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Whats The Difference Between A CompSci Degree In A Liberal Arts College Vs Tech University?

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Replies to: Whats The Difference Between A CompSci Degree In A Liberal Arts College Vs Tech University?

  • apple23apple23 Registered User Posts: 352 Member
    Discrete Mathematics is a math class technically . . . but it is a CS-based math class and pretty important if you want to truly understand more advanced topics in CS.
    Discrete math will be a required CS course at certain LACs:

    https://www.hamilton.edu/academics/departments/Courses-and-Requirements?dept=Computer Science

    Regarding calculus, typically already taken in high school by students at top LACs, this topic and beyond can certainly be reinforced in the extensive math departments at these LACs.
  • yikesyikesyikesyikesyikesyikes Registered User Posts: 1,494 Senior Member
    edited August 7
    @apple23

    I agree it can be reinforced, but it isn't required at several LACs. Calculus is also taken in HS by most Michigan students, but that has not stopped the department from requiring calculus credit. Other schools with top CS departments also explicitly require calculus credit despite the majority of their students taking calculus in HS, such as Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford.

    In fact, it is pretty standard at Universities with even half-decent CS programs to require calculus and other math for CS majors. I am surprised that a number of LACs do not.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 11,670 Super Moderator
    ^Also part of my overall point with my original comment.

    The general point I was trying to make is someone can go to a top LAC, major in computer science, and be fine.
  • simba9simba9 Registered User Posts: 2,694 Senior Member
    The knowledge of CS the average Michigan grad majoring in CS will have coming out will be substantially greater than the knowledge of CS an Amherst grad majoring in CS will have coming out.

    That's absolute nonsense.
  • circuitridercircuitrider Registered User Posts: 2,474 Senior Member
    LACs, if you want time (especially, freshman year) to make up your mind what to major in; RUs, if you don't mind spending freshman year taking a lot of prerequisites. Prerequisites are often an enrollment management (cough, weeding out) tool in disguise.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 9,805 Senior Member
    Do LACs tend to go lightly over content covered in greater depth at typical RUs?
    The ACM provides detailed curriculum guidelines for undergraduate CS majors and has assessed coverage of recommended content at various universities and LACs (https://www.acm.org/education/CS2013-final-report.pdf).
    It surveys courses at selected schools for hours of coverage in 18 core "knowledge areas".

    For example, for the "AL" (algorithms and complexity) knowledge area, here are the hours of coverage in courses at several universities and LACs:
    29-32 hrs in Pomona's CSC 131
    29 hrs in Princeton's COS 226
    28 hrs in Williams College's CS 256
    21 hrs in Grinnel's "multi-paradigm" 3-course CS introduction

    For the "PL" (programming languages) knowledge area:
    38 hrs in Pomona's CSC 131
    35 hrs in Brown's CSCI 1730 and URochester's CSC 2/454
    34 hrs in Grinnel's "multi-paradigm" 3-course CS introduction
    32 hrs in UWashington's CSE341
    31 hrs in Williams College's CSCI 334
    24 hrs in UPenn's Programming Languages and Techniques I
    20 hrs in CMU's 15-312

    For the "OS" (operating systems) knowledge area:
    30 hrs in Williams College's CSCI 432
    24 hrs in UArkansas-Little Rock's CPSC 3380
    24 hrs in Embry-Riddle's CS 420
    23 hrs in UHelsinki's CS 582219

    For these and other knowledge areas, it's hard to make enough apples-to-apples comparisons to support generalizations about coverage/rigor at LACs v. RUs. The few available comparisons suggest to me that in at least some core knowledge areas, some top LACs seem to be offering about the same (or even more) coverage than some RUs. However, it may be the case that some RUs are covering in multiple courses what the LACs cover in just one.
    So if you're willing to pile up on CS courses, no doubt it would be easier to cover these knowledge areas in greater breadth/depth at a larger school. That's not an approach that most LACs encourage.

