Opinion: Two for one: The CS+X Programs at UW-Platteville

Written by Dr. M. Afzal Upal on |
Dr. Afzal Upal
Dr. M. Afzal Upal is professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering

When universities around the world started computer science programs in the 1960s, technology companies hired most of the graduates from the new program. As the number of computer science jobs has exploded in the last half a century, demand for CS graduates in other industrial sectors (such as healthcare, manufacturing, and retail) has outpaced the growth in CS jobs at tech companies. According to estimates, non-tech companies now hire a majority of computer science graduates. Increasingly, these employers are demanding that in order for their employees to hit the ground running, they must not only possess computing skills but also be familiar with the industrial sector in which those computing skills are to be applied. So, employers in the healthcare sector (such as Epic) would like to hire graduates who not only know computer programming but are also knowledgeable about healthcare.  Employers in the banking and insurance sector (such as Northwest Mutual) would prefer to hire employees who know computer programming but also know about the fields of business and risk management. Law enforcement and criminal justice agencies would like their new hires to not only possess the computing skills needed to investigate crime in the cyberspace, but also be familiar with criminal justice regulations and practices so that the evidence they produce can be used in a court of law.

Essentially, the non-tech sector employers are demanding that their tech employees possess two different skillsets: computing skills and the knowledge of the industrial sector in which the company works. In a traditional university set up, this would mean that the students would have to double major in computer science and the application discipline, requiring the students to stay in university for five or six years. The additional requirement can only exacerbate the already existing shortage of IT workers around the globe.

A far superior solution is offered by the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s new interdisciplinary CS+X programs that allow students to acquire the twin expertise in four years. This is done by identifying the core of each of the two disciplines: Computer Science and the application discipline (the “X”) to create a core of about 60 credits worth of required courses that the student could complete in four years. The number of required courses in the CS+X programs is higher than what would be required in a traditional computer science program but less than what would be required if the student were to do a double major.

UW-Platteville launched its first two of its CS+X programs in fall 2021. These are: CS+Business and CS+Supply Chain Management. In fall 2022, six more CS+X programs were launched:

  • CS+Computational Biology
  • CS+Chemistry
  • CS+Digital Humanities
  • CS+History
  • CS+Philosophy
  • CS+Psychology

New programs in healthcare, music, and agribusiness are under development for launch in fall 2023.  By offering students a wide variety of options to select from, the CS+X programs are a step towards providing students more control over their curriculum.  Such programs increasingly appeal to students who are interested in pursuing their passion for music, humanities, business, and social sciences, while also acquiring job-ready computing skills that are being demanded by all sectors of industry in the job market of the 21st century.