Data Science Courses Increasingly Find Their Place in MBA Curriculums

Data Science

Five years ago, MIT Sloan School of Management debuted a new course its professors believed to be the first of its kind. Called “The Analytics Edge,” the course gave students access to large quantities of real data that they could use to hone their analytic skills. “Our focus is on the application and the story, and how to use it in real life,” Allison O’Hair, one of the course’s co-instructors, said as part of a news article on the school’s website at the time. “To our knowledge, this is a new way of teaching … the only class here that teaches analytics through applications. We let students get their hands dirty with real data and applications of analytics.”

The next fall, Kellogg School of Management launched four courses designed to help prepare students to interpret big data and put it to work for their organizations. “We’re moving into a world where managers have to be conversant in analytics and in information technology,” Kellogg Marketing Professor Florian Zettelmeyer told Clear Admit in a 2013 interview.

By 2015, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business had partnered with Accenture to launch a multi-phase initiative designed to position big data squarely within the Haas curriculum. “Today, every company is a technology company, every company is a software company, every company is a data company,” Haas finance and technology lecturer Gregory La Blanc told Clear Admit that year. “To be successful, our students need to know how to navigate the strategic landscape in a world filled with all this data.”

While those schools may have been among the early adopters, the integration of data science and big data courses into MBA curriculums has become widespread. A recent survey by Kaplan Test Prep found that 72 percent of 209 participating business schools offer courses in either data science or big data, and another 13 percent don’t currently offer it but are considering it.

And as well they should, explains Brian Carlidge, Kaplan executive director of pre-business and pre-graduate programs. Because as the line between technology companies and companies that use technology grows increasingly blurred, the demand for business school graduates conversant in data extends well beyond Silicon Valley. “What companies are saying is that many of their current employees, who graduated a decade ago or more, don’t necessarily have these skills, and they’re looking to a new generation of business school graduates who do,” Carlidge says. “Employees who both understand a company’s business goals and understand the data to help them reach those goals will be highly desirable to recruit and hire in the technology-driven workforce.”

Indeed, a desire to bridge this talent gap helped propel Accenture to partner with not only Haas but other business schools as well. “We see a marketplace need for analytically-oriented business leaders who are both able to make decisions grounded in data as well as rethink their organization’s business processes to fully realize the potential of emerging analytical approaches,” Prith Banerjee, managing director of global technology research and development, said in a 2015 interview about the Haas partnership. The consulting firm has also partnered with MIT and other schools.

A 2016 survey of companies by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) found that 72 percent reported plans to hire recent MBA grads to fill data analytics positions. Roughly the same percentage of companies planned to hire graduates for more traditional positions in marketing and finance. The GMAC survey also found that employers said they are seeking employees with strong skill sets in SQL and R, two programs frequently used in data science.

The Kaplan survey of business schools shows that adding software development and coding courses was not viewed as high a priority as adding courses on data science and big data. While 28 percent of business schools currently offer courses in software development or coding and another 9 percent say they don’t currently offer it but are considering it, the majority—63 percent—don’t currently offer it and have no plans to offer it. Haas’s La Blanc suggested two years ago that this was the direction he saw things heading as well, noting that it was already becoming easier for students to handle big data without needing to learn new languages. “Because so many software programs today are so easy to learn—just extensions of Excel—the students don’t have to learn how to code.”

For more on the Kaplan Test Prep survey, click here.

This article has been republished and edited with permissions from Clear Admit.

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