Enrolling 200 out of 6,000 applicants (roughly 3% ) this last fall, the computer science major at Cal Poly is one of the most competitive programs to get in at the university. However, it’s also one of the most understaffed.
The department is currently struggling to meet the demand of the increasing number of students in this department, according to department chair Chris Lupo.
Lupo said the department has been impacted throughout his 13 years at Cal Poly.
Lupo estimated the number of students has grown by 65% from when he first started at the university in 2008 to now.
According to Lupo, faculty has been hired to account for this, but retention can be difficult. Some opt for industry positions with higher pay over a university job that has a high workload, minimal job security and lower pay.
Lupo said the university is aware of this issue and tries to offer competitive salaries. He said the department has also found some success by hiring on faculty that are teaching as a second career. As San Luis Obispo offers more tech jobs, more people with the skill sets necessary to teach these courses become available for the university.
Lupo is actively recruiting faculty for winter quarter and looking to rework faculty schedules for courses that are under-enrolled to allow for students in over-enrolled courses to get the credits they need.
Despite the shortage of faculty, Lupo said the department still maintains a high four-year graduation rate, part of which is due to the fewer credits a computer science degree requires compared to other engineering degrees.
Software engineering students and computer engineering students also heavily rely on computer science courses. As the field expands, majors outside of the engineering department, like statistics and data science, are requiring computer science courses as well.
For the time being, the department is not allowing for a change of major into computer science according to Lupo. Instead interested students can pursue a computer science minor.
Charlie Ward completed a change of major into computer science after his freshman year in Summer 2020 — when a change of major was still available for this program. Ward was not aware of this new restriction to change of major, but enjoys the project-based experience he gets out of his computer science degree.
Now a junior, Ward said enrolling in a certain subset of upper-division and specialized courses has been a challenge. However, besides that, he said he hasn’t experienced too many enrollment issues.
“I feel comfortable that I will get all the classes I need on time for graduation next year,” Ward said. “That hasn’t been a huge issue, but it does kind of suck to not be able to take classes at the time I want.”
Unlike many other students, computer science senior Ashok Parasa had priority registration his first two years at the university through the honors program.
However, as he transitioned back to assigned registration based on degree progress, Parasa would often be waitlisted for a few classes each quarter. He said he has usually got off the waitlist and is able to take his desired course that quarter.
Parasa also said that there seems to be a subset of classes that are difficult to get into that only a few faculty can teach.
Despite this frustration, both students expressed gratitude for the quality of education they have received thus far at Cal Poly.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had as a computer science student here,” Parasa said.