Dropping Out is Tragic
Too many students for academic degrees drop out. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and a university dropout himself, related to the issue in an article for CNBC: “Over 44 million Americans collectively hold more than $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and only 54.8 percent of students graduate in six years. This means that millions of Americans are taking on thousands of dollars in debt without a diploma to show for it. This is tragic, Not just for the students and their families, but for our nation.”
Gates ties the dropout phenomenon with the global skills gap in the job market: “Without more graduates, our country will face a shortage of skilled workers, and fewer low-income families will get the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.”
Computer Science Tops the Dropout Charts
A recent survey from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), revealed that among universities, Computer Science has the highest dropout rate – 9.8%. Followed by Business studies at 7.4% dropout rate, and then Engineering and Technology degrees closing the top of the dropout chart at a 7.2% dropout rate.
Why is this happening? What makes smart people, who got accepted to prestigious technology studies at universities in the U.S. and around the world, end their education journey midway? Identifying the drivers and finding measures to mitigate them can help change the fate of millions of people and improve academic institutions’ completion rates and financial results.
Why People Drop Out of Computer Science Studies
Below are the top 5 reasons we found for the high dropout rate in computer science studies, and more importantly, what can be done about it.
1. Financial reasons
Many students can’t complete their studies due to high tuition and living costs. Some reach the point they have to drop out and find a job in order to pay their student debt instead of finishing their courses and receiving their degree.
Fox Business analyzed data from LendEDU and FundingU, online student loan companies, and concluded that more than half of college students who dropped out did so because they were unable to find funding for their college costs. Financial burdens also stress students who don’t drop out. 55% of current college students said they struggle to find enough money to pay for college and nearly 79% added that they may need to delay graduation as a result of financial constraints.
The high tuition at universities and colleges is among the reasons why many people choose shorter vocational tech training programs and online courses for their education, as the latter are substantially cheaper and allow graduates to complete their studies and get jobs faster.
2. False expectations about the required commitment
Other students lose motivation and enthusiasm after understanding the hard work needed to complete their computer science studies.
Milan Tair, who graduated Singidunum University with an Engineer of Business Informatics Degree, told ResearchGate: “Most of my colleagues were optimistic about learning programming at first and saw great possibilities, but when they learned the basics and were told that they have to program on a daily basis, and make bigger and more complex applications, they backed up and lost their enthusiasm, mostly because it would take up too much of their time.”
To avoid this, screening of potential students using pre-enrollment assessments is needed. Such assessments can ensure that only students with proper motivation and commitment get into the demanding tech programs. Incorporating advance screening results eventually results in higher completion rates.
3. Lack of required skills, such as quantitative skills and mathematics
Students who sign up for Computer Science build on their excitement from computers and technology. They don’t necessarily realize that computer science studies include a major mathematics part, for which they lack the proper skills.
Math and Logic are important skills for Computer Science and IT courses. If students know about potential difficulties in advance and verify that their skill set matches the requirements with the help of detailed pre-enrollment assessments, they stand a better chance at completion.
4. Not knowing how to ask for help
Deborah L. Feldman interviewed more than 50 student dropouts and related to the paralyzing effect of intimidation: “A lot of students said they felt intimidated by their teachers, so in class they didn’t ask questions or say anything about struggles they were having.”
Shanvith Madhirala, a Computer Science major at Rutgers University, who has helped hundreds of students in key courses deducted that some students don’t make it because they’re too shy to ask for help. “Even the best programmers get stuck on certain problems. Taking the initiative to ask for help is a huge step forward. It shows that a student is willing to admit that they don’t know something and that he/she is willing to learn it.”
Shy students might feel intimidated by the studies and may fall behind and drop out. However, if trainers and faculty are more attentive, and students facing difficulty receive proper guidance and a little help from their friends, they could face far better chances at overcoming their shyness and eventually graduating. A buddy program, open office hours, and mentorships can do the trick.
5. Merits aren’t crucial for finding a job
In some cases, people drop out because they reach their destination – a satisfying tech job or tech entrepreneurship – without finishing their technology degrees. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are known examples. Experience and skills can sometimes substitute academic degrees.
Ryan Casey, a Sr. Product Manager at Brandwatch, dropped out of his studies and doesn’t think an academic degree is necessary. “I decided to drop out and get a job where I spent every waking hour working on projects and learning. I learned about web development, servers, cloud computing, hacking, etc. It was high-level, but it helped me understand what I enjoyed and what I really didn’t.” Casey got his first tech job opportunity based on his skills, not his academic merits: “I started networking and found an entry-level job that projected my career.”
