Illustration by Lizzy Choi
Illustration by Lizzy Choi

Computer science (CS) at UC Santa Cruz is drawing more students than it has classroom space to accommodate, leading the Jack Baskin School of Engineering to move toward formally declaring CS an impacted major. This will make the major more competitive and limit the amount of incoming proposed CS majors.

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CS, the study of both theoretical and practical applications of computer-centered technology, is a growing field in the digital era. The associate dean of engineering for undergraduate affairs, Tracy Larrabee, said the CS major is the largest and fastest growing major in the Baskin School of Engineering.

“[The number of students in the school of engineering has] really increased and in particular in CS,” Larrabee said. The number of students wanting to declare CS has been doubling every two years for the last six years or so.”

The process of declaring impaction isn’t easy. CS began the multi-step process of impaction declaration because the number of incoming proposed CS majors outnumbers the amount of spaces in the required classes. Offered as a B.A., B.S. and minor, CS’ lower-division class requirements are shared by other majors and often have no prerequisites, which makes class enrollment difficult.

“It’s just harder and harder for people to get all of the classes they need […] because there are only so many that are offered each quarter,” said second-year CS major Michelle Jin.

Lower-division CS classes, which are usually considered by students as “weed-out” classes, are retaining too many people for upper division courses to accommodate, said third-year CS major Christopher Hsiao. Since the lower-division “weed-out” classes aren’t perceived as difficult, Hsiao said, many more students progress to the upper-division levels, where there is less space.

“What actually ends up happening in higher-level courses [or] classes you would take your third and fourth year [is] you meet a lot of people who don’t quite have the fundamentals down,” Hsiao said. “They’re in the class and I’m sure there are people who are more than willing to take their place.”

Last quarter, the waitlist for CS classes had 600 spots, but there were overlaps of the same students for different courses. Students on the waitlist have the option to appeal for a course if they choose. Their appeals are then reviewed by the CS undergraduate program director, Tracy Larrabee said.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 4.12.58 PMThe CS department receives funding for the year based on the previous year’s enrollment. This is insufficient funding to accommodate a program whose enrollment doubles every two years.

Currently, CS is in the secondary stage of officially declaring impaction. It has completed one round of committee approval but must submit another impaction request over the summer. Admissions documentation in the future will warn incoming applicants of this fact, leaving them the options of committing to CS or choosing an alternate major.

“Now we don’t want to totally rule out really great people, but we want to discourage casual people,” Larrabee said. “One of the things that has happened with CS becoming so culturally popular is there are a lot of people showing up because it’s the thing to do and not because they actually have a fire to do the work.”

The impacted status attached to a major is often daunting for incoming first-years and transfer students as it could potentially affect whether they will be admitted to the university under that major. This presents a difficult decision for many incoming students as it gives them very little room for exploration and puts them at a higher risk of being waitlisted or turned away altogether from the university.

“I personally have known so many people who have come in and said, ‘Oh, I want to go pre-med,’ and then take some class for a GE and then say, ‘Oh, actually I want to join feminist studies or double major,’” said current SUA vice president of academic affairs, Jessica Xu. “[…] Asking high school students applying to college, not even having been in college yet, to decide their path before they get here is kind of absurd.”

As it stands, the impacted status will not affect currently enrolled CS majors nor those already admitted to UCSC, Larrabee said. In terms of current students, the status is intended to erode the mass of non-CS students who are in their junior or senior year wanting to take high-demand beginning CS classes.

“Unless we expand this curriculum by the amount that it’s growing, which is very difficult because of funding,” said second year CS major Michelle Jin, “I feel like impacting it will not be such a bad idea, because there are just too many of us right now.”