After the successful launch of the master’s level business data analytics program at West Virginia University, the program has already expanded to meet the needs of students to also offer a two-year option.
With one year under its belt, overwhelming interest, global demand for qualified data analysts and a market growing hungrier by the minute to turn a lot of data into advantages for business, WVU’s College of Business and Economics was quick to respond. After introducing one of the first online, master’s level data analytics programs, the program enters only its second year. Students interested in the Master of Science in Business Data Analytics program will now have a choice of completing the program in one or two years. And choices are good.
“In some cases, the students want to immerse themselves in a full deep dive into BUDA and run really hard with it, finishing up in a year. In other cases, students have many outside activities, such as family and work or travel, that make it too challenging to do a brute force, one-year approach, and that is why we offer this flexibility,” said Virginia Kleist, professor and one of the architects of the MS Business Data Analytics Program, and chair of B&E’s Management Information Systems department. “We have a variety of student backgrounds and this flexibility allows students to fit the program to their needs in terms of outside responsibilities. We have found an almost even split between the students who choose the one-year and students who choose the two-year program.”
Brad Price, assistant professor and another co-builder of the BUDA program, said the options are designed to help students based upon their own situations.
“One of the benefits of online education is that students are able to work remotely without having to leave the workforce to attend on-campus programs. Our two-year option allows students who have intense work and life responsibilities the flexibility to pursue a master’s degree in a field with great growth potential. It allows students an opportunity to impact their career in a positive way, while maintaining a work-life balance and income,” Price said.
And to say there is great growth potential in the data analytics field may be an understatement. Kleist said that after some industry leaders looked at the WVU curriculum, they wanted to hire the students — before the program began.
“Visiting employers wanted to hire our students before they began the program. We also have several companies who are paying for their employees to be students in our program, using the “grow your own data analyst” approach because these types of employees are so hard to find.”
Price said now is a great time to be in the field, and a great time to get a data analytics degree from WVU.
“The market right now for data analytics professionals is outstanding,” he said. “Students who bring real skills and experience to the job market are extremely competitive at the top companies. Many organizations are figuring out their analytics culture, and how analytics can impact their businesses. We’ve seen students go to small, mid-size and large firms this year. We’ve had students get promotions or get consulting contracts from the skills they’ve developed. We’ve seen placement or promotions in industries such a defense contracting, banking, pharmaceutical and many more. The skills that analytics professionals bring to the market are in high demand.”
The program is a hybrid that combines an online learning environment with a few on-campus residencies, each consisting of two to three days. The first graduating class stressed that many components of the program interested them from the start: accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, viewed as the international “gold standard” for business schools; in-state/out-of-state tuition parity; and a strong commitment from B&E’s Center for Career Development. Add to that a recent ranking by U.S. News & World Report and the program is again off to the races.
Both professors said the program’s first year was incredibly successful and laid the foundation for adding more program options, more classes and more students. The inaugural class included an interesting mix of individuals; the majority of whom had ties to West Virginia or WVU, but also included participants from three different time zones.
“I think our first year was exceptional,” Price said. “We had a first-class group of students with various backgrounds enter our inaugural program, and they showed throughout the year that the curriculum we’ve designed works. We use a mix of industry standard and cutting-edge technologies focusing on communication and critical thinking that allows our students to impact businesses and decisions that executives make with data.
“Our success can really be defined by the results of the students’ capstone projects and their placement. As the final part of their capstone project this past July, our students presented the findings of their year-long projects to executives and upper management of five different organizations, and they thrilled each of the project sponsors with their findings and presentations. Company executives raved about these projects, the maturity of our students in the field and their professional manner. We’ve shown that the type of program we offer uses industry standard tools and gives students access to an internal, teaching-specific Hadoop cluster that allows students to use the tools that are on the cutting edge of the field.
“All of this combined has led to an outstanding level of placement this year with our students that we hope to replicate every year,” Price said. “These programs are never static and we will continue to evolve and ensure we provide an elite student experience.”
Kleist and Price agreed that data analytics is the new business model, in that data is now a bigger driver for corporate decisions than ever before. That puts qualified candidates in high demand. WVU’s program is currently accepting applications for Fall 2018.
“I think that the most outstanding aspect of our program is that we offer our own internal experiential learning environment,” Kleist said. “Our students not only learn databases, big data statistics, modeling, data visualization, data analysis and interpretation, but they do so while working on cutting edge, open source-based platforms that they will see in major corporations everywhere. This is a for-real, deep dive. If you are looking for a soft program, we won’t be your best fit. But in the end, you’ll be qualified to take the industry by storm.”
CONTACT: Patrick Gregg, WVU College of Business and
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