Masters of Science in Analytics: Big plans for big data

FOR MORE than 100 years, the standard for business education has been the Master’s of Business Administration. For good reason is this blog called Which MBA?: there has been little competition for the programme offered as standard by business schools. But we may soon need a name change. A slew of other master-level degrees—in general management, for example, or accounting—are proving increasingly popular. Another niche option is gaining ground on more traditional degrees: the Master of Science in Analytics, or MSA.

The degree, which focuses on business analytics, has come into vogue as a result of industry lobbying, explains Daniel Wright, dean of the school of business at Villanova University, Pennsylvania. “We have a number of executives visiting our campus who told us a number of years ago there was a need for a different type of graduate degree,” he says. Their wish-list for potential employees included more rigorous statistical knowledge, and more technical teaching of analytics than the traditional MBA provides. The nebulous term “big data” has become a big issue for businesses.

Five years ago, Villanova drew up an initial curriculum, which it honed with the advice of industry. Twenty students entered the programme in 2014, and are set to graduate this May. There were fears that the MSA could cannibalise the school’s MBA programme, but so far this has not been the case. That said, most students applying for the school’s MSA degree do not possess an MBA, indicating that they Villanova may be tapping a new source of candidates. Half the school’s MSA cohort are currently in a business function at their place of employment, and are looking to increase their analytical ability, while half hope to make a mid-career move.

MSA programmes equip students with a toolset, Mr Wright says, including skills that enable them to be more data literate, tackling problems with the support of data and making decisions in the light of such information. Today around 30 schools offer online MSA programmes, according to Pearson, a publishing group. Villanova’s own includes students from a number of backgrounds: though, as would be expected, the highest proportion (around one in every five students) have a financial services background; one in eight are experts in healthcare, and similar proportion come from the technology sector. Villanova initially projected that demand for its MBA programme would outstrip that of its MSA degree. Now, it believes there is likely to be parity between the two class sizes.

Indeed, elements of the MSA curriculum have made their way into the school’s MBA, where students are given an introduction to business analytics. There is a split, believes Mr Wright, between those who take an MBA and those who elect for an MSA. The former is likely to be interpreting the quantitative analysis and modelling that the latter does—and the latter appears increasingly attractive to employers.

“Employers see the value in hiring people with a deep knowledge of analytics,” says Mr Wright. “There’s a need in the market.” Villanova has yet to send any fresh-faced MSAs, aglow with the promise of a newly-earned qualification, out into the harsh world of big business. But employers’ enquiries augur well for the new MSAs: according to Mr Wright, the excitement of his MSA class to enter the employment market is only matched by employers, looking to snag a series of data-savvy business analysts.



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