Coalition calls for greater focus on computer science in UC, Cal State admissions
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a coalition of high-profile business and academic leaders are pressing UC and Cal State to adopt new admissions requirements for math that would include computer science as an option.
The appeal was in a letter sent Wednesday to the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, a committee within the UC Academic Senate that oversees admissions of undergraduate students.
Currently, to be admitted to a UC or Cal State campus, high school students must complete 15 “a-g” courses with a grade of C or better. The math requirement includes algebra and geometry, with a third year of advanced math such as calculus and trigonometry.
Many education advocates, however, want to include computer science as one of those advanced options rather than leaving it as one of many general electives. They argue that an understanding of computing is now essential for many jobs.
“For a growing number of academic and professional pursuits, computer science provides just as relevant a foundation as algebra,” the letter said. “Every student learns about photosynthesis and fractions even if they don’t grow up to become botanists or mathematicians. Today, California’s children also deserve the option to learn what an algorithm is and how the Internet works.”
Among those lending signatures were California Secretary of State Alex Padilla; Republican Assembly Leader Kristin Olsen; Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent-president of Long Beach City College; and Silicon Valley tech leaders Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo!.
Newsom is a regent and trustee at UC and Cal State, respectively.
UC Academic Senate Chairman J. Daniel Hare said the board would discuss the proposal at its monthly meeting, which is scheduled to be held this week.
He said the board already allows some computer science courses to meet the math requirement, provided they are sufficiently steeped in math concepts. But a computer science course focused on coding, for example, probably would not qualify.
“In terms of preparing students for college for UC and CSU, we can’t overlook establishing a competency in math,” said Hare, a professor of entomology at UC Riverside.
Recent state laws provide for high school computer science courses to count toward graduation and also calls on Cal State and UC to develop guidelines for high school computer science courses to be approved by the two schools.
But Newsom and others argue that modifying the college admissions requirements would provide an incentive for school districts to offer more computer science classes. The proposal would still allow the Academic Senate to decide the level of academic rigor to apply to courses, they said.
Claire Shorall, head of computer science for the Oakland Unified School District, said the subject is an increasingly popular elective among students. But the impetus to offer more courses — and hire full-time instructors — is not as strong as it could be were it included in the math requirement.
“We’re not looking to replace mathematics ... but to broaden the category so that there’s recognition among the powers that be that computer science is critical for students to be college- and career-ready,” Shorall said.
Newsom and others expressed equal concern about the gender and racial gap of those taking courses and pursuing computer science as a profession.
According to data cited in the letter, fewer than 9,000 California high school students took the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam in 2015. Of those students, only about 2,300 were girls, less than 1,000 were Latinos and about 150 were black.
According to state data, meanwhile, salaries for computing jobs are high — averaging an annual $105,622 — but the number of graduates in the field are not expected to meet workforce demands.
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