Texas A & M is joining the group of large universities offering professionals a chance to earn a masters’s degree in analytics. But instead of having a program based at its campus in College Station, Texas A & M is holding its classes in downtown Houston to attract working professionals, both in person and online.
On July 26, the Texas A & M University Master of Science in Analytics officially opened to applications. The first class of their first semester of the new program will be Aug. 27 at the Houston CityCentre complex. The M.S. Analytics program will operate out of the statistics department in partnership with the Mays Business School.
While the M.S. Analytics is a brand new program, Texas A & M University has a strong history with statistics. According to Dr. Simon Sheather, head of the statistics department, Texas A & M has the third largest statistics department in the United States, with more than 50 faculty members. In 2007, they started an online master’s program in statistics and admitted 20 students. By 2013 they have over 400 students enrolled in the program.
Texas A & M saw an opportunity to offer a new degree in a field that’s gaining interest. Myra Gonzalez, director of the analytics department, describes the M.S. in Analytics program as a “part-time program for working professionals.” When Sheather and Gonzalez talk about “working professionals,” they have a very specific image in mind.
Sheather explained that the program will not accept any students who don’t have at least three years of work experience. He wants the program to attract professionals who have been identified within their companies as potential leaders. Many programs of this kind, according to Sheather, end in the student leaving their previous employer and finding different work. In contrast, the Texas A & M program is “really designed to cement [the students] to their organization,” Gonzalez says. “When companies are looking to improve or start analytics, we hope they think of us.”
Classes are planned for Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The curriculum is 75 percent statistics and 25 percent business. The students take two courses a semester – one Tuesday and one Thursday – for a total of 36 credit hours earned over five semesters. The classes are paired so that what is learned in one class becomes immediately useful in the other. For instance, a dataset analyzed in a statistics course can be the basis of a report recommending a plan of action in the paired business course. Business and statistics professors plan together before the semester begins to make sure their classes are relevant to each other, using what Sheather calls a “team-based approach to teaching.”
Students are also expected to bring a problem and a dataset from their employer, which they work on over the course of their time in the program. This will become the capstone project for the program.
Every semester, students will also participate in a practicum on what Gonzalez calls “soft skills” such as teamwork and giving presentations. Sheather explained that as part of the soft skills teaching, he plans on bringing in expert facilitators to provide students with individual evaluation-based feedback on how they prefer to work in a team. The MS in Analytics program is intended to train “front room statisticians,” people who know enough about business to know what questions they need to ask and enough about statistics to be able to find the answers in the data. “Their role [within their company] should increase with their knowledge,” says Sheather.
Sheather intends for the students to be “applying their learning directly to what matters to them.” According to Sheather, the students will not spend any time on datasets manufactured for teaching. Instead, he has arranged for real-world datasets from real companies. These include all of the information from the PGA Tour since 2004, a 10 percent sample of air travel data provided by the Department of Transportation, as well as data on personal loans, predicted defaults, and corporate mergers.
“It’s not like we’re going to give them [the students] the back of the envelope example. We want to give them the big complex example,” Sheather says.
The analytics program also plans to have a large number of online students. These students would attend classes live via their computers and “raise their virtual hand and participate,” according to Sheather. The online students will be part of the same classes as the students physically attending the school and will be able to interact in real-time with the faculty and other students. Due to time zone restrictions, online spots are reserved for people in the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
- Program designed for working professionals is part time with both in-person and online options available.
- Classes to be held in Houston at the Citycentre complex.
- Planning to start in the Fall 2013 semester with 20 students. Growth plans call for 100 students in three to four years.
- Program includes eight required courses, two electives, a practicum spread over three semesters on developing skills in project management, data privacy and security, team work, communications and presentations.
- Includes capstone project to be completed over two semesters.
- Tuition is $50,000, ($10,000 per semester)
- While program offered in conjunction with Mays Business School, M.S. in Analytics degree awarded by Texas A & M University Department of Statistics.
- Classes meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 to 9:30 p.m.
- 5 semesters, 36 credit hours
- University provides laptops and hotel rooms for traveling students.