Data analysts are in high demand across the country, but universities are struggling to churn out enough graduates to meet the need.
Most university analytics programs require students to quit their job or move close to a campus location. But that's not feasible for many working adults.
That's why Capella University has created one of the nation's first online master of science in analytics programs with help from SAS, a top software analytics company. Starting in October, students will be able to enroll in the two-year program on a monthly basis and sign up for quarterly courses that don't require them to be online at the same time as everyone else — an important consideration for adults who juggle jobs and families.
"We tried to build this for working adults, people who have an interest in analytics but probably would not be able to get into the other analytics programs because of those residency requirements or because of the requirement that they'd have to go to school full time," said Sue Talley, dean of technology at Capella University.
As with its other degree programs, Capella University plans to scale up the data analytics program and add faculty members on demand. While faculty won't require students to be online at the same time, they may make themselves available for question-and-answer sessions at a specific time and will encourage students to create study groups where they can meet virtually using whatever communication tools work for them. Most of the faculty members have on-the-job experience with data analytics.
One of the key components of training future data analysts is to not only help them hone the technical skills to analyze data, but also to be able to explain it to leaders in an understandable way. If they have these analytical and storytelling skills, they're what the industry currently calls unicorns.
Part of the problem with data analytics in corporate settings today is that not everyone is able to tell the story that the data reveals. And if data analysts don't meet the needs of the business they're serving, then it doesn't matter how many technical skills they have.
"Millions of dollars have been invested in the data analytics tools and software and creating the infrastructure to store data, and yet companies aren’t seeing the return on investment for what they've made," Talley said.
To remedy this problem, Capella University faculty will teach students both the storytelling and technical skills they need.
In conversations with top data analytics schools, including North Carolina State University, Talley heard over and over again that internships are a critical component of students' education because they teach them how to work with real data and collaborate with other people as they solve problems.
But because Capella is planning an analytics program that scales, it would be difficult to match every student with an internship. So the university decided to try virtual internships, where students work with the types of data sets that data analysts would use on a team with other students for VilaHealth, a hypothetical company.
By combining virtual internships with the ability to enroll new students each month, Capella University hopes to train more graduates so they can fill the workforce gaps in data analytics and help companies make good on their investment in analytics technology.