One of the hottest business degrees today is the master’s in business analytics. Applications to these programs are exploding largely because of many business schools report near 100% rates of job placement within three months of graduation.
But degrees in analytics don’t come cheap. At New York University’s Stern School of Business, the pricetag for one is $70,800. Duke University’s Fuqua School charges $65,000. MIT’s Sloan School of Business, the best business school brand offering an analytics degree, tops out at $75,000 (see Poets&Quants’ specialized master’s directory).
So what to make of a business analytics program that costs only $34,935? When Eric Eisenstein looked at the market for Temple University’s Fox School of Management, he discovered that many analytics degree programs are retrofitted from existing programs. “Usually what schools did was take an existing graduate program, added a bow around it and a course in machine learning and called it a day,” says Eisenstein, who calls himself an “unrepentent geek” who heads up the $34,935 program in business analytics at Fox in Philadelphia.
MANY SCHOOLS ARE REPACKAGING EXISTING PROGRAMS THAT WERE MORIBUND
His market study of competitive offerings convinced him to adopt a more customized approach to the degree. “It wasn’t so much a matter of differentiation,” he says, “because there is a limit to how much you can do in ten courses related to business analytics. You don’t have an open book to do anything you want. But what I did notice is that many schools repackaged existing programs that were either moribund or could simply be repackaged profitably from MIS or other programs.”
What Fox came up with is largely the result of feedback from corporate managers trying to make smart business decisions from mountains of data. “What the executives told me is that most firms are in the beginning stages of doing this big data thing and getting value out of big data,” explains Eisenstein. “They had very bad experiences hiring super quants in these roles. It’s not that hard to find a PhD statistican to do this but the more insightful of the folks in industry said if you hire a PhD, you have to spend somewhere between three and five years working on one thing. PhDs are laser beam thin. You wouldn’t begin your football team around your punter. So you wouldn’t want to build a team around some super specialist who doesn’t have a lot of breadth. The second thing is no one can talk to those people and on average those people can not explain things to others because they know nothing about business.”
So Eisenstein, whose own PhD is from Wharton in managerial science and applied economics, created an analytics program to graduate what he calls “translators who can speak geek and who can speak business.” Temple’s M.S. in business analytics is meant to train students “to talk to business people and to understand what business problems are.”
TRANSLATION IS BUILT INTO ALL THE COURSES IN THE PROGRAM
Two of the ten courses in the program are electives from an existing catalog but the remaining eight courses are brand new. The courses range from Visualization: The Art of Numbers & the Psychology of Persuasion to Data: Care, Feeding & Cleaning, a course that instructs students how to “scrub dirty data” that can lead to bad decisions. There is also a capstone experience in the final semester in which student teams work with real clients and real data. “We haven’t decided whether we will do it as a shark tank format or by embedding these students into actual consulting teams,” says Eisenstein. “We are thinking of embedding the analytics students on the MBA teams so they get a great experience in that translator role. They would be the quant heavy hitters but they will figure out how to relate to the MBAs and to the clients.”
Translation is built into all the courses. “In the data mining course, the computer science algorithms that undergird Amazon’s recommendation engine are discussed,” he adds. “They are learning the theory but at the same time they are being exposed to an understandinf of what that is worth. If you can predict that someone will like a book 5% more but it costs $20 million more to create the algorithm, is it worth it? What you really want to know is how to quantify the value of what you recommend and how you would talk to a manager on why it’s important to implement a model. All the courses have components like that where you go back to the real world and can explain why you can or cannot do something.”
The school only recently entered its first cohort of 35 students during the last week in August. Students can take the program full time and complete it in three semesters. by generally taking a trio of courses each semester. “For anyone who is career switching and not just upgrading, they really need that summer internship,” says Eisenstein. “It’s a huge loss not to have an opportunity for summer work in that year. If you are upgrading, you can take a year off and get it done and get out. If you are switching careers and need the internship, you can do the program in 15 months, starting in September and ending in December of the following year. Part-timers have a different agenda. They can take one course per smester and stretch it out to as many as five years.”
ALL THE CLASSES HELD DURING THE EVENING AT TEMPLE CENTER CITY IN PHILLY
All the classes are in person and held during the evening hours, starting at 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., though the school plans to offer an online variation at some point. The program is being delivered at the school’s campus in downtown Philadelphia at 1515 Market St. called Temple Center City.
Roughly a third of the first cohort, says the professor, are international. There is a small cohort right out of undergrad and there is another cohort of people who have several years of work experience, and then you have a large cohort of part-timers who are more likely in their late 20s.” At steady state, Fox is expecting to enroll about 170 students in the program, with a typical cohort size of 50 students.
“The jobs are out there. I am very confident that they will be employed. The big question is whether the international students can find jobs in America. If you are STEM certified, you can work in the U.S. for 36 months. We are STEM certified because it means you can have three years for an employer to evaluate someone and decide whether they want to do the paperwork to keep them employed.”
For domestic students of the program, says Eisenstein, “the demand is enormous. What you worry about is whether the demand will not go away. For people who can draw insights out of quantitative, the data is not going to go away. what you do worry about is changes in terminology. everyone is now talking about big data and it’s all about business anlaytics. I don’t worry that we have peaked in the need for analytic talent.”