Big Data Drawing Big Student Enrollments

Big Data

How does Netflix recommend TV shows and movies for you? How does the Center for Disease Control predict the spread of infectious diseases? Why does my computer now only display ads for MBA programs? What are the most dangerous intersections for a cyclist in Los Angeles?

All of these questions can be answered by some (relatively) simple big data analysis. Business analytics and big data analysis courses are popping up at MBA programs at a frenzied pace. Florian Zettelmeyer, a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, has been pondering the implications for a decade.

When Zettelmeyer was at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Harrah’s casino chain was just starting to dabble in using big data to make c-suite decisions. At the time, Harrah’s had 29 casinos across the country with 29 different managers. The problem was establishing a new incentives program to get people in the doors. They were examining data from each casino as a whole. The adoption of big data analysis allowed them to examine each individual customer and their actions once inside the doors, switching the central value from the actual casino to the patrons. Management could make better decisions for their individual casinos instead of an over-arching decision with little specificity or relevance. Scary, huh?


Big data is old news for statisticians, engineers, and (obviously) data analysts. But the reason it is increasingly essential to an MBA education is what Zettelmeyer labels as the core philosophical idea. And a wealth of business schools have jumped on this bandwagon, offering majors and minors in the field within their traditional MBA programs or MS degrees in business analytics. The programs range from online offerings, such as Indiana University’s Kelley School MS in Business Analytics for just $36,000 to a concentration in it at such schools as the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business or NYU’s Stern School.

“Data analytics is a job management problem and a leadership problem,” Zettelmeyer says. “An MBA program should help answer the question, what do you need to be effective as a manager in the current business environment? Right now, being a good leader means possessing at least a working knowledge of data science.”

Zettelmeyer’s main point is it is a leader’s job to strategically decide which problems should be examined through the data. Once the problem is identified, someone has to interpret the data. Interpreting for interpreting’s sake can produce some intriguing insights, but is largely unhelpful unless there is a calculated problem to be solved. Zettelmeyer teaches all of his courses in a problem-solution format. That is, what is the problem? And how is data mining and analysis going to bring a solution?

According to Zettelmeyer, managers need to combine data with intuition to make decisions. More importantly, they have to know what they are seeing. Then, they need to communicate the data in persuasive ways. And so the Kellogg curriculum was forged from the stone of Bay Area entrepreneurship and Big Tech. Kellogg professor, Brian Uzzi teaches multiple classes focusing on social implications of analytics and has helped shape Kellogg’s evolving curriculum alongside Zettelmeyer and other faculty members. Two years ago, the faculty members drafted initial curriculum, gathering a list of Kellogg alumni in the Bay Area and then connecting with the Silicon Valley tech giants. The faculty gave course descriptions and syllabi to execs from Facebook and others, gathered feedback, filled holes in what the companies felt the needs really were, and finished the curriculum.

“We prepare students to understand customer to customer dynamics,” Uzzi says. “We train them to be able to pull data from Twitter API and do a marketing analysis. By the end of one class period, our students can do something that would cost $70,000 for a consultant to do on their laptops in less than an hour. They leave our program feeling like they can get the best job imaginable and be able to have a startup on the side.”


While the actual master’s degree in analytics still remains at the engineering school at Northwestern, the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business is one of the business programs to house a one year master’s degree in business analytics. And it has been well-received. The program started its inaugeral class of in March. According to Yehuda Bassok, chair of the Data Sciences and Operations department at Marshall, they had about 80 applicants. This year they are expecting up to 500.

Bassok says the benefits and use of big data analysis goes beyond marketing problems and figuring out how to increase profit. It can also monumental in areas like public safety issues. One of the projects students have worked on in the fledgling program is addressing pedestrian and cyclist safety issues for the city of Los Angeles.

“All of the data for streets and intersections of where there are cyclist and pedestrian accidents are compiled by the City,” Bassok says. “Our program teaches students how to take that unstructured data and structure it. Is there a connection between the structure of an intersection and the accident? How serious were the accidents? Structuring the data might lead to a simple and low-cost solution.”


The University of Rochester’s Simon Business School also recently announced a new MS in Business Analytics program.

“An MBA is a Swiss Army Knife,” says Simon Dean Andrew Ainslie. “There are a ton of topics covered and is appropriate for someone wanting career mobility. The one year masters program is for someone wanting a more focused and specialized education.”

