The Obama Administration's call for CS for All [14] has placed computer science education as a national education priority. This initiative is an acknowledgement of years of effort by the computer science (CS) education community and broader STEM community building the national case that American global competitiveness is directly dependent on a technically skilled workforce. Basic computational skills are at the core of this argument. The ubiquity of computing is clear, not only in our daily lives, but across all occupational sectors. As a result, basic participation in the modern economy requires some level of computational savvy. That is particularly true at the center of the tech sector itself. The innovative power and financial opportunities of the tech sector have redefined the American and international economic landscape. Given that the future of the American economy and, to some extent, basic civic engagement require technical savvy, it is imperative that there be equitable access to the education necessary to participate. Broadening participation by providing equitable access to high quality rigorous computer science education to all students is a national priority.

The President's clause, for All, is intentional. The absence of black and Hispanic people and women of all colors at the highest levels of the tech strata is a problem. This reality is a result of an array of barriers and challenges that are embedded in the American education and social system. Despite claims that technology can be an equalizer—race matters; gender matters; ability matters; privilege matters. White and Asian able-bodied men of privilege dominate the highest levels of the tech sector [1,5]. They are disproportionately powerful in the American STEM enterprise. Their educational, and social backgrounds, and the way they are viewed in society, in many ways, define what Jane Margolis refers to as preparatory privilege [8]. The challenge, as always, is to build an equitable infrastructure that enables everyone else to engage. There is always more room for those whose merit is the justification for their presence. The objective of the broadening participation effort is to minimize the significance of variables such as race and gender and zip code that ought not matter, and clear the way for merit to shine.

The good news is that there is a tremendous effort across the country to undertake these challenges in CS education. The tech industry itself is committed to broadening participation and lending its natural penchant for disruptive innovation to the effort. US school districts like New York City Public Schools and Chicago Public Schools are incentivizing new approaches to CS education reform and teacher professional development through creative policy changes. Social entrepreneurs are dramatically restructuring the informal learning space with novel approaches to student learning and engagement. President Obama's My Brother's Keeper STEM+Entrepreneurship Initiative adds federal support to the effort [10]. In the post-secondary environment, universities are developing new course structures and learning and advising modalities to facilitate student success and persistence in computer science.

The reality is that CS education is among the most important pillars of equity in an increasingly technical world. In the 21st century, it ranks alongside basic numeracy and literacy as elemental skills for citizenship. Like any other significant social challenge, broadening participation in computing will require an array of efforts from across the spectrum. The CS education ecosystem is evolving rapidly and the potential for broadening participation in STEM fields is growing daily as a result. In this special section of Inroads, a number of efforts and critical points of view from various parts of the ecosystem are presented.

The section begins with an examination of the cultural and educational context in which CS education takes place. A significant component of the larger effort to broaden participation centers on meeting students where they are and welcoming them with culturally relevant and effective learning experiences [13]. The Scott paper examines the limited access to rigorous CS education that students of color face nationally at the primary and secondary school levels. They clarify the, "complex and interconnected structural and social/psychological barriers" that perpetuate the persistent disparities in CS education. Aligned with that, Jane Margolis' [9] paper offers insights into the deployment of a broad secondary school curriculum, Exploring Computer Science, that aims to increase access for students in their formal school environment. The critical equity philosophy is that educational experiences ought to, "build talent, rather than identify talent'! The combination of the two papers highlights the necessary complementarity of in-school and out-of-school educational experiences that are rooted in philosophies of equity.

Attempts to establish an equity-based CS curriculum in public schools at the district-level shed light on state-level policy efforts in support of CS education. Ericson's paper [4] addresses the landscape of CS education policy across multiple states. State-level policy directly impacts the courses that count for graduation and teacher certification processes. Whatever students' interests may be, they are structurally constrained by the availability of courses. Students of color are often in schools that simply do not offer rigorous CS courses [7]. Here is one area where privilege matters clearly. State-level education policy can change that. Given the swiftly changing demographics of public schools in the United States, improving CS education in formal school settings is an absolute requirement for significant improvement in the participation of students of color.

