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University mulls new program

BY BENJAMIN TOWAR | FEBRUARY 03, 2015 5:00 AM

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A new graduate degree reflecting the local and national demand for business analytics may be coming soon to the University of Iowa.

On Wednesday, the state Board of Regents’ Education Committee will decide whether to back a the creation of a business-analytics and information-systems master’s program for the regents.

“We think that we’ve given a very nice proposal to them … and I know that companies around here need it, so I’m very hopeful,” said Samuel Burer, a UI professor of management sciences.

As early as the summer of 2013, Burer said, he and his colleagues developed the program as an expansion of the existing business-analytics certification program offered at the Tippie College of Business.

Business analytics, at a glance, is the mastery of sorting through large quantities of “big data” for correlations, which could then in turn make predictions, Burer said.

The program is expected to cost $220,040 for advertising, new faculty, and a half-time staff member in the first year; the cost would increase to $380,230 by the seventh year, Graduate College Dean John Keller said.

The program is expected to eventually be self-sustaining, with a planned initial enrollment of 20 students to increase to 50 by the seventh year.

The concept of big data was brought to popular public attention after the release of Moneyball in 2011, said Nick Street, the UI executive officer of management sciences. The film depicts statistics and data as the deciding factor in the real-life building of the Oakland A’s baseball team.

The proposal was submitted to the regents late last week. Coupled with Iowa’s proposal was a similar business-analytics program proposed by Iowa State University.

The two universities purposefully submitted the requests in tandem, Burer said. The proposed programs are designed to be cooperative with each other, in which some classes can be credited between the two schools for the students’ convenience.

The program is proposed to comprise five core classes, four electives, and one capstone-final course. The courses are open to anyone who meets the initial enrollment requirements.

While the two schools share syllabi, the two differ in the program format. Iowa State’s program relies heavily on online courses, while the UI conducts the majority of its classes on a face-to-face basis with instructors.

“We saw this coming,” Street said. “We always had experts in the College of Business that coalesce to this word ‘analytics.’ It was what we all were doing, anyway.”

Recently, the Graduate College’s enrollment rate has declined, leaving the school needing to bring the rate up to its former numbers. The enrollment numbers have declined by more than 700 since 2009.

The proposed career-oriented program, while not engineered toward the problem, is leaving many faculty members optimistic that business analytics could bring more graduate students to Iowa.

“We’ve been hearing from local employers that they really want this skillset,” Street said. “[The Graduate College] was happy and supportive of the program, but it’s not connected to the university’s desire to grow.”

Northwestern University and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities offer graduate programs in the field of business analytics.

However, as pointed out by Burer, each school runs its program differently, which is why many business-school faculty members convey their optimism about the UI’s program. Should the program be approved, the experience gleaned from other Big Ten schools could be what catapults the UI into the forefront of business analytics.

While talking to a potential students considering the UI, Street referred to the proposed program with optimism.

“We want this program to be the differentiator for the college over Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota,” he said.


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