UW Board of Regents approves new data program

Jessica Johnson

University of Wisconsin Board of Regents approved a new 36-credit Online Master of Science in Data Science Program to be offered to graduate students throughout the University of Wisconsin-Extension program, and will likely launch in September 2015. According to a press release from UW-Extension, the online master’s degree in data science is a partnership between UW-Extension, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Green Bay, UW-La Crosse, UW Oshkosh, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Superior. The press release said the program will offer a variety of courses focused in computer science, math and statistics, and management and communication. A bachelor’s degree and a 3.0 GPA are required. In the UW-Extension press release, David Schejbal, dean of UW-Extension’s Division of Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning, said the world in data is developing at a fast and alarming rate. “In Wisconsin and across the country, employers in most industries are in great need of skilled professionals with the ability to transform big data into actionable insights,” Schejbal said. Schejbal said UW-Extension is excited to offer a new online degree program aimed at creating tomorrow’s data science leaders. Assistant Dean of the UW-Extension George Kroeninger said the degree program is designed to target working adults and non-traditional students who are looking to further their degrees. “This program is meant for adults in the workforce who find themselves in a position where they want to expand their knowledge, specialize their skills or advance their careers,” Kroeninger said. Schejbal said the online science data program is a great option for working adults, and the course content will be provided by reputable UW faculty. “Their expertise, combined with UW-Extension CEOEL’s award-winning instructional and media design, will ensure a rich, flexible and engaging educational experience that prepares students for success in data science and analytics careers,” Schejbal said. According to Kroeninger, the idea for the new program started two years ago, and now the final hurdle is securing the Higher Learning Commission approval and the regional approval to offer the degree. Kroeninger said this program started with an idea to identify whether there is a defined need for a degree in data science, and then it progressed into general research through an external research firm. “We also brought in industry contacts who work in this field to provide us input on what the degree should look like, what the need is for the degree, what discipline should be involved and what the key competencies are that should be built into the degree,” Kroeninger said. Kroeninger said the programs from UW-Extension function more like an enterprise and are not affected by the UW System budget cuts because they are not dependent on money from the UW System. “We are almost fully supported through program revenue, so the revenues that we [receive] through programs like this basically support any and all costs connected with the program,” Kroeninger said. Dean of Graduate Studies Susan Cramer said the new data science program will be a fantastic opportunity to serve new graduate students both in Wisconsin, as well as nationally and internationally. “We are in the era of big data so knowing how to collect, analyze and then utilize data is a critical skill,” Cramer said. “The program will also include the legal and ethical use of data, which is an important facet of big data.” According to Cramer, graduate programs are an economic engine for the region in which the graduate students live in. “Because the graduate students gain new skills and ways of approaching problems and new opportunities, they are able to help serve their businesses to be more competitive in the global and local marketplace,” Cramer said. According to UWO’s Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement Assistant Vice Chancellor Karen Heikel, this new degree is important because it offers training in an area that will only continue to grow. “Data is used by all sectors of our economy,” Heikel said. “Organizations of all types must know what kind of data to collect, how to collect it, interpret it, communicate it and plan for its impact.” Cramer said graduate programs such as the new online degree in data science serve as a private good as people with graduate degrees tend to earn higher salaries, be unemployed for a shorter duration of time and be more satisfied with their careers.