At Cleveland State University, the College of Engineering administers the computer science program, while the College of Business manages the information systems program. For international students choosing between two digitally focused degree programs, this may seem like a subtle difference. However, it is actually a helpful guide, indicating two particular approaches to similar majors.
“When I’m talking with students about whether they are more aligned interest-wise with computer science (CS) or info systems (IS), I always ask them if they are more concerned about the process, which is CS, or the user, which is IS,” said Dr. Sarah West, Cleveland State Global academic coordinator.* “There’s definitely an overlap between the two disciplines, but how they work with data and technology is just different.”
So, what are the differences between computer science and information systems, and which program is right for you? Let’s compare the programs at Cleveland State University.
What Is Computer Science?
Students in the computer science (CS) program at the Washkewicz College of Engineering at Cleveland State are interested in computing’s theoretical and mathematical foundations. They study software, hardware, networks, and systems. They want to drive innovation through cutting-edge digital technologies, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics. In other words, computer science students at Cleveland State are preparing to become engineers of software, applications, and more.
“We have a group of students who have done a terrific job of thinking about the long view of their career and where their talents and gifts are,” said Dr. West. “And if they’re mathematically inclined or engineering inclined, computer science is a nice bridge because it’s got … theory, but it has immense practical value.”
A computer science student at Cleveland State is more interested in discovering the next technological breakthrough than finding business applications for disruptive technologies or marketing solutions. CS classes cover algorithms, programming, and numerical analysts’ theoretical applications to find creative ways to put data to use.
“I tell the students that—organizationally from a university standpoint in higher education — every department needs a good computer scientist because we’re always worried about data,” said Dr. West. “We’re always trying to collect and capture the appropriate data at the appropriate times, and we need to be able to connect that data to our decision-making process. We need computer scientists to help us figure out how.”
What Will I Learn as a Computer Science Student?
Undergraduate students at Cleveland State take several mathematics and engineering courses as prerequisites to a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (BSCS). General education engineering and math courses, such as Introduction to Engineering Design and Calculus I, respectively, are common first-year courses for undergrads. As students move toward graduation, classes progress in difficulty and subject matter to cover data structures, system software, operating systems, computer architecture, and more.
International students with a computer science undergraduate degree, or an interest in pursuing computer science at the graduate level, have many different specializations at Cleveland State to choose from, including:
Computer science majors and graduates with master’s degrees in computer science find work as programmers, software developers, and database administrators, among other digital careers. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for computer and information research scientists is more than $120,000 annually.
Computer science graduates in the United States have better job prospects than many other industries, even after the global pandemic. According to a recent global McKinsey Report, 66% of senior executives interviewed plan to increase investment in advanced digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation post-COVID-19.
What Is Information Systems?
Students in the information systems (IS) program hosted by the Monte Ahuja College of Business at Cleveland State are interested in managing information technology services, systems, and digital infrastructure.
An IS student at Cleveland State is less interested in the theory and math behind computing and more interested in the practical application of technology to solve real business problems. IS students care about the user — about efficiency, value, and strategy — and are more interested in management career tracks.
“If the student wants to code, and they’re sure, then that’s computer science, 100%,” said Dr. West. “But if they think about themselves moving into management — a leadership position — or want to work more with users or lead a team, then that might be info systems.”
What Will I Learn as an Information Systems Student?
Undergrads in the IS program at Cleveland State are studying for their Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in Information Systems degree. They begin their studies with core business courses, such as World of Business, and technology-focused courses, such as Fundamentals of Systems Development.
As students progress toward their degrees, they take more advanced courses to better understand real hardware, application, and software problems faced by 21st-century enterprises and organizations. Students develop skills in system analytics, data communication, project management, and traffic analytics.
Cleveland State offers two master’s degree options for students interested in information systems: a master’s of science in IS and an MBA with an IS concentration. The MS focuses more on technology at the intersection of business, whereas the MBA is a business school course with a nine-credit concentration in information systems. The master’s program is suited for a future enterprise technology leader or even the chief technology officer (CTO) of an organization, while the MBA may be better for a product manager or chief executive officer.
“IS students at the graduate level can take computer science electives, but they can also take electives that are housed within different departments in the college of business,” said Dr. West. “So, if we had a student who already had operations knowledge and wanted to pursue supply chain management, then that’s a course that they could take in their MIS program. If there’s a student who came from business school and had some foundational knowledge in accounting, they can take the advanced accounting course at the graduate level.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates of information systems enjoy many of the same employment prospects as computer science majors. That’s because many career paths overlap, with many jobholders coming from both backgrounds.
The Cleveland State University Difference
For students struggling to decide between info systems and computer science, Dr. West and her team from Cleveland State Global can help — even before they arrive on campus. The CS Global team hosts Zoom calls with students who are still back home to discuss the curriculum, the student’s interests, and whether the career path seems right for them.
“I like to have the discussion about program changes [early on], because it’s disruptive for a student,” said Dr. West. “This way, any adjustments can be made when the students are still in their home country. There’s no missed opportunity to connect with faculty. We have had students who scheduled meetings with us every week over the summer, but usually once we handle the academics, everything else falls nicely into place.”
The Cleveland State Global team researches each prospective student, looking for ways to build trust and help them discern the best program for their career aspirations. Part of that process is finding preparatory education programs that incoming students attend, and see if any current Cleveland State students or alumni can offer outreach with real, candid advice and opinions.
“We do analysis that tells us, for instance, that we have 14 students from Hyderabad, four from Chennai, and 24 students from Mumbai. We map out these geographic hubs and put prospective students in touch with current Cleveland State students who went to the same high school or [similar programs],” said Dr. West. “It provides that opportunity to reconnect.”
Older students or graduate students become informal mentors to the younger students. It’s amazing and really essential to building trust and learning candidly about the school.” – Dr. Sarah West, Cleveland State Global academic coordinator
Students in the computer science program at Cleveland State earn their degrees from one of the top-200 engineering schools in the nation and have access to exciting professional work and internship opportunities, with many employers close by. Cleveland is home to eight Fortune 500 companies, as well as NASA’s John H. Glenn Research Center, which generates more than $700 million in economic activity.
“We open doors for international students. If you work for several years and you want to do a startup, there [are] ways to do that. If you want to go back and get your PhD, there [are] ways to do that. Having the conversation about choice is really important. They need to know they can frame out their lives the way that they want,” said Dr. West. “They have the power.”
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*Sarah West is no longer at CSU Global. All titles were accurate at time of publication.