Analytics software to be free for college students

Students need more access to analytics tools, professors say.

Knowledge of business analytics is a start, educators say, but hands-on experience with compiling and sorting through loads of data makes a recent graduate a popular commodity among private sector recruiters scouring college campuses.

That’s why business schools will provide free analytics software, SAS OnDemand for Academics (SODA), for college students to access outside the classroom. The software has been available to students in the classroom and lecture hall since last fall.

Even before the program becomes free to educators and their students to use off campus, SODA has impacted higher education.

The cloud computing-based service is used by more than 5,000 professors at 240 colleges and universities worldwide, according to SAS, which has been available for professors to use in class since 2008.

The company announced in April that, beginning next fall, free accounts will be provided to campus researchers on a “first-come, first-served basis,” and SAS spokesman Trent Smith said the company had not yet decided how many free accounts would be made available to educators.

“It will be based on the level of interest leading up to launch,” Smith said.

Researchers who use SODA will be able to store up to 5GB of data in the cloud-based system.

Bret Myers, a business professor at Villanova University, said providing free SODA accounts to students will give them nearly unlimited access to analytics software that they need to be familiar with to land sought-after jobs after graduation.

Many colleges and universities use analytics software with limited licenses, meaning a limited number of students can use the technology at one time. And even when students get their turn with the software, their time is capped to make time for their peers to use the program.

“We’re trying to launch more analytics-focused courses, so we’d like students to have hands-on experience with the software,” he said. “This will really open the door … and remove constraints for students to have more access to something they need to understand.”

Myers has become known for his analytics prowess in recent years, using SAS’s Enterprise Miner program to analyze substitution and results data for Spanish, German, Italian, and English soccer clubs, along with Major League Soccer teams in the US.

Myers’ use of analytics helped create a formula that doubled soccer teams’ odds of “improving goal differential,” according to SAS.

“The initiative on the part of SAS to make its products available at no cost to academia is a huge victory for professors and students alike looking to enhance their research capabilities,” Myers said.

The emergence of analytics studies in higher education was highlighted in the partnership between Yale University’s School of Management Center for Customer Insights and IBM. Yale business students will get free access to IBM’s analytics technology and curriculum that, until recently, was only essential in the IT world.

Job market data has driven colleges and universities to focus on analytics curriculum.

Demand for professionals with management analysis skills will increase 24 percent by 2019, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There will also be a 22 percent increase in demand for operation research analysts and a 13 percent jump in demand for statisticians.

Ivan Dremov, a student in Yale’s School of Management, said business recruiters have made it clear during campus visits that students need to be able to do more than analyze web-based customer data; they should be able to tell decision makers what that data means in plain English.

“Many recruiters on campus have said they need analytical skills, and working with large data sets, and to be able to communicate that with clients,” he said.

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