Despite job boom, fewer students study tech

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(MoneyWatch) While the demand for college graduates with computer and information technology degrees continues to grow, U.S. colleges and universities are producing fewer of these grads than they did 10 years ago.

The number of computer and IT jobs grew 13 percent from 2003 to 2012, but the number of people with degrees in these fields dropped by 11 percent over that time, according to a new study by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists.

Fast growth in health degrees

Among the major degree categories, health degrees experienced the biggest jump, with a whopping 112 percent increase. Most of the growth was in nursing and allied health fields. Ten years ago, roughly 88,000 students graduated with registered nursing degrees, compared with nearly 193,000 in 2012. Registered nursing is the country's third-largest degree-awarding program.

Healthcare positions increased 18.6 percent, which generated 1.2 million new jobs.

The liberal arts didn't do so badly, either. Degrees in literature, philosophy and similar fields of study (which have been maligned lately by an alarming number of politicians, parents and students) are actually more popular than they were back in 2003 when George W. Bush was president and Apple was launching iTunes.

Compared to 10 years ago, some 125,000 students graduated with liberal arts degrees in 2012, a 47 percent increase. The liberal arts represent 10 percent of all college degrees.

Why the slowdown in IT degrees?

"The slowdown in IT degrees over the last decade may have been influenced, in part, by the dot-com bubble collapse and by more recent trends of tech workers being trained by employers or trained through informal programs outside of a traditional academic setting," speculated Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder.

"The deficit in IT degree completions is concerning when you consider that there is already a considerable gap between the demand for and supply of IT labor in the U.S. today," he added.

The drop in tech degrees was particularly stark in these metropolitan areas:

New York City (52 percent decline)
San Francisco (55 percent)
Atlanta (33 percent)
Miami (32 percent)
Los Angeles (31 percent)

By contrast, these metro areas experienced the greatest percentage increase in IT and computer degrees from 2003 to 2012:

Salt Lake City (117 percent)
Washington, D.C. (31 percent)
Minneapolis-St. Paul (14 percent)

Engineering, which is routinely on the list of majors that command the highest salaries, registered a more modest growth during the past decade.

Approximately 37,000 additional students graduated with engineering degrees in 2012 than 10 years ago, a 37 percent hike. The number of engineering jobs over that time grew 5.7 percent, or an additional 168,000 positions. The biggest jump in engineering degrees came in biomedical, mechanical and civil engineering.

Business degrees still on top

The number of students graduating with business degrees in 2012 compared to 2003 climbed 33 percent. At the same time, business-related jobs only inched up by 1.2 percent.

The most popular majors remain business-related, with nearly one in five degrees (18.1 percent) awarded in business, management and marketing.

In many metropolitan areas, business degrees are even more popular. Here are cities with above average percentages of business graduates:

Chicago (25 percent)
Milwaukee (24 percent)
Washington, D.C. (24 percent)
Atlanta (23 percent)

The data for this study was collected from more than 90 federal and state sources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau and state labor departments.

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