Over the years, much discussion within the computing-education community has focused on challenges related to student retention with specific emphasis on difficulties of retaining women and students from under-represented groups. In response, many individuals and groups have devoted considerable effort and developed numerous programs to improve student retention, with a related goal of increasing diversity. Although this work has yielded many successes, results have not been consistently strong, and numerous challenges remain. For example, in the past two years, some faculty have reported a 90% failure rate in CS1 at one school [2] and others that computing graduates at one state school included only 5% women.

With programmatic successes, but also numerous challenges, the ACM Education Board formed an ACM Retention Committee, with co-chairs Alison Derbenwick Miller (Oracle) and Chris Stephenson (Google) in November 2016, to "address the current issue of retention in 4-year, post-secondary CS education programs, specifically of the retention of women and URM students following CS1 and CS2 (where the pipeline is most leaky)." [1] Overall, the committee's work is two-fold—review approaches to improve retention and gather data regarding specific retention patterns.

Anticipated Short-term Committee Products

This news announcement identifies several articles planned to further the Committee's work. The first pieces bring together known challenges and approaches to provide an organized conceptual overview of on-going efforts; specifically, the first two pieces (found in this issue of Inroads) will address curricular and cultural considerations. Subsequent articles will present data collection and analysis. Although all articles reflect Committee-wide deliberations, the Committee has asked individual members to write specific pieces, as an efficient mechanism to bring ideas together (with Committee review) within a constrained timeline.

Currently, as data collection and analysis continue, the ACM Retention Committee has reviewed a range of issues and programs related to retention, and the Committee believes at least four overview articles will be helpful, as the community takes stock of ongoing activities and makes plans for the next steps. The four articles are described here.

  1. In this Inroads issue I review curricular factors that may discourage potential and declared computing majors from persisting in a computing major. See Retention of Students in Introductory Computing Courses: Curricular Issues and Approaches (p. 14).
  2. Also in this issue is a companion column by Colleen Lewis that brings together perspectives on cultural factors that may lead to student attrition. See Twelve Tips for Creating a Culture that Supports All Students in Computing (p. 17).
  3. To appear in 2018: other student-related factors impacting students and retention within computing majors.
  4. To appear in 2018: a wrap-up of the committee's discussions, analyses, and suggestions following its first full year of deliberations as well as a discussion of how these issues might vary for minority serving institutions.


1. Association for Computing Machinery, Author's Letter of Appointment to the ACM Retention Committee, 2016 October 4.

2. Luxton-Reilly, A. Learning Is Easy. Proceedings of the 21st Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science (2016), 284–289.


Henry M. Walker
Dept of Computer Science
Grinnell College
Grinnell, Iowa 50112 USA
[email protected]

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