University of Illinois at Chicago can’t often claim bragging rights over its bigger sibling downstate, certainly not when it comes to tech. But enrollment in UIC’s computer science department has grown twice as fast as in Urbana-Champaign over the past five years. The latter is twice as big at 1,686 students. But there’s no denying the boom at UIC.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” says UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis. “We’re fighting over closet space.”
U of I’s board of trustees just gave final approval to build a $34 million building on Taylor Street for 50,000 square feet of new labs and office space for the College of Engineering. It’s the first new academic building on the main campus since 1991.
The university has even bigger plans for computer science, which became the largest major in the College of Engineering this year and is the fastest-growing program on campus. Peter Nelson, the college’s dean, wants to build a 168,000-square-foot home for computer science by 2021. Preliminary drawings are done, and he is working donors and alumni to raise $15 million for a building with an expected $68 million price tag.
If he can get the new buildings, Nelson says UIC’s engineering enrollment could grow to 6,500 from about 4,500 today. In 2005, the program had just 2,600; the first class of engineering graduates from UIC in 1968 totaled 75. “The demand is there,” Nelson says.
It’s remarkable that UIC is talking about building anything, given the financial condition of the state, which has $13 billion in overdue bills and hasn’t passed a complete budget in nearly two years. But the irresistible force that is demand for computer science talent is greater than the immovable object that is political gridlock.
Nationally, undergraduate computer science enrollment more than tripled between 2006 and 2015, estimates the Computer Research Association. UIC’s enrollment nearly quadrupled, rising by 292 percent, compared…