The Big Picture In Business Analytics

Not every major business school has launched a specialized master’s degree in business analytics in recent years — it just seems that way. But even for the few schools that haven’t gotten on board the biz analytics master’s train — and that includes, to date, a handful of the most elite institutions — the demand for graduates with data science skills has proven too great to ignore. Thus, the business analytics landscape is one with many contours. Concentrations and “pathways,” intra- and inter-school collaborations, certificates, and other approaches at the leading schools give those looking to work in fintech or data science or management analysis or any number of occupations a plethora of choices in the space.

The degree itself represents what is indisputably the biggest ongoing trend in business education. In the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2016 Application Trends Survey Report, 94% of MSBA programs reported a rise in application volume; only 6% reported a decline. A Poets&Quants analysis of the top 100 business schools that year found that 36 had business analytics master’s degrees, sometimes called marketing analytics, sometimes customer analytics, etc. Two years later, the number has grown to at least 50 schools, with more surely planning to join the party. Poets&Quants has chronicled the launch of many of these programs, but it’s hard keeping up: In the last two years alone the degree has popped up at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business (online), Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business, UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Management, and more. Late last year another M7 school, Columbia Business School, joined the ranks of those offering business analytics degrees. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business will begin offering a new Master of Science in Business Analytics degree in late summer 2018. (See page 3 for a list of MSBA programs at P&Q top-50 schools, with duration and tuition information, as well.)

Still, there are schools that have so far eschewed the degree approach for analytics. Wharton has opted to infuse its undergraduate and graduate programs with a heavy dose of analytics rather than launch a new degree. Harvard Business School’s online certificate, a program that got underway in March, is a different approach that comes partly in response to concerns that the school must remain true to its first love, the MBA program. The $50,000 certificate, which takes nine months to complete, has been touted as a testament to Harvard’s determination to take a novel take on a new trend. Another unique approach comes from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which offers an analytics “pathway” that is “built around the observation that managers do not always have a sense of what analytics can do for them, and data scientists do not always understand enough about a manager’s problem to be helpful.” The school also boasts PDAK, or Program for Data Analytics at Kellogg, a cross-disciplinary curriculum that offers MBA courses, executive education training, and more.


Paul Brandano, executive director of the UCLA Anderson Master of Science in Business Analytics program. Courtesy photo

What is business analytics? Who uses it? Where does the demand come from? Simply put, the concept is predicated on the idea that if a company captures all the data that streams into its business, it can apply analytics and get significant value from it. That application involves the use of a variety of statistical and quantitative methods, computational tools, and predictive models — as well as the data scientist’s knowledge of finance, the corporate world, and the economy. In short, companies big and small are interested in data scientists who offer the ability to achieve cost advantages when it comes to storing large amounts of data – and who can identify more efficient ways of doing business and gauging customer needs and satisfaction. More and more companies, in fact, are meeting those needs by using analytics to create new products altogether.

Data scientists, then, have the wherewithal to make big changes in the business world. As they are people with a lot of skills, it follows that they are hard to find — and becoming harder with rising demand. A McKinsey Global Institute report on the state of the data science and the analytics market estimated that this year, the United States would likely face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills, as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use big data analysis to make effective decisions. The report added that an estimated 4 million positions in the U.S. alone now require these types of skills in a big data world — yet, as McKinsey states, “if we add together the number of people with these skills and new graduates who will enter the market (on current trends), we reach a total of only 2.5 million people in the United States in 2018. So there is a potential shortfall of 1.5 million data-savvy managers and analysts.”

If demand is high, and it is, the prospective talent pool is enthusiastic, too. In fact, it has been growing more so for years. When Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business launched its dual MBA/MSBA program in 2017, it was the result of years of feedback from students, faculty, and alumni; nearly half of the students in the traditional MBA class of 2017 indicated business analytics as one of their two intended concentrations, Mary Goss, former director of graduate business programs for the school, told Poets&Quants. “The students,” she said, “have been sending a clear message about their interest in this area for some time.” Yet as much as there may be enthusiasm among potential recruits, supply is lagging demand, says Paul Brandano, executive director of the UCLA Anderson Master of Science in Business Analytics program that launched in the fall of 2017. Brandano told P&Q that “Modern management is being shaped by a growing demand for more and better data and, more important, by the insights that can be derived from that data. Currently, the supply of qualified graduates to enter this field is not keeping up with the demand, which presents a fantastic opportunity for graduates with the right knowledge and skills.” He even quoted a 2012 Harvard Business Review article that called business analytics “the sexiest job of the 21st century.” Perhaps that explains why students are willing to pay as much as $77,350 for the degree, as they do at MIT Sloan.


Just about every business school in the P&Q top 100 offers at least a business analytics MBA concentration. Long-time holdouts seem to surrender monthly: see the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, which announced a new analytics focus in April, or the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, which will be a business analytics concentration for full-time MBA students this summer. But there are other approaches to meeting the overwhelming demand — from top companies as much as emerging startups — for those with strong quantitative skills in mathematics, computer science, and physics, balanced with a healthy dose of data science and business acumen. One approach is inter-school collaboration: Columbia’s degree is a joint effort between the B-school and Columbia Engineering; similarly, while the Booth School doesn’t offer a degree, it coordinates with the University of Chicago’s Graham School for Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, where students can pursue a Master of Science in Analytics. Another approach is intra-school: The University of Washington Foster School of Business redirects interest in a biz analytics master’s to its sister school, UW-Tacoma’s Milgard School of Business, where students can earn a Master of Science in Business Analytics.

Industry hasn’t been shy about getting involved, of course. No major MSBA program, new or not-so-new, has been fashioned without considerable input from recruiters. Among the more notable cases: the KPMG Master of Accounting program, a joint effort with Villanova University’s School of Business and The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business that funnels undergraduates into the program with a focus on data analytics. The audit giant pays tuition, room, and board for selected students who then go on to work for the company. KPMG likes the program so much it recently expanded it to Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, University of Mississippi’s Patterson School of Accountancy, University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business, University of Southern California’s Leventhal School of Accounting, Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business.

Like the Tepper School, some are offering a biz analytics master’s online, including Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, which not only has an online certificate a la Harvard but also offers an online Master of Professional Studies in Data Analytics. Others, like Chicago Booth, take a multi-pronged approach that doesn’t yet include a separate degree: steering students to the Graham School, offering a new MBA concentration in analytics, and redirecting others to the school’s executive education program, where this fall they can take a three-day course in Big Data and Marketing Analytics, costing just under $7,000. UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School also has a three-day exec ed course.

The $200,000 question is, are business analytics master’s programs specifically, and specialized master’s programs generally, contributing to the decline in MBA applications, now three years long? And the answer is, that’s just one of many possible explanations.

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