Exploring the perceptions of current computer science students and student affairs professionals on the factors influencing student retention and attrition
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Since the middle of the 20th century, America has asserted itself as a global leader and a dominant superpower. The nation’s worldwide leadership in technology and innovation has played a tremendous role in establishing that dominance in areas such as economics, education, science, and military. But as the 21st century progresses, America finds itself in a technology crisis; there simply are not enough technology workers to fill the available jobs. Analysts predict that, by the end of the decade, the technology worker shortage will result in hundreds of thousands of jobs going unfilled. This technology worker shortage threatens to cripple the economy and poses a legitimate threat to America’s national security. Over the past decade, this worker shortage has resulted in numerous calls to action for more emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in all levels of American education. The results of these calls to action have largely been positive. The number of degrees awarded in science, engineering, and mathematics has grown significantly over the past decade. Yet one of the most alarming trends related to this technology worker shortage is the decline in computer science degrees awarded in the United States. Although the rest of the STEM degrees have seen increased enrollment and graduate numbers, computer science degrees awarded have declined dramatically over the past decade. A significant contributing factor to this decline in computer science degrees awarded is the extremely low retention rate typically found in most computer science programs. Despite representing such a critical problem nationally, very little research has been done on computer science student retention. Most retention studies related to computer science analyze STEM students and programs in general, rather than focusing on computer science specifically. But research has shown that behavioral and persistence patterns among computer science students do not necessarily mirror those patterns found in the rest of the STEM majors. Additionally, historical data on completion rates and degrees awarded in computer science do not follow the trends from the other STEM disciplines. To better understand the factors influencing student retention and attrition in computer science, more research on student retention should be conducted on computer science in isolation from the rest of STEM. Only by understanding more about the reasons for computer science retention and attrition can higher education administrators work toward solving the computer science student retention problems. The purpose of this study was to explore what current computer science students and student affairs professionals perceive to be the factors influencing student retention and attrition. Computer science students, faculty, and staff were interviewed to determine their perceptions of reasons why some students drop out and others persist. The researcher analyzed the trends in the data to provide insight into the computer science student retention problem.