MBA or MS? Analytics program rankings on the near horizon

By Michael Goul, chairman

Department of Information Systems

Michael Goul

Master of Science (MS) in analytics programs are entering into the rankings fray, and it seems that many of these grading efforts are mirroring the approaches used to rank MBA programs. More and more emails arrive in my inbox each day asking for information about the W. P. Carey School’s Bachelor of Science in Business Data Analytics and Master of Science in Business Analytics degress. The types of questions rankers ask suggest a wide variety of factors under consideration. Along with the traditional metrics such as size of program, backgrounds of entering students, enrollment trajectories, etc., some are questions asking us to make comparisons like these: “How does an analytics graduate compare with a newly minted MBA?” or “Why shouldn’t a school just opt to offer a few analytics elective courses within their MBA program?” This preoccupation with contrasting analytics programs to the MBA is an interesting phenomenon that we didn’t see when other specialized master of science degrees were launched in business schools.

Inquiries arrive from all kinds of sources — not just the usual ones like U.S. News & World Report — leading me to believe that we are in for a wide variety of ranking paradigms, mixing together a potpourri of programs that may be tops in some rankings and not in others. Some are university-wide programs and others are predominantly flavored by a single discipline: e.g., statistics, computer science, business, etc. Analytics vendors sponsor a few programs, and yet others focus in one area of analytics, such as predictive analytics or operations research modeling. All of this should further confuse the rankings outcomes.

But maybe some rankings confusion is a good thing; it will reflect the healthy variety of analytics preparation opportunities available and dispel the myth there is a one-size-fits-all curriculum meeting the needs of all recruiters. Many recruiters I’ve talked to maintain that when they are seeking a data scientist who can be a leader in bringing analytics prowess to their organizations, they are opting to raid other companies. Shortly after assuming their new positions, those analytics leaders realize they need to build teams capable of tackling the variety of opportunities they find, and they are looking to university programs for new talent. That new talent most often brings a mix of academic background and work experience to the table. In addition, many leaders are getting involved in programs by serving on industry advisory boards or by offering internships — basically playing important roles where they have an opportunity to help shape curriculum.

Flavors of analytics preparation mirror the variety of jobs currently available. A quick search of Dice.com using the keyword ‘analytics’ turns up almost 5,000 positions. There are positions in web analytics, fraud analytics, social analytics, manufacturing analytics, marketing analytics, account analytics, health care data analytics, video analytics, newsroom analytics, risk and compliance analytics … and the list goes on. This demand is spiking student interest in the pursuit of analytics degrees. Many undergraduates opt to double major; majors in marketing, computer information systems, accounting, economics or finance are all a natural fit with business data analytics. Graduate students enter with prior work experience and/or undergraduate degrees in those same domain areas. They might have depth in math or statistics, and we are seeing some who excel at linguistics or natural language processing who are targeting social media analytics careers.

Personally, I do not believe that specialized analytics programs in business schools are setting up analytics graduates to directly compete with MBAs for jobs. But simply because they are preparing for different jobs doesn’t mean that there are no opportunities for taking advantage of synergies — in program delivery for example. Analytics students can benefit from having MBAs in some of their classes, and MBAs will similarly benefit. At the W. P. Carey School, we’ve had major success in comingling MBA candidates and Master of Science candidates in select courses. Some of the best and hardest working MBA candidates actually opt to go after dual degrees — they take all of the required MBA courses and all of the MS courses.

MBA students bring strength in strategic thinking that analytics courses don’t cover in as much depth as MBA courses do. And MBA candidates learn to work with technically strong people who bring innovative insights and new ways to look at business problems and opportunities. Having a very successful MBA program and a successful MS in Business Analytics program is a win-win for students, the business school and recruiters. MBA students who opt to take some analytics courses, perhaps as electives, can grasp how emerging technologies and data assets can be harnessed for innovation. But I don’t feel that a few electives will provide the analytics preparation and depth for jobs like those posted on Dice.com.

One only has to take a look at that Dice.com list of jobs — and especially the companies seeking candidates — to discern that the best organizations are picking up the pace in adopting analytics solutions. Having a top-ranked MBA program and a new and growing MS in Business Analytics program can attract a broad array of great companies to recruit at the W. P. Carey School.

“MBA vs. MS” is not the question from a business school’s perspectives. Having both and seeking opportunities for a win-win in areas critical for success — like faculty hiring, curriculum design, student learning outcomes and recruiting/placement — is both solid strategic thinking and analytically unambiguous.