Higher Education’s Big (Data) Bang: Part One

With so many universities and companies buying into the idea of Big Data analytics, another use of the information and technology has come into play: training students to become “data scientists.”

In two years, there will be an estimated 4.4 million jobs dealing with Big Data, but there are not that many students studying data science.

Skeptics like Harper have dismissed this “Big Data skills gap” as a corporate-created non-issue, but others see it as a booming market for which universities have an obligation to prepare their students.

Big Data degree programs since August have cropped up at George Washington University, University of New Haven, Bellarmine University, the University of Texas, and Northwestern University.

“This sort of thing usually happens when there is some kind of market shape up and companies and universities don’t know how to even fill a position,” said Ellen Wagner, executive director of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. “When that happens, people think ‘we’ll have to create a new degree for this.’”

While universities that tap into this changing market early on do have an advantage, Wagner said, the job description of data scientists has yet to be fully defined.

“There is this concern that there’s a lot of hype around data scientists without knowing what it even is,” she said.

For some, that concern spreads to other facets of Big Data, as well. They worry that universities are sinking money into a murky swirl of hype and unnecessarily large amounts of information.

Part two of this eCampus News series will ask: is there a down-side to embracing Big Data? 

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake, and share your thoughts on Big Data with #eCNBigData.

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