Study: Data Science Curricula Surges

Big data and data science continues its growth in popularity in the nation’s business schools, according to a survey of more than 200 B-schools released today (February 15). In the survey of 209 admissions officers conducted between August and October of last year, Kaplan Test Prep found 72% of the surveyed schools offer at least one course in “data science or big data,” while another 13% don’t currently offer courses in data science but “are considering offering it.”

Of course, it’s only been a few years since big data and data science began to be adopted on a curricular spectrum at elite B-schools. In 2013, New York University’s Stern School of Business unveiled a master’s degree in business analytics, and in that time schools from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business to business schools at Michigan State, Arizona State University, and the University of Rochester have revamped or announced graduate degrees, undergraduate minors, or MBA emphases in big data. Now, data science is rapidly becoming one of the most popular business majors at universities that offer the degree.

In 2015, Florian Zettelmeyer, marketing professor and director of the Program on Data Analytics at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told Poets&Quants that business schools were essentially dropping the ball if they weren’t providing some sort of business analytics and big data coursework.


Brian Carlidge, executive director of pre-business and pre-graduate programs for Kaplan Test Prep, says the company’s survey shows business schools are indeed rising to meet the demand and talent gap between employers and MBA students.

“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. Our survey finds that many business schools are rising to the challenge to meet this demand,” Carlidge said in a release from Kaplan. “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.”

Those sentiments were voiced by Zettelmeyer back in a separate interview with Poets&Quants in 2014. “Data analytics is a job management problem and a leadership problem,” he told Poets&Quants. It should be taught in every business school “as intensively as today maybe we are teaching marketing or we teach finance.”


The continual growth in demand for data analytics courses also likely stems from a continued reciprocal infatuation between tech companies and MBAs, Carlidge said in an email exchange with P&Q, as well as increasing amounts of computer scientists and engineers pouring into elite MBA programs.

“It’s clear that the nature of today’s MBA is changing,” he said. “While many graduating business school students continue to look at more traditional MBA sectors like finance and consulting, we also know they are looking at the technology sector, in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere. Additionally, technology is a key driver at most companies today, so knowledge of coding and software development can be differentiators in a competitive job market.”

Kaplan also asked business schools about coding and software development courses offered within their curriculum, and only 28% said they offer such courses. Another 9% said they don’t currently offer coding or software development courses but “are considering offering it.” The majority (63%) of responding schools said they don’t offer any courses in coding or software development — and don’t plan to do so in the future.

“Courses offered at business schools or through coding bootcamps won’t make these students expert coders, but it gives them an extra skill set and knowledge base to work with,” Carlidge said. “Our research shows that while about a quarter of business schools offer these kinds of courses, there’s no great rush to do so. It’s something we plan to track.”


Kaplan’s study follows a September survey of corporate recruiters conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) that found that 72% of participating recruiters “plan to hire recent business school graduates this year to fill data analytics positions.” That number is on par with traditional MBA career pathways of marketing (75%) and finance (73%). What’s more, the survey of more than 1,200 employers in six different countries found that 26% said they plan to hire students graduating from specialized master’s in data analytics programs.

According to data from TransparentCareer (formerly TransparentMBA), an MBA-focused career tracker founded by MBAs at Chicago’s Booth School of Business, there are some obvious pros and cons to analytics and data science positions for recent MBA graduates. Most notably, average salaries for recent MBA graduates going into “analytics and data science” functions is a relatively low $105,000. Of the 20 different functions tracked by TransparentCareer, only five — human resources, engineering-software, accounting/audits/tax, sales, and “other” — report smaller average salaries. For reference, the highest average salary goes to consultants at $140,000.

But the salary average isn’t the entire story, says Kevin Marvinac, co-founder of TransparentCareer. “I strongly sense that this is because of the number of MBAs going into roles at growth companies and startups,” Marvinac says of the lower average salaries for analytics and data science functions. “If you look at the companies hiring for this job function, the bigger names are higher salaries more commensurate with the average.” He cites individual starting salaries self-reported to TransparentCareer at Groupon ($115,000), Apple ($125,000), Nike ($120,000), and Capital One ($118,000).

Beyond salaries, MBAs going into data science reported working 43 hours a week — far below the average 55-hour week reported by recent MBA grads. Job satisfaction for data science functions is 6.7 on a 1-to-10 scale, which is about average, Marvinac says.


Anecdotally, Marvinac, who enrolled in Booth’s full-time MBA program in 2015, says he’s seen a rising interest in data science and coding courses at Booth. However, he doesn’t fully believe that the rise “translates to a commensurate increase” in MBAs going into data and analytics roles. “I think it’s much more of a ‘real-world preparation’ thing,” Marvinac says, adding that in his big data course Professor Matt Taddy showed a slide on the first day of class that essentially blew up the “outdated myth” of the MBA managing more technical employees without “true tactical knowledge.”

“I think it’s true in my experience — knowing regressions in and out, knowing errors that can occur from sampling bias, knowing what kinds of questions data science can answer, and how — is so crucial, especially in tech where there is an abundance of data,” Marvinac says.

To be sure, Booth’s version of a big data course is no blow-off elective. Marvinac says he and colleagues worked in the statistical language R (also known as GNU/S) every day. “I remember the TA (teaching assistant) saying that it would be hard even for master’s students in statistics,” Marvinac recalls of the course. “I got a 45% on the midterm and a B in the class. Booth doesn’t pull any punches on the quant side, but I’m much better off for it.” Hiring students with competency in R and other technical skills was mentioned as a priority for employers in the GMAC study referenced above. Marvinac says he knows “plenty of classmates” working at Uber, Amazon, and “cleantech startups” that took the same course and use the skills on a regular basis to “drive MBA-level strategic projects.”


For Marvinac and TransparentCareer co-founder and fellow Boothie Mitch Kirby, the big data course was essential to the foundation of their company. Kirby spent 80 hours a week training himself how to code to build the first version of the platform. Simply being able to speak big data vernacular has made Marvinac’s life easier. “I’ve had conversations with data scientists to work on projects for TransparentCareer and was able to understand and even guide the project instead of just taking their word for it,” he says.

Booth’s application development course, taught by Raghu Betina, has also been important for Marvinac’s company’s early-stage startup growth. “Honestly, it’s the number-one most helpful thing I’ve done in my academic career, because now I know how to think like a developer,” he says of Betina’s course, adding that the technical practicality and hands-on approach to the course, where they actually built apps, was the differentiator.

“I think coding classes — if taught like this and not computer science theory — could and should become required curricula for every MBA,” Marvinac says. “It’s so, so, so important to have some modicum of coding literacy in tech. And even outside of tech, understanding how developers think and products get built is really interesting.”

Brian Carlidge of Kaplan Test Prep also sees a necessary continued growth in the area for B-school curricula.

“We were encouraged that so many MBA programs are recognizing the growing importance that companies place on data science and big data,” Carlidge said. “If business education is to thrive, it’s going to take some new thinking and innovation. From our discussions with business schools, even some of the schools that already have such programs plan on expanding their offerings, though some courses may be elective rather than required.”