Fastest growing majors are in science, math, health

  • August 4, 2012

By Jeff Hughes
Reporter

The nerds are all over the new BMOC — the Big Majors on Campus — these days.

The fastest-growing undergraduate majors are all about science, numbers and technology. Think computers, engineering, statistics and health care.

At the University of California, Berkeley, for example, statistics is the second fastest growing major, rising by 147 percent from 80 in 2007 to 198 in 2011. Businesses are demanding people who can deal with data effectively for everything from web analytics to targeted marketing, said Philip Stark, chairman of Cal’s statistics department. More and more, Stark said, people are “turning to things other than gut instinct to draw conclusions.”

Also big at Cal is computer science, where an 82 percent increase to in students makes it the campus’ No. 5 fastest growing major. It went from 123 students in 2007 to 224 in 2011.

“In San Francisco and the Bay Area we’re seeing a boom in the software industry, in mobile, in cloud computing. There are a million little startups. So the thing is, software engineers can’t be hired fast enough.” said Chris Brooks, associate dean of sciences at the University of San Francisco. “Even if you don’t have a computer science degree, facility with it makes you desirable.”

Even at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, which has only 38 students in its computer science program, the number of students in the major has doubled since 2008.

At the University of San Francisco, the number of students majoring in computer science has tripled in the past three years from 30 to 90 while the total number of students in the college has remained flat.

Stanford’s computer science program has seen 102 percent growth from 2007 to 2011. Mehran Sahami, associate chairman for education at Stanford, said 246 students joined the computer science program in 2012. Sahami attributed the program’s momentum to the strength of the job market as well as students’ desires to move from consumers to creators of products they grew up with.

Cal State East Bay’s engineering program, for example, grew by 46 percent since the fall of 2007 to 155 in 2011, a figure that Saeid Motavalli, chairman of Cal State East Bay’s engineering department, said is in keeping the trends nationwide.

Stanford’s undergraduate engineering program grew by 45 percent since the fall of 2007 from 698 to 1,013. The engineering school accounted for 14 percent of Stanford’s total of 6,927 undergraduates in 2011.

Other areas that have been gaining momentum have been health-related majors. Health Sciences’ headcount has risen by 108 percent at Cal State East Bay from 2007 to 2011. Biology and biochemistry are up by 77 percent at Notre Dame de Namur.

At Saint Mary’s, biology has also seen a surge in popularity, growing by 131 percent since 2008.

“I decided that going into a biology major would give me a solid foundation to forward my medical career,” said Sean Purtell, a biochemistry senior at St. Mary’s. “I know for certain after I graduate I’m getting a masters, maybe in biomedical sciences or anatomy, then I’ll apply to medical school.”

Kinesiology programs — which study human body movement — are seeing a dramatic increase as well. It’s the fastest-growing major at Notre Dame de Namur, for example, where it grew 160 percent since 2008 to 60 in 2011. The major grew 42 percent at Cal State East Bay since 2007 and 24 percent at St. Mary’s College during the same period.

San Francisco State University saw more than 800 enrolled in its exercise and movement science emphasis in 2011, up 114 percent from 2007.

David Anderson, former chair of San Francisco State’s kinesiology department, attributes the move into kinesiology to job opportunities. Kinesiology careers like physical therapy are stable, paid reasonably well and have a high number of jobs available.

“Many of us have been in the field a long time, and we already know the potential benefits of the field. But … there is an increasing trend” of students entering the field, said Andersson.

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