Grad schools add big-data degrees

Master's degree programs in analytics emerge amid projections of a talent shortage -- and in response to lobbying by big companies.

Colleges and universities are moving swiftly to create advanced degree programs to help meet what's expected to be rapidly rising demand among employers for specialists who can manage and analyze big data.

The schools are likely aware of a McKinsey report warning of a mega-shortage of analytical experts that could leave as many as 190,000 positions unfilled by 2018. They're also responding to appeals from big employers like IBM and SAS Institute that have been lobbying college administrators to set up such programs.

Schools have offered analytics training for years, but the emerging advanced degree programs add instruction in the use of analytic and business intelligence tools to produce useful information from petabytes of data collected from social media sites, sensors, transaction records, mobile applications and other sources.

A common element of all of the newer programs is that they're designed for students with strong quantitative skills gained either academically or through work experience in fields related to math, computer science, engineering, life sciences or finance.

The McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas will launch a master of science in business analytics program in the fall of 2013. "There is a lot of demand for people who can say something meaningful about the data that is accumulating," said Prabhudev Konana, chairman of the university's Department of Information, Risk and Operations Management.

The university plans to begin the 11-month, full-time program with 50 students, but it expects the number of applicants to be significantly higher.

Based on inquiries so far, "getting 50 [students] is not going to be the issue; figuring out where we want to cap it might be the bigger issue," said program director Michael Hasler.

North Carolina State University launched what may have been the nation's first advanced degree program in analytics in 2007, and the school recently finished expanding its facilities to meet surging demand. The program's class of 2013 has 84 students who were selected from a pool of 272 applicants.

North Carolina State said each of the 38 students that completed the program this year received a job offer. The average base salary was $89,100 overall, and $100,100 for students with prior job experience. Moreover, 60% of the students received signing bonuses that averaged $16,000, the school reported.

Meanwhile, Northwestern University last month launched a new 15-month, full-time master of science in analytics program, said Chris Bray, assistant director of the program.

One-third of the 32 students in the Northwestern program enrolled directly from undergraduate programs, another third have one to five years of work experience, and the remainder have five to 10 years of experience. The median age of students is 27, said Bray.

Noting that the program was developed with the help of IBM, Bray said the curriculum covers IT, data science and business, to teach students to analyze data and "communicate the value of it."

Similar graduate programs are in the works at New York University's Stern School of Business, the Dearborn College of Business at the University of Michigan and Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

Louisiana State University last month announced that it's collaborating with SAS, a maker of business analytics tools, to create a master of science in analytics program. LSU said nine students completed a pilot analytics program offered during the previous academic year, and each student got a job within weeks of graduation.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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