Ainslie says it is part of a large cycle. Big data was very much a part of business education in the late 90s during the boom of dotcom companies. The bust caused big data to fade away for a while. Now, with companies like Google and Amazon dedicating large amounts of resources to it, big data is regaining traction. It could also be gaining popularity in business schools to fill a decreasing part-time population.

“There has been a slow, steady 20 year decline in Americans taking the GMAT,” Ainslie says. “The part-time programs have taken the hit and are dying out. The popularity of big data allows schools to offer a new and attractive program.”


In 2009, when the nation was rife with panic over the spread of the H1N1 virus, researchers at Northwestern were inspired by the website, Where’s George, which tracks how dollar bills move around the country. They used similar computer algorithms except the two mammoth datasets of air and commuter traffic trends replaced dollar bills. The result was an eerily close prediction of how many H1N1 cases would come about and where.

Dustin Pusch heads up the program at George Washington’s School of Business. He says the purpose of their program, which can be taken in two years as a part-time student or one year as a full-time student, is to prepare students to manage a business problem from start-to-finish with only analytic decision making. The school partners with Deloitte and Catalyst Consulting to create and solve the problems.

Another way George Washington students can delve into the galaxy of big data is through the Washington Nationals. Students mainly work with the Nationals’ marketing department, but are also exposed to the moneyball side of the sport.

“The cat’s out of the bag for the sports world,” Pusch says. “You are not going to be as successful as a sports franchise unless you are doing it. They run big data sets for player evaluation. The concepts we teach are absolutely applicable to this. I just use the concepts to better draft my fantasy teams.”


The beauty of George Washington’s program is that students get a basic skill set and then the autonomy to create a program specific to their goals and interests.

“We have a corporate advisory board made up of representatives from organizations such as Deloitte, IBM, the Nationals, the Federal Treasury, JP Morgan, and others,” Pusch says. “They all weigh in on the development of the program. The importance we are seeing is not just the technical skills. We also have to emphasize soft skills and being able to communicate the analytics.”

Regardless of interest, the world is rapidly moving towards big data and being able to analyze and communicate it effectively and efficiently.

“Business, marketing, finance, the spread of infectious diseases, everyone is starting to use big data sets to make predictions and evaluations,” Zettelmeyer says. “General Electric is using big data to make decisions on building and scheduling railroads and locomotives across the country. Analytics are everywhere and managers need to know how to synthesize and make decisions with them.”


School Degree Length of Program Cost
Chicago (Booth) Concentration in Analytic Management Can be earned during two-year MBA $61,520
NYU (Stern) Specialization in Business Analytics Can be earned during two-year MBA $60,744
Northwestern (Kellogg) Program on Business Analytics Can be earned during MBA $61,596
Indiana (Kelley) Boasts major and minor in analytics in MBA program, plus an online MS in business analytics Online program can be earned while at home $36,000
University of Southern California (Marshall) MS in Business Analytics Full-time, 1 year or part-time, one class per semester $47,000
The George Washington School of Business MS in Business Analytics Full-time, 1 year or part-time, 2 years $50,000
University of Texas-Austin (McCombs) MS in Business Analytics Three semesters $34,000 (in-state) or $40,000 (out-of-state)
Arizona State University (W.P. Carey) MS in Business Analytics (also online) 9-month full-time or 16-month part-time (on-line: 16 months) $31,300 (in-state) or $46,700 (out-of-state) (online: $492 to $852 per credit hour)
University of Minnesota (Carlson) MS in Business Analytics Three semesters $39,825 (in-state) or $54,900 (out-of-state)
Michigan State University (Broad) MS in Business Analytics One year, full-time $36,000 (in-state) or $39,000 (out-of-state)
University of Rochester (Simon) MS in Business Analytics 11 months (non-internship track) or 17 months (internship track) $62,678
Southern Methodist University (Cox) MS in Business Analytics Full-time, 1 year $48,386
Drexel University LeBow College of Business MS in Business Analytics  1 year, full-time (45 credits) $42,750
University of Cincinnati, Lindner College of Business MS in Business Analytics Full-time, 1 year $19,280 (in-state), $24,118 (out-of-state)
University of Miami School of Business Administration MS in Business Analytics Full-time, 9 months $53,7000
Melbourne Business School (Australia) Master of Business Analytics Full-time, 1 year $48,000

Source: Schools listed.


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