In the post-secondary space, there are a range of points of view that are important for understanding particular student experiences, successes and challenges in pursuing CS education. Targeting particular groups of students to ensure that their specific realities are identified and addressed is an important step towards ensuring their success. Efforts to outline systemic, multi-institutional efforts are laid out in the Gates, Ko and Payton papers [3,6,12]. Payton discusses the idea that service learning helps make the educational experience more meaningful for undergraduate students. Ko highlights the specific challenges faced by students with disabilities and the unique opportunities CS education offers them for engagement. Beyond engagement, developing institutional culture and consideration of universal student learning is essential. In keeping with institutional change, Gates outlines the specific needs of Hispanic students facing the transition to higher education. She notes the cultural realities of exceedingly strong family ties and students stretching the boundaries of those as well as a need for learning environments that are appropriately wrapped in peer mentorship and research opportunities.

As is the case for many undergraduate students, having a space to convene on their own terms with students of like mind and interest is important for developing a sense of belonging and comfort. The Taylor paper [15] addresses the significance of the Tapia Conference as a convening of predominantly students of color and students with disabilities studying computer science. It gives them the ownership of space that they might not feel on their campuses where they are likely one of few students like themselves. Tapia, in the spirit of the National Society of Black Engineers National Convention, and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing are a necessary part of the higher education ecosystem that helps ensure student success. The case for women is especially dire since the number of women earning undergraduate degrees in computer science has declined dramatically in the last thirty years. The percentage of women earning undergraduate computer science degrees peaked at 37 percent in 1984 [11]. It has declined to approximately 18 percent today [2]. The DuBow paper [2] addresses the kinds of social, cultural and institutional efforts to redefine and improve the cultural landscape for women in computing.

The challenges that created the need to broaden participation in computing are varied and rooted in a much larger context of American inequity. The solutions to resolve these problems will take time and persistence. Efforts to broaden participation in engineering have been ongoing and challenging. At the core of many of these efforts have been long standing challenges of achieving equitable outcomes in student learning across the educational spectrum. Computing is a new challenge for a new age. It is not, however, unhitched from the larger American story. The articles in this section make a strong argument that broadening participation in computing will require intentional emphasis on the context that created the need for the effort in the first place. They also inspire us to be creative in our thinking about the entire ecosystem. The contributors hopefully leave you as they have left me with hope and specific ideas of how to improve the condition for so many young people in the United States.


1. Carson, B. and DeAmicis, C. "Eight Charts That Put Tech Companies' Diversity Stats in Perspective." Gigaom. August 21, 2014, Accessed 2016 June 10.

2. DuBow, W., Barr, V., Quinn, B., Robinson, R., and Townsend, G. "Efforts to Make Computer Science More Inclusive of Women." ACM Inroads, 7,4 (2016): 74–80.

3. Gates, A., Thiry, H., and Hug, S. "Reflections: The Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions" ACM Inroads, 7,3 (2016): 69–73.

4. Ericson, B., Adrion, R., Fall, R., and Guzdial, M. "State-Based Progress Towards Computer Science for All." ACM Inroads, 7,4 (2016): 57–60.

5. Jones, S. and Trop, J. "See How the Big Tech Companies Compare on Employee Diversity." Fortune. July 30, 2015, Accessed 2016 June 10.

6. Ko, A. and Ladner, R. "AccessComputing Promotes Teaching Accessibility." ACM Inroads, 7,3 (2016): 65–68.

7. Level Playing Field Institute. "Path Not Found: Disparities in Computer Science Course Access in California Schools;" Accessed 10 June 2016.

8. Margolis, J., et al. Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing (Boston: MIT Press, 2010).

9. Margolis, J. and Goode, J. "Ten Lessons for Computer Science for All." ACM Inroads, 7,4 (2016), 52–56.

10. MBK STEM + Entrepreneurship White House Fact Sheet.—-two-years-expanding-opportunity-creating. Accessed 23 September 2016.

11. National Center for Education Statistics. "Degrees in computer and information sciences conferred by degree-granting institutions, by level of degree and sex of students: 1970–71 through 2010–11;" Accessed 11 June 2016.

12. Payton, J., Barnes, T., Rorrer, A., Buch, K., and Nagel, K. "Launching STARS Computing Corps: Engaging Faculty and Student Leaders to Broaden Participation." ACM Inroads, 7,4 (2016): 61–64.

13. Scott, A., Martin, A., McAlear, F., and Madkins, T., "Broadening Participation in Computer Science: Existing Out-of-School Initiatives and a Case Study." ACM Inroads, 7,4 (2016): 84–90.

14. Smith, M. "Computer Science for All." White House. January 30, 2016. Accessed 2016 June 10.

15. Taylor, V. "Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology CMD-IT." ACM Inroads, 7,4 (2016): 91–94.


Kamau Bobb

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Directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering
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