Waitlisted courses stymie Comp Sci students

Illustration by Raya Deussen

By Lexie Boren

Everyone knows that technology is a constantly growing industry. According to Forbes, computer science majors come out on top with an average starting salary of $66,800 per year. After computer science comes engineering and then mathematics, and only then does a non-STEM major make an appearance with economics at an average of $58,600. It is clear that computer science is a rapidly growing field with large amounts of money to be made, and it would be a great investment for Lewis & Clark.

There are three associate professors in LC’s computer science department and one adjunct. The school offers a Computer Science (CS) major, a combined CS and Mathematics major, and a minor.

As of October, there are 29 declared Computer Science majors, 36 Computer Science and Mathematics majors and 14 minors. For the spring semester the department is offering eight computer science classes, three of which are entry-level and one that is a perspectives class for non-majors.

This leaves majors who are a year or more into their college career with four options. They may take Networks and Web Development, which currently has a waitlist of 24 people (the class capacity is listed as 25), or AI and Machine Learning, which is listed as having a waitlist of 45 but will now be held in a lecture hall setting without the opportunity to program during classtime. This compromise allows everyone on the waitlist in, but comes at the expense of a more hands-on experience.

Also offered are Software Development and Advanced Graphics, each of which are 400-level classes that require 300-level prerequisites. Despite this, even Software Development currently has a waitlist of six. Math 255, the only mathematics course required for the computer science major, is also full, with a waitlist of 24 in a class with a capacity of 33.

Even if students are able to get into these classes, they may struggle with limited amounts of out-of-class resources. The Symbolic and Quantitative Resource Center does not offer tutoring for any computer science classes above 172, the second course in the major track. SAAB tutoring only supports students through 172.

Resources are then limited to the professor’s office hours and help from the TA, if the class has one. If there are conflicts in one’s schedule, making it to any of these hours can be next to impossible and the student is left with almost no out-of-class help.  

It is made clear by the lengths of the waitlists that computer science majors are struggling to get into the classes that they need to graduate. The small department simply is unable to teach enough classes to accommodate all of the students who wish to enroll in the classes. The lack of resources currently delegated to the computer science department hurts majors.

Furthermore, this lack of funding prevents non-majors from gaining any background in computer science that might augment their employment opportunities in the future. One might even say that it hurts the college itself: a lack of high-earning alumni means fewer donations for the college. A liberal arts college has much to offer a computer science major. Smaller class sizes mean more one-on-one time with professors, more research opportunities and more intimate connections after graduation.

I recognize that these advantages come paired with certain disadvantages: a computer science degree from LC does not come with the same level of recognition as one from MIT, and it is not feasible for us to offer quite as wide a range of classes as larger schools with more resources. However, I think that LC should do its best to prioritize the computer science department when assessing their budget.

Correction 12/4/17, 5:13 p.m.:

An earlier version of this article misrepresented the coding opportunities afforded by the AI and Machine Learning course.

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