Data Analytics: Hottest Business Major?

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Information systems was once a relatively sleepy undergraduate major at the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, despite being taught by a sophisticated team of professors with expertise in applied mathematics, computer science and engineering. That all changed a few years ago when Nick Street, the chair of the school’s management sciences department, and his colleagues realized they were sitting on top of a huge untapped opportunity.

They were already experts at teaching students how to mine data to make business decisions, and companies were increasingly telling them they wanted undergraduate students with expertise in this hot area. Street responded by adding a new track in business analytics to the major in 2013, offering students the chance to graduate with a Business Analytics and Information Systems degree.

“This whole big data thing is relatively new, and everyone is recognizing the value of all this data we’ve all been collecting,” Street says. “We saw this as a coming trend. You can’t go anywhere without having someone say ‘big data’ these days. The hype has been fairly ridiculous.”


Tippie's Nick Street heads up a data analytics effort

Tippie’s Nick Street heads up a data analytics effort

The addition of the business analytics track has turned out to be a smart strategic move for the school. In the first year, about 70 students signed up for the revamped major, and enrollment has nearly quadrupled three years later. Even more encouraging, the placement rate for students who graduated from the program has been 100% or close to 100% every year for the last three years.

“There are a lot of good entry-level positions out there, and there is a need for this talent,” Street says. “Nobody was filling it, at least not in our markets. Companies are snatching up our students.”

Over the last few years, a bevvy of programs in business analytics and data analytics have popped up at top business schools across the country, driven by the rise of big data and a growing need for people with deep expertise in crunching the massive amount of information generated today by companies. Now undergraduate business programs are starting to follow suit, with a growing number of them offering majors and minors in the topic. MIT Sloan revamped its undergraduate curriculum last fall to include a new major in business analytics, and other undergraduate business schools such as Tippie, the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business and Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business are introducing majors, co-majors or minors in the subjects.


The schools are bringing the subject into undergraduate classrooms at a time when the market is clamoring for students with expertise in this area. More and more companies are collecting large amounts of data because storage is relatively cheap, and they are increasingly reliant on business analytics to gain an edge over their competitors or to simply remain afloat in the market.

According to a study by McKinsey & Company, the U.S. could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with “deep analytical skills” by 2018 as well a 1.5 million shortage in managers and analysts who know how to use big data effectively.  Another study by the International Data Corporation, a market research, analysis and advisory firm, estimates that by 2018 there will be a need in the market for 181,000 people with deep analytical skills, and five times that many positions requiring skills in data management and interpretation skills.

Undergraduate business schools are starting to respond to this marketplace need. For example, Ohio State’s Fisher College introduced a minor in business analytics for the first time this year, hoping to expose students to the subject through a fast five-course sequence intended to train students how to do data analysis through the lens of R, the leading programming language in statistics and data science.

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