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U.S. Students' Computer Science Participation Lags Interest

U.S. Students' Computer Science Participation Lags Interest

by Stephanie Marken and Steve Crabtree

Story Highlights

  • 62% of fifth- to 12th-grade students interested in computer science
  • 49% have taken a computer science course at school

Editor's Note: The research below was conducted in partnership between Amazon and Gallup.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More than three in five U.S. students in grades five through 12, 62%, are interested in learning computer science. However, significantly fewer, 49%, have taken such a course at their school.

U.S. 5th to 12th Grade Students' Interest and Experience With Computer Science
Interested in learning/learning more about computer science 62
Have learned computer science in a class at school during school hours 49
Amazon Future Engineer/Gallup Student Study, 2021

These findings are from the Amazon Future Engineer/Gallup Student Study of more than 4,000 fifth- to 12th-grade students conducted June 2-20, 2021. This research comes at a critical time for computer science education nationally as organizations continue to look for new ways to increase and improve the diversity of the computer science talent pipeline. These are among the more detailed insights available in the full report.

Interest in Computer Science Similar Across Racial and Ethnic Groups

Computer science skills are currently among the most sought-after in the U.S. job market, given the shortage of qualified applicants to fill available computer science-related jobs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that computer and IT-related jobs will grow 11% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than national job growth overall.

BLS data indicate that in 2020, Black computer programmers made up just 6% of those in this profession; Hispanic programmers, 7%. Increasing diversity in the computer science field is, therefore, key to expanding the national pipeline. A growing number of schools and programs nationally are focused on increasing exposure to high-quality computer science education for students from all backgrounds to inspire long-term interest.

Gallup finds interest in taking these types of courses is similar across all racial and ethnic groups, with 63% of White students, 60% of Black students and 61% of Hispanic students saying they are interested in learning computer science. Interest is slightly higher for Asian students, at 71%.

There is little difference across income levels, but there are considerable variations by gender. Girls are far less likely than boys to be interested in these courses, 53% to 72%, respectively.

Interest in Computer Science by Income and Race/Ethnicity
Are you interested in learning about/learning more about computer science?
  Yes No
  % %
White students 63 37
Black students 60 40
Hispanic students 61 39
Asian students 71 29
Household income <$48,000 59 41
Household income $48,000 to < $90,000 61 39
Household income $90,000+ 64 36
Amazon Future Engineer/Gallup Student Study, 2021

The gender-based differences are true for all racial/ethnic groups except among Black students, as Black boys and girls are equally likely to be interested in taking these courses.

Participation in Computer Science Classes Lowest Among Black, Hispanic, Low-Income Students

While interest in these courses is similarly high among White, Black and Hispanic students, participation in computer science courses is highest for White (52%) and Asian students (50%) and lower for Black (42%) and Hispanic (44%) students. Similarly, though interest varies little by income group, students from households with lower income levels are also less likely to have taken a computer science course. Just 37% of students in households with annual income under $48,000 reported they had taken a computer course, compared with 45% of students in households earning $48,000 to less than $90,000, and 53% of those making $90,000 or more.

Female students (47%) are slightly less likely than male students (51%) to report participating in a computer science course.

Participation in Computer Science Courses by Income and Race/Ethnicity
Where have you learned computer science? Percent who selected "In a class at school during school hours"
White students 52%
Black students 42%
Hispanic students 44%
Asian students 50%
Household income <$48,000 37%
Household income $48,000 to < $90,000 45%
Household income $90,000+ 53%
Amazon Future Engineer/Gallup Student Study, 2021

Bottom Line

Despite significant investment in and focus upon improving access to computer science education nationally by presidential administrations, non-profits and tech companies themselves in recent years, inequities remain. Students in lower-income levels -- and from historically marginalized populations -- are less likely to have taken a computer science course.

These differences in students' participation exist despite significant interest across race/ethnicity and income groups, and they confirm that the inequities are due to a lack of supply and not demand. Reducing these imbalances at the secondary level is critical to inspiring long-term interest in a computer science career and improving diversity in the field.

Increasing interest among young girls is likewise critical. Unfortunately, the Amazon Future Engineer/Gallup Student Study confirms other Gallup research that young girls are less interested than boys in a future in computer science. Increasing the number of female role models in the field and helping young girls understand the variety of possible careers with a computer science education are important to helping them envision a future in the field.

Read the full report for more detailed findings about access to and interest in computer science. Learn more about the Amazon Future Engineer Program here.

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