Two pieces of important and good news have come out recently about the state of, and opportunities for, the participation of young women in computer science. The first is the participation of women in the 2019 computer science advance placement exams; the second is the announcement of this year’s Aspirations in Computing awards program organized by the National Center for Women & Information Technology. Together, they are an indication of how far we’ve come as a community in recent years in embracing the opportunities for young women to study computer science in high school, and in providing encouragement and support to continue these studies in college.
The participation in the computer science AP exams, like most everything else associated with computing, has exploded in recent years, and the participation of young women has outpaced the overall growth. As is summarized in this article, the total number of women taking CS AP exams in 2019 grew 32% since last year, to over 48,000, and the percentage of women among all test-takers increased to over 29%. The growth in the number of women taking AP CS is nearly five-fold in just four years, and the percentage of women which had hovered in the high teens for years has grown dramatically.
Much of the growth of enrollment in high school computer science, and in CS AP exams, is due to the CS Principles course. As is described here, in just three years since this course and exam were introduced, the number of students taking CS Principles AP has skyrocketed to over 96,000, which now is nearly 60% of the total CS AP test takers. And the participation of women students in the CS Principles AP exam outpaces the overall CS AP participation by women, at 33%. This still is far from half but is approaching a tipping point!
A great accompaniment to the quickly growing participation of young women in high school computer science courses is the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Program. The Aspirations program has grown over recent years to include not only awards that have become well known, but also community elements that stretch down to lower grades and up to the university level. Here I’ll just focus on the upcoming awards program. The Aspirations awards are a great opportunity to recognize and encourage young women who are actively engaged in computing at the high school level. By a system of competitions and awards that now is conducted in 79 separate regions across the US, this program provides opportunities to recognize many young women annually (nearly 14,000 since 2007!), as well as their teachers. Having been to several regional Aspirations awards ceremonies, it is inspirational to see the impact of this program on the young women and on their families. Please encourage your students to apply to Aspirations, and support them in taking courses that lead to the CS AP exams!