The concept of ‘I can’t get a job without a degree’ is changing. Many people take shorter tech training programs or online courses to learn new topics and get new skills, and some employers focus more on experience and expertise than on academic degrees.
Does this mean that Computer Science studies are too difficult?
Computer science is a highly demanding field of study that requires a great deal of hard work and dedication. People who are not prepared to put in the necessary effort and time may find themselves struggling to keep up with the rapidly changing and complex nature of computer science studies.
Computer science can be difficult for different people in different ways, depending on their own strengths and weaknesses as well as the area of computer science they are studying. But most people think of computer science as a hard field because it requires a mix of mathematical, analytical, and logical skills.
Some parts of computer science may be more difficult for some people to understand than others. Some people find it hard to learn programming languages, while others find it hard to understand more abstract ideas like algorithms or data structures.
There may be some better alternatives to pursuing a full degree in Computer Science studies, such as skill and topic-based tech training programs, short courses, or other educational options that better address specific interests and provide applied learning opportunities.
So, is a Computer Science degree worth it?
In some situations, yes, a degree in Computer Science can be helpful for many people. Here are some of the reasons:
Job opportunities: With a degree in computer science, you’ll be ready for a wide range of high-paying jobs that are in high demand. From making software to analyzing data, there are a lot of tech jobs that require a strong background in computer science.
Salary: Computer science is consistently ranked as one of the highest-paying fields. Your exact salary will depend on things like where you live, how much experience you have, and what you do for a living, but a degree in computer science can help you make a good living.
Flexibility: Because computer science is such a broad field, you’ll have the freedom to try out different specialties and industries over the course of your career. Whether you want to work in healthcare, finance, or entertainment, there are probably jobs in those fields that involve computer science.
What are some good alternatives to a Computer Science degree?
A Computer Science degree can be a good choice for people who want to work in tech, but it’s not the only way to get there. Here are some other options to think about:
Online training courses: Currently, there are countless online tutorials and courses available for learning programming languages and other tech skills. While they may not offer the same level of structure and guidance as a formal degree program, they can be a good choice for people who want to learn at their own pace. People usually also drop out of online courses, as there’s no sufficient commitment to persist. The fact that no trainer is there to make you do homework or check it makes the online training less valuable.
Vocational tech training programs: Programs that are focused on obtaining a certain job or tech function – such as data analyst, frontend/backend developer, etc. – are longer and more detailed than coding bootcamps and online training courses, and are usually offered according to a hybrid model of some online and some in-person learning. These programs are great for earning experience and connections as they involve projects, assignments and engagement with trainers and students. This is a great option for someone who already knows the types of job they are looking for and seeks an effective way to reskill that is shorter than an overarching degree in Computer Science.
Apprenticeships: For people interested in tech roles, some companies offer apprenticeships or other on-the-job training programs. These can be a great way to gain real-world experience and get your foot in the door without having to invest in a formal degree program.
Self-learning: You can learn to code and other tech skills on your own without going to a formal program, albeit with varying success. This option requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation, but it can work well for people who are smart and very self-directed.
In the end, the best alternative to a degree in Computer Science will depend on your goals. Finding the right path for you requires looking at all of your options and deciding what is most important for you to achieve – a job or a specific tech skill?.
Dropouts, misfits, and education in the 21st century
We can all relate to the hardships and challenges described above, which prevent many Computer Science students from completing their studies. Can something be done so that fewer students have to experience the disappointing effects of dropping out?
Eran Lasser, Founder and CEO of Wawiwa Tech, is a graduate of Computer Science and Mathematics as well as Israel Defense Force’s elite computer training unit. Following decades of experience in training people in technology, Eran founded Wawiwa Tech, a company dedicated to bridging the global tech skills gap. According to Eran, “Dropout rate is not a constant, it’s a result of misfit. The misfit is not the student, it’s a misfit between rigid academic degrees, the industry’s needs, and the education that people seek and crave in the 21st century.”
“If training to high-paying tech professions can be shorter and more focused, then it can be cheaper than a 3- or 4-year degree tuition.” Eran explains. “Graduates get jobs based on their concrete knowledge and skills that match the position’s requirements, as employers define them, not based on academic syllabi that are outdated by the time a student graduates.”
“In addition, it’s better to hold a vocational assessment and tell a prospective student, ‘Listen, you’re not going to enjoy programming – it doesn’t correspond with your passions and skills,’ rather than admit students, get their tuition, and let them find out the hard way that they’ve made a mistake. Such assessments conducted in advance save time, money, and disappointment. At Wawiwa, we place crucial importance on the completion rate of the students in our tech training centers and their successful placement in tech jobs, and we reverse engineer and adapt every aspect of our programs to achieve these goals.”