UW-Madison students are signing up in record numbers to study computer science, elevating the program to be the most popular undergraduate major on campus in each of the last two years.

Student demand is nine times larger than it was a decade ago, from 168 in 2009 to nearly 1,600 in the program this academic year.

“The interest shows no sign of abating at this point,” said department chairman Gurindar Sohi.

But popularity for an academic program comes with problems, such as difficulty finding lecture halls large enough to accommodate student demand. A week into this spring semester, the computer science department had a combined estimate of 650 names on course waiting lists. The university recently hired eight faculty members to offset three retirements, and more offers are in the works, but recruiting is a challenge when individuals with Ph.D.’s receive salary offers more than two times higher in the private sector than at a public university.

Computer science leads undergraduate majors

UW-Madison, unlike some other institutions, is not making its program more selective in response to the unprecedented interest.

Instead, the computer science department is embracing what it calls a “Wisconsin Computing Idea” to expose as many students as possible to the type of computational thinking highly sought — and well compensated for — by employers.

Gov. Tony Evers proposed $45 million in his 2019-21 budget proposal to expand high-demand programs at UW campuses across the state, including UW-Madison’s computer science department. The money would allow faculty to expand their ranks, add 2,000 seats to popular computing courses and graduate up to 1,000 more students in computer and data sciences. Read the full story here.