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Computer science department considers application-based entry to major

Kendall Harrow, a sophomore economics major, works on an assignment on her computer at the UNC Student Store on Wednesday, Oct. 9th, 2019.

UNC’s Department of Computer Science is considering an application process for students interested in declaring the computer science major.

Kevin Jeffay, chairperson of the department, said the decision is not set in stone.

“As of right now, it’s not in its final form and it hasn’t gone through the approval processes,” Jeffay said. 

Jeffay did not give details about what the admissions process might be like, but said the application process may be established as soon as fall 2020. If that's the case, he said, there will be an announcement about it later this semester. 

“I don’t think anybody is happy with the current situation and I don’t think anybody is well-served,” Jeffay said. “What we’re seeing are students just madly signing up for whatever class is open just so that they can get a class in computer science —independent of whether or not they have any interest in the subject matter of the class.”

He said the department is considering this process because it does not have a large enough faculty to serve all of the students interested in computer science.

“I think it’s important for readers to understand that the computer science department does not want to shrink the program," he said. "We are graduating students ... Virtually every single one of them gets a job and gets out and contributes to the state of the economy in North Carolina and the country generally."

Jeffay said computer science courses often require specialized equipment. Others require large numbers of professors and learning assistants, he added. He said a typical COMP 110: Intro to Programming course may have about 100 learning assistants helping to teach the course, and, though students are learning on computers, in-person instruction is still valuable.

“Often it takes sitting down with a TA or with an LA or with an instructor and trying to get a sense of what your program is actually doing,” Jeffay said.

Ryan Anderson is a senior studying computer science. Anderson said that if an application process were in effect when he was a first-year, it likely would have affected his decision to declare the major.

“If I was on the fence of whether or not to choose comp sci as a major, it would probably deter me a bit from wanting to go down the path of pursuing a CS major here,” Anderson said.

Samarjit Chakraborty, a professor in the computer science department, started teaching at UNC this semester. He said he is aware of increased demand for computer science courses across the country.

“The growth in computer science student populations has been enormous, and this has of course resulted in a lot of additional pressure on faculty members to keep up with those numbers,” he said.

Chakraborty said that in addition to making life difficult for students, over-crowded computer science classrooms are taking a toll on professors.

“This has resulted in class sizes that are increasingly difficult to manage if faculty members want to do research and have some sort of life outside of work,” Chakraborty said.

Though outside computer science programs may also be facing more demand than they can handle, Jeffay said UNC stands out from the crowd in one way.  

“We are unusual for the fact that we don’t have an admissions process," he said. 


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