More female, black and Latino students took Advanced Placement computer science courses this year, USA TODAY reports, with participation also rising for rural students.
In total, 135,992 students took AP computer science exams this year — up 31% from last year, according to the College Board, which owns the AP program.
African-American students enrolled in AP computer science courses jumped 44% to 7,301, Hispanic and Latino numbers rose by 41%, or to 20,954 students, and female participation went up by 39% to 38,195 students, according to computer science advocacy nonprofit Code.org. Rural students taking these exams jumped by 42% to reach a total of 14,184.
Boosting computer science participation from historically underrepresented groups is something computer science advocates and educators have been focusing on for a while. Many initiatives, including Code.org’s partnership with the College Board in 2015, have focused on targeting this problem by trying to bring computer science courses into more classrooms, as well as to get more females and students of color to enroll.
The College Board introduced a beginner course to classrooms that gave more students the chance to access and learn about the tech skills that continue to be in high demand. At the same time, officials have pushed for “computer science for all,” or teaching students the tech skills they need, and it’s clear that encouraging diversity in the field is on educators’ minds. It’s worked, too: After implementation of AP Computer Science Principles — which puts real-world perspectives on coding — the number of females who took some form of a computer science exam rose significantly, while the number of minorities who took it nearly tripled.
But achieving balanced representation in AP computer science is still a ways off. Code.org said that of 165,000 female students who showed potential in AP computer science in the 2014 high school graduating class, 2.5% of them had access to one of the coding classes and its exam. Among Hispanic students who showed potential that year, 4.7% had access to these materials.
Statistics like these are true, in part, because students who live in more rural or less affluent areas won’t have the same level of access to computer science classes because of budget or curriculum constraints. Without these high school courses, it’s less likely a student will go to college and enlist in a major that involves computer science in some way, including information science or software engineering.
Women and students of color are breaking records and continue to pursue computer science fields in higher numbers, but there are still gaps for improvement to get these statistics even higher. At the very least, before going to college, students should have access to the basics, and schools should show these underrepresented communities that there are people in the field today who look just like them.