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Behind the Story: Computer Science Retention

Decoding Cal Poly Computer Science:  Why Is There A Low Retention Rate?

The Plan: 

Our group wanted to explore the low retention rate within the Computer Science major after seeing a senior project from 2015, in which it was reported that only 40% of students graduate in six years.

One of Cal Poly's computer science classrooms.
One of Cal Poly’s computer science classrooms.

The Sources:

We decided we needed input from a student who is still in the Computer Science major and one who transferred out. After posting to the Class of 2017 Facebook page, we got in touch with a fourth-year Computer Science major named Matthew Davis.

Matthew Davis
Matthew Davis is a fourth-year Computer Science major who is graduating in spring 2017.

In Matthew’s opinion, there are a few main problems with the Computer Science department:

  1. A lot of the students and professors have some social anxiety and are reluctant to either ask for help, or offer help.
  2. Students have trouble getting the classes they need, which makes it difficult to stay on track for graduation, even though Computer Science is meant to be a four-year degree program.
  3. The department has trouble hiring and retaining faculty. The university can’t afford to pay the high salary that many faculty are looking for, so they leave for higher paying jobs. This often results in professors who aren’t qualified enough to effectively teach the courses.

Dani Aiello is a fourth-year who transferred from Computer Science to Business Administration. On the subject of retaining faculty, she says, “I think they’re taking anyone they can get to teach. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good at teaching, able to communicate well with students, or have ever had any experience.”

Fourth-year Dani Aiello changed her major from Computer Science to Business Administration after deciding she would enjoy business more. She says she is very satisfied with her decision and now loves her major.
Fourth-year Dani Aiello changed her major from Computer Science to Business Administration. She says she is very satisfied with her decision and now loves her major.

She says that although she was passing her Computer Science classes, she felt as though she was always struggling to get by and couldn’t get the help she needed from her professors.

She didn’t want to stay in a major that she wasn’t passionate about, which lead to her decision to switch to Business Administration. Dani says she is much happier now and actually looks forward to going to her classes. She is considering a concentration in Information Systems, which combines some knowledge of coding along with business skills.

The Experience:

Our group learned a lot while doing this story and gained new insights into the Computer Science department.

Veronica Fregoso says, “This topic was interesting in the sense that you think computer science and engineering majors have it together. I thought someone in computer science would be doing what they wanted and feel confident upon graduating; it just goes to show that money doesn’t really dictate happiness. If you aren’t doing what you love or something that makes you happy you really question why you’re doing it and if you’re doing it for yourself.” 

Chloe Carlson adds, “This project was most interesting upon talking to the professors who notice a retention issue in the academia. If you have a degree in computer science and software engineering then you are more likely to work in the industry because you could make substantially more than at a university.” 

“For as long as I’ve been here I’ve seen countless friends and peers go through the rigorous computer science program. And I always questioned if it was healthy for them since some become miserable throughout the program. So getting to work on a story that affects so many people I know made it that much more imperative,” says Olivia Doty. 

Julia Morris says, “I was most surprised that the main issue in the department seems to be keeping faculty. I just assumed that because Cal Poly is known for its College of Engineering that hiring qualified professors wouldn’t be a problem.”