiple job offers upon graduation, he said.
"There's a huge demand for computer science graduates, and graduating seniors have their pick of jobs," he said.
Of the nine new degree programs that are in the pipeline at CU is a second undergraduate degree track in computer science that would be housed in the College of Arts and Sciences. It would be suited for liberal arts students who want to earn the degree -- often as a double major -- but are deterred from enrolling in the engineering college and satisfying another set of core requirements.
"Computer science is a funny field because it involves math, science and engineering," Martin said. "We think a big population of students in the College of Arts and Sciences would like to major in computer science, but don't necessarily think of themselves as engineers."
CU's computer science department has an "eCSite" program funded by the National Science Foundation that sends graduate students into elementary, middle and high school classes and shows them how computer science can be relevant to a wide range of subjects, including biology, history and social sciences.
In a separate program, Lesley Smith, associate director of CU's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences education and outreach program, said Boulder Valley students start learning about computing as early as fifth grade. Students are taught about environmental monitoring sensors at CU's Mountain Research Station, how they can access the data on the web and make graphs, and how to develop hypotheses and test them using the real-time data.
Boulder High student Natalia Randam said she's well aware of all of the jobs available for trained computer scientists. She's hoping to attend Carnegie Mellon and study engineering.
She's in the advanced placement computer science class at Boulder High and is also involved in robotics competitions.
Computer science classes are preparing the next generation of innovators who will invent the next Facebook or Google, said Lucy Sanders, CEO and co-founder of the National Center for Women and Information Technology at CU.
"If we do not have the capability to educate these youth in the discipline that excites them and gives them incredible opportunities, we are doing our country and these students a disservice," she said.
Polis' legislation also calls for the creation of professional development and teacher certification initiatives, including computer science teacher preparation programs in higher education.