CS50’s Changing Demographics

David J. Malan

Not only does each semester at Harvard University begin with a week-long “shopping period,” during which students can attend any courses they’d like before officially enrolling, students also have up to the semester’s fifth Monday to add or drop courses as well. With this semester’s fifth Monday (2 October 2017) now behind us, here’s a look at CS50’s (changing) demographics.

Fall 2017’s enrollment on campus is 691, among whom are

  • 626 students from Harvard College,
  • 24 students from the Graduate School of Design,
  • 11 students from Harvard Kennedy School,
  • 9 students from Harvard Business School,
  • 8 students from Harvard Law School,
  • 6 students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences,
  • 3 students from the Graduate School of Education,
  • and 4 students from MIT.

Fall 2017’s total is up slightly vis-à-vis Fall 2016’s:

Enrollment off campus via Harvard Extension School, meanwhile, is 111. (And over 1,000,000, we’re told, via edX.)

Women now compose 44% of CS50’s student body, a 29-year high:

And an increasing number of CS50 students, 66% as of Fall 2017, continue to describe themselves as among “those less comfortable”:

Indeed, it was with those changing demographics in mind this year that we recruited 81 teaching fellows (TFs) and course assistants (CAs) to CS50’s staff, up from 74 last year.

Also worthy of note is that 28% of undergraduates are now taking the course SAT/UNS (i.e., Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, aka SUS), up from 7% in Fall 2016 (and 9% in 2015), likely the result of CS50 having changed its default “grading status” from letter grade (aka LG) to SAT/UNS this year:

Students in CS50 now have to opt into a letter grade, which is required by some concentrations (i.e., majors), rather than out of one. SAT/UNS is essentially equivalent to Pass/Fail (aka PA/FL), but whereas a Pass at Harvard equates to a D- or higher, a SAT at Harvard equates to a C- or higher. The course has long encouraged students, including potential CS concentrators, to take the course SAT/UNS so that they can explore an unfamiliar (and often daunting) field without fear of “failure.” Indeed, even I only got up the nerve to take CS50 back in Fall 1996 because the instructor that year allowed me to enroll in it Pass/Fail!

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