Enrollment in Harvard's Intro to Computer Sci Rose 580% in Last Decade

It's now almost as popular as the student-favorite introductory economics course.
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Brian Snyder/Reuters

“Introduction to Economics” has long been one of the most popular courses among Harvard undergraduates. Now it has more competition. In the last two years, “Introduction to Computer Science” has caught right up as students at the Ivy League school increasingly value a background in programming.

Preliminary data (pdf) released by Harvard—and first reported by the campus newspaper—show the courses are neck and neck. In the current semester, 772 students are enrolled in the introductory economics course taught by Greg Mankiw, who served in the George W. Bush administration. The computer science course, taught by David Malan, has 768 students.

“Introduction to Computer Science,” better known as CS50, is widely regarded as the most difficult course at Harvard College. That may explain why, just a decade ago, only 112 students took it. (Now, in addition to its popularity on campus, CS50 is taken by thousands of other people for free online through Harvard’s partnership with the education non-profit EdX.) Here is how CS50 enrollment has grown over the past 10 years:

The number of students majoring in computer science is growing, too, but still trails much more popular majors like economics and government.

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Zachary M. Seward is a senior editor at Quartz. He previously worked at The Wall Street Journal and Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab. He teaches digital journalism at NYU.

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