With the start of the new semester, many students are looking forward to some of their classes more than others. Attending a liberal arts university such as NYU means completing a wide range of Core Curriculum courses in addition to a chosen major. Since the Core ranges from science to Expressive Cultures, it is unlikely that NYU students are going to feel comfortable in all of their classes. This discomfort is useful — the Core is “designed to give students … the skills and breadth of intellectual perspective to flourish in their major programs of study and in their later careers,” according to the Core College website. Nonetheless, it needs an update in the form of a computer science requirement.
Only 19 percent of students have taken a computer course in high school, and even fewer have experience with programming because it is typically not required. In an increasingly tech-centric world, students with no experience who may be intimidated by computer science are left behind. Liberal arts universities have an opportunity to fix this. NYU in particular has a reason to since the Core requirements are light on STEM. The program requires only a year of natural science and a semester of mathematics. In contrast, it requires two years of both contemporary culture and foreign language, and allows far more AP credit exemptions for science and math than any other subject. A computer requirement has the potential to spark interest in undecided students lacking computer experience, or to give students the confidence to creatively experiment with software design.
If a new Core category were created, it could involve several types of interdisciplinary computer courses — anything from statistical analysis to building apps and web pages. For instance, Wheaton College offers a class called “Computing for Poets” that incorporates J.R.R. Tolkien and Anglo-Saxon literature into computational analysis. The Core at NYU already consolidates multiple fields into one requirement; there is a wide range within the Cultural Foundation courses and specified Expository Writing groups. The same principles must be applied to computer science at NYU.
There can be no doubt that basic software knowledge is becoming more important in many jobs, and even one semester provides valuable analytical skills that can be applied in other fields. President Barack Obama’s Jan. 8 proposal for free community college will only cover certificates or degrees in high-demand areas. If passed, it will create an increase in the number of graduates with these degrees, which will likely include computer science. In addition, issues like net neutrality, cybersecurity and Internet surveillance have become a critical yet little understood part of the political discourse. NYU needs to anticipate the skills its graduates will need, and should become one of the first universities to require a semester of computer science.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 26 print edition. Email Tess Woosley at [email protected]