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August 12, 2014

Masters of Big Data: New Graduate Programs Debut at U.S. Universities

Alex Woodie

This fall, thousands of budding data scientists around the country will begin their march toward advanced degrees–and the near certainty of multiple job offers upon graduation. At least seven new graduate-level programs are set to fire up at colleges and universities around the country, while a handful of new undergraduate programs are also popping up to give data scientists a head start on their schooling.

The demand for data scientists remains extremely high as companies across all industries race to retool their business processes using data science and big data analytics. Top universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and North Carolina State have been churning out data scientists for years. But the demand of available data scientists far outstrips supply, which has created a sort of arms race among universities to ramp up data science programs quickly.

The University of California, Berkeley, has long been at the epicenter of data analytics, if not computer science as a whole. It is, after all, the home of the AMPLab, which gave the big data world technologies such as Apache Spark and Mesos, and numerous Cal alumni have gone on to found data analytic software vendors. This fall, Cal will take a crack at creating the next generation of data scientists through its new the Master of Information and Data Science program. The 27-unit calprogram at Cal will be hosted entirely online, making it the only program of its kind in the country, Cal professor Ray Larson said earlier this year in a story in The Daily Californian. Previously, the only master’s level data science program Cal offered was a Master of Engineering with a concentration in Data Science.

Further south, the University of Southern California is set to begin classroom instruction for its new Master of Science in Business Analytics. As we wrote about earlier this year, the USC’s Marshall School of Business will combine business aspects of big data technology with training in the “hard” sciences, including math, statistics, and programming, with the goal of minting data scientists with the right mix of skills necessary to be successful in private industry.

In the Midwest, Indiana University is also taking the online approach with new graduate-level certificate program in data science that’s beginning during the fall semester. The 12-unit course will cost $4,500, and feature courses in cloud computing, data management, and data analysis.

TheUofC University of Chicago is gearing up to start its Master of Science in Computational Analysis and Public Policy (CAPP) this fall. The two-year program will be co-administered by the university’s Harris School of Public Policy and its computer science department, and will focus on big data analytics from technology and public policy perspectives.

Case Western Reserve University, which is based in Cleveland, Ohio, is launching a new bachelor’s program in data science this fall. The new program, which is taking curricula cues from IBM‘s Academic Initiative, is specifically geared toward undergraduates. “Most programs so far have been in the graduate and professional-education area,” said William “Bud” Baeslack, a provost at Case Western, told Fortune earlier this year. “We’re expecting large numbers of students” inOSU_logo the undergraduate program.

This fall also marks the start of a new bachelor’s program in data analytics at Ohio State University, based in Columbus. The interdisciplinary major will combine courses from the computer science, engineering, statistics, business, and arts and sciences departments, and is one of the first programs of its kind in the nation. “This has been a response to a strongly-articulated need,” math professor and college dean Peter March says in an story.

Several big graduate-level programs are set to start back east.

George Mason University, located near Washington D.C., is expanding its bachelor’s level data science programs and offering a Master of Science in Computational Science degree. The 30-unit course, which begins on the college’s Virginia campus this fall, will familiarize students in areas of applied analytics, data mining, digital forensics, predictive analytics, and statistics, and will aim at preparing students for big data jobs in finance, marketing, and operations.

GMU_logoThe refreshed MS program will be offered alongside a Ph.D-level data science program that has been in place for more than 20 years, says GMU professor Dr. Kirk Borne. “The MS program has been under-utilized, so we have retooled it to provide opportunities for students to get the MS in any one of 3 concentration areas: Data Science, or Transportation Safety, or Modeling & Simulation,” the astrophysicist/data scientist tells Datanami. “The outlook for data scientists’ employment is very rosy indeed! The 2012 McKinsey report provided one of the major forecasts about this employment situation, but the job employment sites clearly reflect the trend: many more jobs exist than available applicants.”

Professors and college deans at the University of Virginia have been busy putting a graduate-level big data program together since plans were announced in November 2012. Earlier this summer, its Big Data Institute began an 11-month master’s program in data science. The program, which costs about $25,000 for residents of the commonwealth, includes courses taught by professors from the computer science, statistics, and engineering departments.

Columbia University is also taking a multi-disciplinary approach with its Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, which also launched two years. This fall, the ISDE will launch a master’s degree program to go along with a certification program unveiled in the fall of 2013. The big data expectations for the New York City-area school are high. Columbia hired 75 staff to man the ISDE when it launched in June 2012 with a $15 million grant from the city’s Applied Sciences NYC Initiative. Then-mayor Michael Bloomberg said he expected the institute to generate $4 billion in economic activity over the columbia_institutenext 30 years and help create more than 4,500 jobs.

Over in New Jersey, R, SAS, and Weka will be among the topics covered in Saint Peter’s University‘s new 36-unit Master of Science in Data Science with a concentration in Business Analytics program. The university will closely follow curriculum established Oracle; classes start this fall.

Finally, the inaugural class for Worcester Polytechnic Institute‘s Master’s of Data Science degree is also set to start soon. The Massachusetts school’s program will cut across applied mathematics, statistics, and Internet technology, and will be influenced by IBM‘s Academic Initiative. WPI was one of 28 business schools and universities that signed up with Big Blue to further data science curriculum.

For a good resource on the availability of master’s- and Ph.D-level data science programs around the U.S., check out

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