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Why is everyone majoring CS? Information cascade?



It is no secret that the amount of people majoring in CS has been blowing up the last few years. Just look the the Cornell CS enrollment reports from the last few years and see for yourself. What is particularly interesting is this cycle is not new, look at the attached graph showing the number of CS degrees awarded each year since 1975. This graph shows a cycle of sharp growth followed by a sharp decline happening in a cycle. The attached article from CMU attempted to explain this cycle, and began by dispelling the claim that this cycle was driven by changes in workforce demand. The article goes on to claim that the sharp declines were driven by universities imposing enrollment limitations.  However, what was driving the initial sharp increases that caused universities to impose enrollment limitations in the first place?



While I have no quantitative data to back this up, as a hunch, I propose these sharp increases are due to information cascade within students at universities. From experience, I know many people that came into Cornell unsure about what STEM field they wanted to go into. However, after noticing their peers and/or friends around them majoring in CS and learning about the lucrative salaries available for graduates, they spontaneously decided they too wanted to major in CS. This situation naturally creates a positive feedback loop via information cascade. As more people enter the major, underclassman (or people in other majors) are more likely to also to decide to major in CS because of observing everyone else currently in or joining the major. This is by definition an information cascade: “later people watching the actions of earlier people, and from these actions inferring something about what the earlier people know”. While, I can not claim I know exactly what information people are inferring, perhaps it is something along the lines of “if everyone else has decided that Computer Science is the right carrier choice, it must also be right for me”.


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November 2018