Women computer science graduates finally surpass record set 17 years ago, but percentages lag behind
Note: As of September 2020, this post contains outdated language or graphics referencing “underrepresented minorities.” To see our current language policy around race, ethnicity, and gender, see this support article.
Seventeen years ago, the number of students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in computer science peaked before heading into almost a decade of decline. Although total graduates recently caught up to the 2003 peak, the number of women graduating with CS degrees remained low.
But now, we’re finally able to announce a new, historic milestone: the number of female graduates in university computer science has surpassed the 2003 peak, and looks poised to continue breaking records.
While promising, the data tells two very different stories — the individual students are breaking records and we applaud their incredible efforts, and meanwhile the percentages are still dismally far behind balanced representation.
Number of female grads exceeds 2003 peak
There were more than 14,400 female CS graduates in 2018, exceeding the 2003 peak of 12,875 graduates.*
Computer science degrees grow overall
Not only does this data show a record number of women and underrepresented minority students** earning CS degrees, but also a record number of CS bachelor’s degrees overall. The overall number of students graduating with a computer science degree increased 15%, from 63,744 in 2017 to 73,386 in 2018.
It’s incredible to see the change in just a few years — as well as the impact that the growth of K–12 computer science has had on post-secondary education. According to annual ACT surveys, interest in CS has grown each year since 2013. In 2016, it surpassed chemistry, engineering, and marine biology to become the fourth most-popular STEM major. Interest in CS is increasing at 2–3 times the rate of other STEM subjects.
Several different studies have also shown that students who study CS outperform in other subjects and excel at problem-solving. When students study CS they aren’t just learning valuable career skills; they’re learning new ways to think and setting themselves up for success in all areas of their lives.
The students are breaking records, but the percentages are dismal
While women make up the majority of all bachelor’s degrees earned in STEM fields, there’s still a LONG way to get to equal representation in CS degrees. After a decade of decline, the percentage of women in CS is finally increasing, but it is still far behind where it was in 2000, and even farther behind truly balanced representation. Women still only represent 1 in 5 CS graduates.
And among underrepresented minorities, the total number of CS graduates has nearly doubled since 2003, but the percentages have only barely increased, from 15% in 2003 to 18% in 2018.
While we applaud the individual students who are breaking records, at this anemic pace of growth in the percentages, we’re still decades away from a fully-representative computer science field.
However, there is reason for hope when we look at the pipeline of students in high schools. Female participation in AP CS has grown tenfold in just 6 years, and 29% of AP CS students are young women. In Code.org’s classrooms, 70% of students express an interest in studying CS after high school. Students who take AP CS are 17% more likely to enroll in college, and so these gains in high school suggests more women are likely to study the subject in college.
As we celebrate the achievement of these young women and men who are charting a path and inspiring those who follow in their footsteps, Code.org and our community remains committed to continuing the efforts to support increased diversity in computer science, and we are excited to see more records and stereotypes being broken in the future.
-Hadi Partovi and Dr. Katie Hendrickson, Code.org
*Source: NCES IPEDS Completions Data; see our full analysis of the 2018 data here.
**Students who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx, Native American/Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders