Gas station without pumps

2013 August 27

ROI for CS majors

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:29
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Many students go into computer science not from any particular passion for the subject, but because they see it as a lucrative career.  Since this plays well with the current media bias of college as a private good, there are now “best” lists that look at Return on Investment for colleges in a purely financial way.  For example, reports in Top Colleges for Computer Science Majors – ROI

Computer science programs at top schools offer tremendous breadth and depth – a wide range of course options with the ability to study at the professional level. And while cutting-edge tech attracts many students, the chance to earn top dollar upon graduation may be a higher priority, especially with tuition and fees on the rise. But which computer science programs have a track record of producing high-earning graduates? Check out our list below to see which programs truly stand out.

I was interested to see that six of the top twenty colleges listed were University of California campuses and 9 of the top 20 were in California (probably because Silicon Valley provides high salaries and a fairly high probability of a windfall from a successful startup).  Some people might be surprised at how high UCSC is on the list, but we have a pretty good CS department, and we’re really close to Silicon Valley.

  1. UC Berkeley
  2. Stanford
  3. University of Pennsylvania
  4. Dartmouth
  5. UC Santa Cruz
  6. University of San Francisco
  7. UC Santa Barbara
  8. MIT
  9. UC Davis
  10. Stony Brook University
  11. CalPoly
  12. Carnegie Mellon
  13. UC San Diego
  14. UC Irvine
  15. Rutgers
  16. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  17. University of Maryland-College Park
  18. Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  19. Virginia Tech
  20. U. Washington (UW)

Of course, this list does not correspond particularly well with lists that track what undergrad colleges are best at producing students who go on to get CS PhDs or NSF Fellowships.  A PhD is not good for maximizing financial return.

Some colleges appear on both lists (MIT, UCB, CMU, Stanford, UW, UCSD).  We have visited or will visit 4 of those—we’ve not been able to schedule a trip to San Diego or Seattle yet.


  1. I actually giggle a little when I see these college list for jobs in IT. I’ve been a Computer Engineer, now Program manager for years. I honestly have to say that College is not the deciding factor in about 40% of the Computer Science disciplines. Jobs such as IT help desk, programmer, network Engineer, Configuration Manager, Tester and more do not necessarily require degrees. Actually Certifications that can take you anywhere between 2 weeks to 4 months can be just as viable and much cheaper. Also, as a Project Engineer who’s gone to Community College for 2 years then a college that isn’t on the top of any one’s list I can honestly say the Computer Engineering field salaries cap out and there isn’t any disparity between those with degrees and those that are without.

    Comment by Nita — 2013 August 27 @ 19:46 | Reply

    • I’ve not looked at their method for determining ROI. I suspect that there may be some fairly strong reporting bias. Also, they are probably using means rather than medians, and a small number of highly successful entrepreneurs can pull the mean way up, without moving the median at all. Stanford probably gets high on the list for that reason, not necessarily because their median salaries are higher than elsewhere.

      The method may also favor early salary (ROI is better if you get the money sooner), which does tend to favor the brand-name schools, even if all engineers eventually end up getting about the same salary.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 August 27 @ 20:23 | Reply

  2. Jobs such as IT help desk, network engineer, etc. do not require computer science degrees for the simple reason that they are not computer science positions! Those are classic IT positions. This is a common source of confusion among students, faculty in non-CS programs, administrators, and managers in industry, and leads to lots of problems with students in CS programs who have no interest in CS. One school I know of, which runs good programs in both CS and IT, has information for students explaining the difference. They say that the IT major is for people who want to have careers in which they locate and integrate technology to solve problems, and the CS major is for people who want to create the technology. I think that is a good distinction. Most of the CS programs on that list are very focused on graduating technology-creators.

    I wish more schools would offer quality IT programs rather than trying to jam students who want IT careers into CS majors.

    Comment by Bonnie — 2013 August 29 @ 11:07 | Reply

    • Most IT people need a well-focused Associate’s degree, rather than a BS. I agree that the confusion between CS and IT is a problem both for CS education and for training IT people.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2013 August 29 @ 13:07 | Reply

  3. I think there are needs for both associates and bachelors degrees in IT. The person staffing the helpdesk or rolling out new versions of Outlook onto PCs are typically people with 2 year degrees. But there are lots of people who do more complex IT tasks. I have friends with bachelors and even masters in IT who have put their degrees to good use. They typically work further up the food chain, making system purchasing decisiions, figuring out rollouts and how to train lots of nurses, building sophisticated test environments for the software development teams, going out to customers and working with them to integrate software into their businesses… and so on.

    Comment by Bonnie — 2013 August 29 @ 14:49 | Reply

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