The number of master’s degrees in this field nearly tripled in a decade

BY Sam BeckerDecember 20, 2022, 2:19 PM
Jackson State University’s Fall 2022 commencement, as seen in December 2022.
(Photo by Charles A. Smith—JSU University Communications/Jackson State University/Getty Images)

The world is increasingly going digital, and so are graduate students. That’s made a master’s degree in computer science one of the most in-demand programs across the country—in fact, the fourth most-popular graduate degree conferred is now computer and information sciences and support services, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics. And the number of computer and information science graduate degrees jumped 187% between 2009–2010 and 2019–2020, the NCES data shows.

The reasons why these degree programs are attracting thousands of students may be obvious, at least on the surface: Society has become more dependent on computers, and technology has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives. Smartphones are ubiquitous today, as computing has gone mobile and international. Suffice to say that there are a lot of potential jobs for those people who know how to string together some code, and those jobs are often quite lucrative.

The number of jobs for computer and information technology professionals is expected to grow by 15% between 2021 and 2031, and median salaries typically start well into the six figures, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. And pursuing a master’s degree in this field can lead to a salary bump of about $30,000.

While lucrative jobs may be the primary driver of demand in computer science, there are other reasons that students are pouring into these programs. Computer science degrees are versatile, and it’s a field in which graduates can put their skills to use to make the world a better place.

“You can get into almost anything”

A master’s degree in computer science is something of a passport into numerous other fields—and that versatility adds another dimension of attractiveness to prospective students. “With a computer science degree, you can get into almost anything,” says Terry Soule, a professor and the chair of the computer science department at the University of Idaho.  

“It’s a good career, with good salaries, and lots of opportunities, so you’re unlikely to run into the position of not being able to find a job,” Soule adds. “There are also a lot of interesting choices, as computer science has become a part of every field and industry at all levels.”

Many CS students leave the University of Idaho and go on to work in fields such as agriculture, rather than pack up and move to the Bay, Seattle, or Austin to work for tech firms, according to Soule. And it’s that type of professional wiggle room that is bringing many students into the program.

“We do a lot of work in agriculture—precision farming,” Soule says. “So people can get into drones, learn to automate harvesters, and utilize big data to analyze crop yields. There’s another project where we’re working with vineyards to find new ways to produce the best quality wine.” 

These types of jobs may not be the type of work that many prospective students envision when they enter a computer science program, but the need for their skills is, as Soule says, in literally every industry.

Computer science: “Solving problems for society”

Aside from the vast number of professional opportunities that a master’s in computer science can open up, and its relative versatility, this degree also allows professionals to explore their creative side. 

“Computer science is for people who like to build things, so you have to want to create,” says Scott DeLoach, a professor and the department head of the computer science program at Kansas State University. DeLoach adds that the KSU program is seeing more and more applicants who “like the fact that they can create things, and that the field almost has an artistic side to it.”

The growth in both student interest in KSU’s program and the number of students enrolled is unmistakable, DeLoach adds. A decade ago, Kansas State’s bachelor’s program had between 200 and 300 students enrolled, but by 2016, the number had grown to 600, before settling near its current number of 500. Likewise, Soule says that the computer science class for 2022–2023 is twice the size of the class from a year ago. 

Above all, Soule says that students are interested in computer science because they can “make a significant difference” in the world. “Students want to be involved, they want to make a difference, and it’s become very clear that computer science is a field in which you can make a big difference.”

DeLoach concurs, saying that students who get a computer science degree can “pretty much pick where they want to go, since computer science is everywhere, in every industry. Every industry has computers driving controlling processes, and software developers are everywhere too,” he says.

Finally, prospective students who are interested in doing what they can to help make the world a better place may find their calling in a computer science related profession. “You are creating something that people are going to use, and that affects people’s lives. You’re solving problems for society,” DeLoach says. “The goal is to create good applications and technologies that help people.”

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.