From Business Analytics to Real Estate, An Explosion In Specialized Degrees

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management

Master’s programs can piggy-back on schools’ existing educational infrastructure, making them potentially a good value proposition, Westerbeck says. “These master’s programs are essentially a great way to further leverage, to product extend if you will, assets that were built for other purposes, such as to serve the MBA program. The margins, when all the costs are allocated, are typically significantly better,” he says, adding that such programs can be rolled out relatively quickly and can help schools respond to changes in the labor market.


The programs can also serve to differentiate schools in the marketplace, which is one of the reason the numbers of them grow as you move down the rankings, Westerbeck says. Elite schools can rest on their brands to some extent, and have less need to differentiate themselves, he says. Lower-ranked schools, lacking the big brand, focus on the products they offer, hence the multiplicity of different degrees granted by schools in the lower half of the top 50, Westerbeck says. The Kelley School’s Philip Powell notes that elite schools are under less financial pressure than lower-ranked schools, reducing the likelihood they’ll create programs just to fill seats with paying students.

Relatively new to the lineup of B-school master’s programs is business analytics, or data analytics. Driven by the rise of big data, these programs have sprouted up across the country to fill a massive job-market need. According to a 2011 McKinsey & Company report, “Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data, not just a few data-oriented managers,” the report says. “The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.” McKinsey estimates that by 2018, U.S. companies may face a shortage of 190,000 workers with “deep analytical skills,” plus a lack of up to 1.5 million managers who know how to apply big-data analysis to decision-making.

The University of Texas McCombs School is one of five top-25 B-schools to add a master’s of business analytics in the past three years. “It really was a response to the market,” says Michael Hasler of McCombs. “We have a very strong recruiting relationship with many of our top corporations that recruit here and employ here. We got feedback from them that they’re really looking for this skill set.”


About a third of the McCombs business analytics graduates go into consulting, for firms that include program sponsor Deloitte, as well as Accenture, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The next-largest group of grads ends up in retail or consumer insight at companies such as Wal-Mart, while others go into financial firms on the marketing and consumer-insight side, and into consumer insight as well as operations-research roles and data-driven supply-chain jobs, Hasler says. Tech firms such as Facebook and Dell have also hired graduates, he says.

Hasler makes clear that the degree may be a step on the way to a future MBA, but is not a substitute. “This is an MS degree, it is a technical degree,” he says. Graduates are trained to inform data-driven decision making, not to manage, and may well work on a team under a manager with an MBA, Hasler says.

Professors teaching McCombs business analytics classes are drawn from the MBA and undergraduate business programs, as well as from the computer science, engineering, statistics, and scientific computing departments.

In a departure from the generally specialized nature of the master’s programs, four schools in the top 25 offer general-management master’s degrees, mostly intended for recent liberal arts or sciences college graduates, and covering basics such as management, marketing, accounting, finance, and strategy. The Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management unrolled its MS in Management Studies in 2013, at first as a 4+1 master’s for Northwestern undergrads, then opened it to students from around the country and the world for the class that entered in July. Kellogg has expanded the class size to 65 over the three years the program has been operating, from 25 and 26 in its first and second years. “Alumni have stressed the value of this degree – both for career placement and for being able to attain the skill set needed to guide their careers,”  says Matthew Merrick, associate dean of MBA operations at Kellogg.

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