You can add high-ROI electives within data analytics programs in five steps

By Ben Wohl

This is the second of a three-part series about COE Forum’s upcoming Data Analytics Industry Futures study. Part one explains how to appeal to the rapidly growing citizen data scientist market.

As program rivalries continue to intensify, analytics programs must differentiate themselves from their competitors to attract students. Prospective analytics students hail from a wide array of academic and career backgrounds, from marketing to IT to liberal arts. Therefore, to stay competitive and to appeal to these student segments, universities should develop two different types of program specializations:

  1. Function-specific: Some students want to advance their analytics skills within a particular function. For example, to appeal to aspiring and current marketers, several universities are launching specialized marketing analytics credentials and electives.
  2. Industry-specific: Other students seek skills within a particular industry. Some universities are also launching industry-specific programs, ranging from government to sports analytics, to appeal to prospective students in particular industries.

COE units should look to the intersection of market demand and their institutional strengths to determine which function and/or industry electives should be launched for optimal competitive advantage. Examples of current analytics program elective offerings can be found below:

From testing electives to deriving standalone certificates: A virtuous cycle

Despite (or perhaps because of) this wide range of specialization opportunities, institutions often struggle to both accurately identify the most relevant specializations and quickly fund elective creation. To solve both problems, Northwestern University's School of Professional Studies’ MS in Predictive Analytics (MSPA) developed an innovation process that quickly and efficiently tests the viability of electives. The most compelling launches are then transformed into standalone certificates. The following example illustrates the evolution of sports analytics from a temporary elective to a graduate certificate using the five steps of this innovation process:

  1. Northwestern’s program director identified sports analytics as a potential market opportunity. He knew that sports analytics was a growing field and Northwestern already had faculty subject matter experts. Additionally, none of Northwestern’s competitors were currently offering sports analytics credentials.

  2. To test this opportunity, a sports analytics rotating elective was added to the MPSA. Rotating electives are offered infrequently—usually only once a year.

  3. The pilot was well received by students, so Northwestern made the elective permanent and introduced a second sports analytics elective.

  4. Continued student demand for these two courses led to Northwestern launching a standalone sports analytics certificate. This advanced graduate certificate coupled two core analytics courses with the two previously developed sports electives. The certificate is labeled an “advanced graduate certificate” because Northwestern restricts admission to only prospective students already holding graduate degrees. This is done to avoid cannibalizing the student audience for its core MSPA program.

  5. The MSPA program director uses profits from its standalone certificates (Northwestern has six in total and they each charge up to $12,000) to fund more test electives within the MSPA program, beginning the whole innovation process over again.

Overall, this process allows Northwestern to identify only the most viable new certificate ideas and ensure a steady stream of funding for new elective development. While especially valuable for data analytics, this innovation process can apply to other programs within your COE portfolio too.

Certificates can serve all analytics market segments

As of December 2016, EAB research indicates there are more than 150 certificates on the market. These certificates can serve all analytics market certificates, ranging from the most advanced data analytics specialists to citizen data scientists who need only the basics of data analytics. The three examples below highlight the diversity of target audiences, entrance requirements, modalities, and formats of existing certificates.

  • Johns Hopkins’ certificate is intended for aspiring or current citizen data scientists in the government and stacks into their MS in Government Analytics.
  • University of Washington’s certificate is designed for analytics specialists, which reflects the university’s location in the tech hub of Seattle. The certificate offers highly advanced courses and only admits students with a sophisticated level of analytics abilities.
  • Mercer University’s open enrollment certificate targets senior managers who want to gain a high-level overview of data analytics knowledge through an in-person class.

Register for our upcoming webconference series, Capitalizing on the Rise of Data Analytics

Overall, certificates can fund elective growth or even serve as a pipeline into your core analytics masters’ program. Regardless of institutional aim, they are a valuable addition to most institutions’ analytics portfolios.

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