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Computer Science Degrees Hit New Peak

The number of students earning bachelor's degrees in computer science hit a new high recently—finally surpassing the previous peak in 2003. 

The nonprofit group, Code.org, which advocates for improving computer science education nationwide, analyzed the most recent data from the federal National Center for Education Statistics.

In 2015, more university students graduated with computer science degrees than ever before, the group found. That number—more than 49,000—was up about 15 percent from the previous year. 

As the chart from Code.org below shows, the number of computer science graduates was on the decline between 2003, its previous high point with more than 48,500 graduates, and 2009, when only about 28,000 students received such bachelor's degrees. It's been climbing since. 

But considering how many more jobs these days require computer science knowledge, many have lamented that the number of graduates hasn't risen faster

In a post about the analysis on the website Medium, Code.org wrote, "K-12 computer science is the leading indicator of what happens in university ... . And in K-12 computer science, enrollment among youth has skyrocketed to the millions."

Participation rates for the Advanced Placement computer science exam have grown quickly in recent years (annual growth is second only to physics). The College Board also recently debuted a new AP computer science course that is aimed at making the subject accessible to more students, and it's already proving popular.

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Female Graduates Gained Less Ground

Despite the rising numbers of graduates, women are still far underrepresented in the field, and they're gaining ground more slowly than men.

Only about 8,600 of the 2015 computer science graduates—or about 17.5 percent—were women. That's up slightly from about 17 percent the year before. 

But fewer women are earning degrees in the field now than in 2003. 

In fact, looking back further using the NCES data, what's the year with the most female computer science graduates? 1987.

Women made up more than one-third of the computer science graduates that year. The percentage of female computer science graduates actually peaked in the mid-1980s, as we've written before. 

Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students continue to be underrepresented among computer science graduates as well, earning about 18 percent of bachelor's degrees. 

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