Some heartening news on the tech front: Enrollment in undergraduate computer science and engineering programs is up in the U.S. and Canada for the first time since the dot-com bust.

The number of students majoring in computer science was up 8 percent in the 2007-2008 academic year over the previous one, according to data collected by the Computing Research Association (CRA) from departments at 192 universities. The trend marks the first time total enrollment increased in six years.

"The upward surge of student interest is real and bigger than anyone expected" Peter Lee, the industry group’s incoming chair, told the association's Computing Research Policy Blog. "The fact that computer science graduates usually find themselves in high-paying jobs accounts for part of the reversal. Increasingly students also are attracted to the intellectual depth and societal benefits of computing technology."

Citing Department of Labor figures, CRA’s blog notes that comp sci grads on average earn 13 percent more than other science graduates (at the bachelor's degree level in 2006, engineers made a median $52,000 annually, and computer scientists $45,000, compared to $39,000 for other science fields). Computer software engineering is projected to be the fourth-fastest growing occupation through 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The perception that IT jobs are hard to come by is over, and the field is now considered an interesting place to be," Peter Harsha, director of government affairs for CRA, told USA Today. He added that the iPhone and YouTube, which are popular among teens, will probably help push up enrollment figures next year, as well.

We noted in January that 85 percent of teens and tweens say they’re interested in science, tech, engineering and math, according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, an annual survey. Still, two-thirds said they’d pursue other professions.

CRA says that computer science is still dominated by white men: about two-thirds of U.S. bachelor's degrees in the field were awarded to whites in the 2007-2008 academic year and just 12 percent to women.

Image © iStockphoto/Andrey Prokhorov