    This is just one perspective on curriculum coverage/rigor. We also could look at outcomes.
    What are the 4y graduation rates for CS majors at LACs v. RUs?
    Are students at either one having more trouble getting into all the courses they need to graduate in 4 years?
    What about post-graduate employment, or alumni-earned graduate degrees in CS?
    I suspect the top LACs do pretty well in these areas.
    But, as @ucbalumnus stated in #4 above: each college's CS department should be investigated individually.
  • Rivet2000Rivet2000 Registered User Posts: 251 Junior Member
    edited August 8
    It still comes down to depth and breadth, and this is where LACs (by definition) cannot compete. The LAC - RU in CS debate always comes down to that. Can you get a good, basic CS education? Yes. Is it reasonable to say a comparable student at a RU would get better based simply on the increased depth/breadth that a RU can provide? Again, IMO, yes.

    The value of CS majors is not in CS basics. While there are many jobs out there that only need the basics, there are also very many capable programmers out there without college degrees that influence the market demand for "basics" CS majors.

    The value and demand is for CS majors with depth in areas where more expertise is required - AI, ML, DL, etc. Acquiring expertise in these areas (even as an undergrad) requires math + CS and access to an in-depth curriculum. I think it's reasonable to say that an Amherst graduate that has access to only one class in AI will not have the same depth of knowledge as a graduate from an RU that has access to several. It's probably also reasonable to say that a CS department with only 6 faculty will have difficulty delivering the depth and breadth of a much larger faculty found at RUs.
  • merc81merc81 Registered User Posts: 7,325 Senior Member
    edited August 8
    By accessing the table provided by @ucbalumnus (#18), viewers can see that several LACs offer more key, upper-level courses in CS than a strong university such as WUStL, at least by the standards and timing of that methodology. Generalizations about classes of schools will not apply to all schools in those classes, and might best be avoided.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 63,552 Senior Member
    edited August 8
    tk21769 wrote:
    The ACM provides detailed curriculum guidelines for undergraduate CS majors and has assessed coverage of recommended content at various universities and LACs (https://www.acm.org/education/CS2013-final-report.pdf).
    It surveys courses at selected schools for hours of coverage in 18 core "knowledge areas".

    Not sure if counting hours of coverage is the best way to compare, since some courses may cover more material in an hour than others, due to differences in student ability and preparation. It is really better to go through actual course materials to compare course content if that is desired (though the listings in that ACM document do summarize topics covered in each course). But that can be a laborious task requiring someone with good knowledge of the subject and curriculum.
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 10,375 Senior Member
    Anecdotally, Amherst CS majors are often double majors. Since Amherst is unique among LACs in having no distribution requirements at all, there is a lot of room to double or even triple and about 40% of students do complete more than one major.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 9,805 Senior Member
    @ucbalumnus, I'm not sure either that counting hours of coverage is the absolute best possible way to compare (for purposes of a thread like this), but that's a comparison the Association for Computing Machinery has made available. It's one perspective. Anyhow, I doubt Williams College students have trouble keeping up and for that reason need more hours to cover Operating Systems than students at other schools do.

    One of the themes of the ACM Curriculum Guidelines is that CS content gets packaged and covered in a variety of ways at different colleges. LACs have a somewhat different educational mission than technical institutes or comprehensive research universities do. Their primary mission isn't highly specialized technical training. If that's what you're after, I'd agree, you may want to pick a different kind of school.

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 63,552 Senior Member
    OHMomof2 wrote:
    Since Amherst is unique among LACs in having no distribution requirements at all,

    Amherst is not unique among LACs in having no distribution requirements. Evergreen State is another LAC that has no distribution requirements (for the BA degree). However, Evergreen State does not really have majors either, and its CS offerings in the areas that one would expect CS majors to learn are extremely limited.
  • Luska19Luska19 Registered User Posts: 141 Junior Member
    @Rivet2000 Which leads to the question of which LAC's do offer the best depth and breadth iyo?
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 10,375 Senior Member
    @ucbalumnus Amherst is not unique among LACs in having no distribution requirements

    What's your point? Even if there are 2 out of 500 that's still unique.

    And who brought up Evergreen State in this thread? It's a public college that accepts 99% of applicants and it doesn't even offer majors, let alone a CS major.

    Is it relevant to this discussion in any way?

    SMH.
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