THE BLOG
05/14/2013 01:52 pm ET | Updated Jul 14, 2013

The Rise in Business-Analytics Degrees

You don't have to be a computer-science major to feel surrounded by terms like big data, cloud computing and algorithms. "The cloud" is a common topic of conversation, and without even trying, you regularly participate in the giving and receiving of big data. For example, each time you visit Facebook, download a game on your iPhone, or send a request to a LinkedIn contact, you are participating in the big data machine.

So, who are the people who analyze all of this data? They are business analysts, one of the fastest-growing jobs of 2013. You can find them at a variety of organizations, including Fortune 100 companies, small businesses, universities, nonprofits and government organizations.

The role of a business analyst is to aggregate data to figure out how his or her organization can leverage the data to operate more efficiently and effectively. The Harvard Business Review calls the position of business analyst or data scientist the "sexiest job of the 21st century." Business-analyst jobs are predicted to increase by 22 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unfortunately, the growth of our technologies has exceeded our supply of qualified talent. 90 percent of the world's data today has been generated in the last two years, and we can't keep up with demand. According to a recent McKinsey & Company big data report, by 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 professionals with deep analytical skills, as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

To keep up with the demand and fill the talent void, colleges and universities are developing innovative master's degrees in business analytics that are ideal for recent undergraduates with a quantitative background (i.e. science, technology, engineering, math and business degrees). Having a master's degree has been shown to improve students' chances of securing a job, with the benefits higher for those who secure a master's degree over a bachelor's degree alone.

Recently, higher-education consulting firm Eduvantis reported that in the past three years there have been more than 15 new master's-level degree programs centered on data analytics launched in North America. This type of degree is a focused, business-meets-analytics program that can be completed in one year or less (called a Master of Science in Business Analytics or MS-BA). At this time, only a handful of universities offer an MS-BA degree.

Many of the programs offer a focus on experiential learning, and students work on actual companies' business problems to gain real-world experience. Further, the curriculum is often designed around skills companies specifically need in this area. Students in these programs typically require zero to two years of work experience.

For those who are more seasoned working professionals, some MBA programs offer specializations in information systems management, which can help with business analytics. Often, part-time MBA programs are available, so students can continue to work. In fact, some large corporations even pay for top employees to participate in these programs.

No matter which path students or professionals decide to take, obtaining a master's degree in the high-growth field of information systems or specifically business analytics has big benefits. For the individual, a master's degree in this field offers better credentials when pursuing higher-level roles in a company and more experience relevant to this exciting time of technological growth. These graduates are also helping fill the talent gap created by the changing demands of big data.