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November 13, 2023 Focus: Business Schools

Colleges expand business analytics, data science programs to meet industry demand

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER UConn School of Business students used data analytics to help Connecticut Foodshare increase and improve donations.
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Ever-evolving technology and near-limitless information storage capabilities mean massive amounts of data are available for companies and other organizations to analyze.

That’s created a significant need for business and data analysts and similar positions at companies large and small that are in search of a competitive edge.

Employment in the data science field alone, which had nearly 169,000 U.S. workers in 2022, is projected to grow by 35% over the next decade, with more than 17,000 jobs available annually through 2032, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections.

As of early November, job-search website listed 150 available data analyst jobs in Connecticut.

In response, colleges and universities say they are seeing increased demand for data science and business analytics programs.

The UConn School of Business has offered a master’s degree in business analytics and project management since 2011, and has seen enrollment increase from 30 to nearly 400 students today.

UConn also launched a data science master’s degree program in 2022.

Fairfield University launched a master’s degree in business analytics in 2014-15, initially attracting mostly international students.

In more recent years, the program, which has grown from 27 students in fall 2019 to 65 students today, has seen an increase in domestic enrollment.

Fairfield also launched an undergraduate analytics program in 2020, which has grown from 107 to 381 students.

Both schools’ master’s degree programs are attracting a mix of fifth-year students who just earned an undergraduate degree, and working professionals who have a few years of real-world experience under their belts, officials said.

Quinnipiac University began offering a data science bachelor’s degree last fall, while the University of Hartford launched an undergraduate data science degree in 2021.

Christopher L. Huntley

Christopher L. Huntley, a professor at Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business and former chair of the information systems department, said data analytics took off when companies realized they could gain operational and other efficiencies by analyzing all the data they collected from customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Data is being used to try to increase sales, better target marketing campaigns, cut costs, among numerous other ways.

Xinxin Li

Practical applications of data analytics reach into every industry, including health care, logistics, transportation, nonprofits, entertainment and many others, said Xinxin Li, academic director for the UConn School of Business’ master’s program in business analytics and project management.

Many companies aren’t just looking to hire business analysts, but are seeking professionals in their chosen field who have business analytics backgrounds, school officials said.

Colleges are collaborating with the private sector and industry experts to develop curriculums that combine the use of statistics, algorithms and technology.

Skills and courses taught in analytics programs include Python computer language, deep learning, predictive modeling, data and text mining, and visual, web and big data analytics.

Education meets business

A big part of data analytics programs, school officials said, involves connecting coursework to real-world experiences and partnering with employers.

Fairfield University students have used data analytics to finish a symphony by Mozart. One student took photos of people shooting basketball free throws to craft “make-or-miss” predictions based on the form of the shooter.

Philip Maymin

Fairfield University also has a co-op program where students are paid and work full-time on a project with companies like The Hartford, Synchrony Financial and IBM, said Philip Maymin, director of the college’s business analytics program.

UConn has long worked with companies like Stanley Black & Decker, Atlas Air, Henkel North America, Cigna and Otis Elevators on capstone projects, which are a graduation requirement.

UConn students are currently working with Wallingford-based Connecticut Foodshare, and using data to help the nonprofit track and increase food donations and the nutritional value of donated food. Students are also using data to try to increase Foodshare’s buying power.

“That’s how these projects often start,” said UConn professor Jennifer Eigo, who is leading the project. “We have these pressing business questions about how to improve operations or efficiencies.”

UConn students used Foodshare’s own data for geospatial analysis to map where donations come from, such as different stores or warehouses, compared to where the greatest food insecurity is in Connecticut, Eigo said.

They’re also analyzing the frequency and monetary value of donations to potentially create PR or marketing campaigns to increase giving.

“The business analytics students identified opportunities to expand partnerships with current food donors and ways to acquire new ones across the state to help meet the need,” said Brittney Cavaliere, Foodshare’s senior director of strategy.

UConn student Eshita Pateriya, who is working on the Foodshare project, said she anticipated data analysis would be a more solitary pursuit, but she found group projects an integral part of the learning process.

She said it’s helped enhance her problem-solving skills and gain exposure to diverse perspectives and approaches in data analysis and project management.

UConn student Hany Jagwani said he enrolled in the program because he was interested in learning the strategic application of analytical tools and techniques. He plans to be a data scientist in the insurance sector, someday creating his own analytics company specialized in the insurance industry.

Key to the growth of the analytics field, Eigo said, is the availability of massive amounts of data.

“We’re seeing more and more data being collected across a variety of different industries,” Eigo said. “And now that’s trickling down into organizations like Foodshare, where they’re doing great work to feed people, and they have the data about that great work, which allows you to use the data to do even more to help people.”

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