National Recommendations for CS Majors

Recommendations for Computer Science (CS) majors at colleges and universities have been published for at least 35 years.

The most influential national recommendations have been developed by the two major CS professional societies, namely the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the IEEE Computer Society (IEEE/CS).

  • Early recommendations. The ACM produced CS curricular reports in 1968 and 1978, including sequences of recommended courses. IEEE/CS published curriculum guidelines for Computer Engineering in 1988 which included discussions of topic areas and laboratory materials.
  • CC1991. The ACM and IEEE/CS formed a joint curriculum task force which developed and published a report Computing Curricula 1991 (CC1991) of recommendations for undergraduate majors in both CS and Computer Engineering. This work identified nine subject areas in the discipline, commented on the social and professional context of computing including ethics, and endorsed a definition of the discipline in terms of theory, abstraction, and design that had been proposed in Denning et al, Computing as a discipline, Communications of the ACM, 32(1):9-23, January 1989. The CC1991 task force also identified twelve recurring concepts which the St. Olaf CS program adopts as the principles of computer science. CC1991 stated specific requirements in terms of hours spent on knowledge units in the subject areas, leaving programs to assemble courses in creative ways.
  • CC2001. A second joint task force produced Computing Curricula 2001/Computer Science (CC2001), which updates CC1991’s recommendations for CS. The number of subject areas is now expanded from nine to 14, and CC2001 contains more advice about how to create a curriculum from knowledge units than CC1991.Note that additional task forces were formed to make curricular recommendations for other computing disciplines, namely Computer Engineering, Software Engineering, and Information Systems (IS). None of these reports is final as of Summer 2003, although a prior report (IS ’97) exists in the case of IS. There is no corresponding ACM-related task force in the case of Information Technology (IT).

CC2001 includes advice for adapting their recommendations to the liberal arts environment. The 1996 Revised Model Curriculum paper calls for a three-tiered approach to a CS major for liberal arts colleges.

St. Olaf’s CS major adheres to CC2001 in that St. Olaf’s introductory and core courses span the knowledge areas designated as requirements in CC2001. The college’s major also addresses the requirements of the Revised Model Curriculum, and draws its overall structure and much of its philosophy from that document. In addition, the CS major at St. Olaf supports further objectives including interdisciplinary projects, a multi-level emphasis on computing ethics, and a breadth-first introduction suitable for both majors and non-majors.