The new admission changes come following a mental health town hall last year. JACKY LAI/THE VARSITY

U of T’s Department of Computer Science has announced changes to its program admissions for first-year students, following complaints that the previous admissions system was too competitive. The department plans to increase places in the program by 10 per cent and introduce two new required first-year courses: CSC110 — Foundations of Computer Science, and CSC111 — Foundations of Computer Science II. If students meet the set required marks for these classes, they will all be admitted into a computer science program.

These changes to the Computer Science Admission Category (CMP1) will constitute what the department calls “a new first-year experience” as it attempts to “improve student well-being.” The new CMP1 admission category will be available to students applying from high school for the 2020–2021 academic year. The department anticipates that these changes “will eliminate competition among CMP1 students.”

At a mental health town hall last spring, held following multiple student deaths at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology — a computer science hub — the department announced that it planned to make changes to the program admissions. This announcement was made amidst complaints that the existing system was too competitive and was fostering an unhealthy environment. Before the changes, admissions to computer science programs were based solely on average marks for required courses. The median average of those accepted to computer science specialist and major programs rose from 78.5 per cent in 2014 to 89.2 per cent in 2018. In addition, the number of students applying for a computer science program rose from 537 to 981 applicants in the same four years. The program requirements will remain the same for students not admitted to the CMP1 category.

CMP1 students will be guaranteed admission to the computer science minor, major, or specialist programs, provided they meet the requirements. The department expects that the “vast majority” of CMP1 will be admitted to a computer science program. However, the department also plans to accept fewer students from high school into the computer science stream.

Currently, the capacity for computer science majors and specialists is 550 students per year.

“We expect the first-year experience to be less stressful for students in the first-year CS admission category,” wrote Professor Michelle Craig, the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Computer Science, to The Varsity. “We hope that this will develop into a strong first-year cohort and that this will lead to a stronger undergraduate computer science community.”

Shahin Imtiaz, a mental health activist and a computer science student, expressed that she was hesitant to accept the changes as good news.

“The field of computer science has been growing massively, [and] the responsibility lies on the university’s shoulders to foster an inclusive and nurturing environment for incoming students keeping this in mind,” she wrote to The Varsity. “There is certainly still a lot left to be done with regards to that.”

Editor’s Note (January 26, 12:14 pm): This article has been updated to attribute a quote to Michelle Craig.

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