For most of her life, Jill dreamed about working in computer animation and the film industry. She grew up in a rural school district. Her mother was a teacher. Her father worked in law enforcement. At the top of her class, Jill took courses at her local community college while still in high school, and worked to save money for college. Jill applied to a prestigious university in a program focused on digital media. She was so excited the day she received the thick acceptance envelope in the mail.

The future looked bright.

A wakeup call

In her first semester at that university, Jill had to take a computer science (CS) course. She was one of only five women in a class of more than 60 students. She never had a course in CS. Nearly every other student in her class had.

Her high school had computers, and they learned keyboarding and how to use word processors and spreadsheet applications. She never had a course in programming, never learned about databases, or algorithms, or even basic tenets of computational thinking. She found little support from classmates or the instructor. She was told she did not have what it takes and was quickly weeded out of the program. Soon after, this bright young woman left college with a small amount of debt and great uncertainty about her future, let alone her dream.

“She found little support from classmates or the instructor. She was told she did not have what it takes and was quickly weeded out of the program.”

There are many Jills

While her actual name is not Jill, her story is very real. Sadly, it is not uncommon. We are all now well familiar with a range of statistics about computer science education in the U.S. Data points like “only 1 in 10 U.S. high school students have access to computer science education,” or “fewer than 1 in 4 graduating computer science majors are women.”

Available data suggest that there are whole states where not a single young woman takes the CS AP course. The data is even less promising for students with Latino or black heritage. Add in rural or lower socio-economic dimensions, and the data becomes progressively less encouraging.

Bridging the gap

In the months ahead we will hear more stories about what people can do when they have access to CS education. CS opens pathways to a growing range of careers and employment possibilities from entry-level to the C Suite. Like it or not, artificial intelligence, robotics, cybersecurity, gaming, data analytics, mobile computing and other technologies increasingly pervade nearly every aspect of global society.

Every field and industry will be affected. Lack of access to CS education in K-12 has real consequences. Just ask Jill.