Computer Science Major Requirements Revamped

Computer Science (CS), one of the most rapidly expanding and changing academic fields, has become one of the most popular degrees to pursue across college campuses. Just as quickly as the field changes, so do the course requirements for those looking to pursue CS at Case Western Reserve University. For the 2016-2017 academic year, there have been changes made in the CS core curriculum to acknowledge the diverse concentrations under the CS major. However whether or not these changes are positive or negative still seems to be a topic of debate among students and teachers.

This new curriculum introduces a system of tiers to the course requirements, which consist of “core”, “breadth” and “depth” courses. Using the Bachelor of Science in CS, for example, the number of required core courses has been dropped from from 13 to 6. As a result, the remaining seven classes from the old curriculum are renamed as “breadth” classes, as students can choose five of these to take as a part of their requirements. Finally, students must choose their own CS discipline, or “depth”, in which they must take four required courses. The number of courses required remains the same, but the total credit hours drops by two, from 129 to 127. The overall changes allow for more flexibility in course selection and ultimately help students focus on a particular discipline of CS.

However the student body’s position on these changes seems conflicted. Some claim that these new changes are a result of the internal staffing issues within the CS department. The number of students that are declaring CS majors is growing at faster rate than the department is able to hire full-time professors. Fourth-year student David Aghassi, a CS major, said that “to compensate for the inability to have classes be taught …[they have made] it easier on the department by letting the students choose which classes they deem worthy of taking.”

Aghassi thinks that this freedom of choice will lead to a higher chance for students to miss some critical classes, which can make a difference for their job opportunities. Understandably, students concerned with graduating on time with a good GPA are likely to stray away from the old core classes. This ultimately may result in crucial classes being held back, or their class sizes becoming extremely small. “It is something to think about when providing choice instead of a map,” said Aghassi.

An interview with the Associate Professor of the Electrical Engineering Computer Science department, Dr. Michael Lewicki, revealed another perspective. When asked to respond to the comments of students, Lewicki stated that the changes “don’t change the teaching requirements. The number of units are the same … the number of courses we offer are the same. The only effect is giving students more flexibility.”

While he admitted that staffing has always been an issue, he says that it was not the motivation behind the changes. He explained that the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) department’s primary motivation for these changes was that too much information was packed into the old core curriculum. “This is us recognizing that CS is expanding a ton and students have different interests. One of the goals is to limit the number of students that are in a course just to complete a requirement,” said Lewicki. Thus, it seems as if the hope is for more students to be placed into courses that they want to take.

Regardless of opinions, the new curriculum changes have already been instituted and are here to stay. However students that began the old curriculum can choose to stay in the old one by talking to the Office of Undergraduate Studies, and the same option may be available to new CS students as well. However, some students think that incoming CS members will not care to seek out the old curriculum. Aghassi said, “It is easy to attend a school based on laurels, and then find out once you there it isn’t all it was touted to be.”