Number of Girls and Minority Students Taking AP Computer Science Continues to Grow

Number of Girls and Minority Students Taking AP Computer Science Continues to Grow

Girls and underrepresented minorities made up a larger proportion of US high school students taking the Advanced Placement exam in computer science this year than ever before, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi announced in a Medium post on Sunday:

In 2018, a total of 135,992 students took the AP Computer Science exam, a rise of 31% from last year. Female students and underrepresented minorities showed the greatest increases from last year:

  • Black or African American students — 7,301 participants, up 44%
  • Hispanic or Latino — 20,954 participants, up 41%
  • Female students — 38,195 participants, up 39%
  • Rural students — 14,184 participants, up 42%

Last year, these figures grew even more rapidly, increasing by 135 percent among girls and 170 percent among underrepresented minorities between 2016 and 2017: a spike Partovi credits to the launch of Code.org’s Computer Science Principles course. According to Code.org a nonprofit organization that focuses on expanding access to computer science, 70 percent of students in CS Principles classrooms say they want to pursue computer science after graduation, so the organization expects these growing numbers of students to translate into more diversity in the tech workforce down the line.

Major US tech firms have struggled with gender balance and racial and ethnic diversity in their workforces, both in attracting more diverse candidates and in retaining those they hire for the long term. These challenges remain substantial even as these companies have led the way on pursuing diversity and inclusion programs and publicly reporting their progress. Tech companies have taken heat for blaming slow progress on the so-called “pipeline problem”: They would like to hire more women and minorities, they say, but there is limited diversity in the available pool of qualified candidates. The increasingly diverse cohort of rising computer science students promises to help solve that problem—or take away that excuse.

Individual companies have also been taking action to build bigger and more diverse talent pipelines of their own, often through partnerships with schools, universities, and coding bootcamps. This year, for example, Google expanded its “Howard West” program, a partnership with the historically black Howard University in Washington, DC, which offers students an immersive course of study in software engineering at Google’s campus in Mountain View, California. Cisco and EY have also linked up with colleges and high schools to start cultivating STEM talent and get them interested in careers in engineering or accounting. Oracle took things one step further last year, hosting a tech-focused charter high school on its campus in Redwood Shores, California, where students get to take lessons from Oracle employees and pursue internships with the software company.