UC Berkeley Breeds Data Scientists Online: $60K, 18 Months - InformationWeek
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UC Berkeley Breeds Data Scientists Online: $60K, 18 Months

Want a data science Master's degree? UC Berkeley's $60,000 online program will make a data scientist out of you in 18 months.

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The bad news about the University of California at Berkeley's new Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS) program is that it's expensive. Really expensive. The good news is that since data scientists are in such high demand, graduates are pretty much guaranteed a job with a generous income.

"If you can claim those skills right now in the Bay Area, you can work for any company you want and basically write your own salary," says Steve Weber, a professor at UC Berkeley's School of Information.

The 18-month MIDS course is quite new, having just completed its inaugural semester four weeks ago. The first class had just 28 students. The second has roughly the same number (28 to 30), with the third group rising to 45 students.

Oh, and the program is offered exclusively online.

This is "a function of the fact that we don't have a lot of physical space in our building, as we have an existing Master's and PhD program," says Weber, who attributes the online-only idea to School of Information dean AnnaLee Saxenian.

"Since it's a data science degree, the kind of people we're going to appeal to may be more comfortable than the average person with doing a Master's degree online," says Weber. "Many [students] are working professionals, so we can offer this degree in a flexible way, and they can take their classes in the late afternoons or evenings."

[To stay competitive, companies must maintain a data-savvy workforce. See The Data-Driven Workforce: 5 Critical Roles.]

While the initial number of MIDS students is small by design, that should change as the program expands.

"Because of the online environment, it can scale close to infinity," says Weber. "But we're trying to be super deliberate and make sure that the quality of the applicants and students we admit exceeds the quality of the students we have on Berkeley campus."

This approach, he notes, is designed to establish credibility early on.

"One of the things we're trying to do is prove to our own colleagues on campus, and to employers, that the students coming out of this purely online degree program are as good as, or better than, any resident student."

Universities are increasingly offering data science programs, many partnering with big data companies such as IBM, Predixion, and Teradata to teach marketable skills.

Berkeley's MIDS program focuses on business problem-solving and technical skills -- a key combination for aspiring data scientists, says Weber.

"Because most [data science programs] are spinoffs of computer science and statistics departments, they may have one course that says, 'Here's how you would use this stuff in the real world.' We have that course right at the very beginning, and it's the thread that goes through the entire program."

Each week the MIDS students get 90 minutes of "asynchronous content," or material recorded in advance.

"We've created these pretty elaborate and complicated 90-minute segments. They might include four minutes of a lecture, two minutes of a video clip, and then four minutes of an interview with someone."

This approach allows instructors to do things they typically couldn't do in a classroom.

"For example, in one of my classes I have an interview that goes on for six or seven minutes with the guy at IBM who sells Watson technology to the Department of Defense. And he talks about what Watson can and cannot do in highly unstructured intelligence problems."

Weber acknowledges that the UC Berkeley course's $60,000 price tag is steep but says enrollment interest is high nonetheless.

"In some cases, the current employers of students are subsidizing and/or paying for the whole thing, but that's not the case for everybody."

The program appeals to a certain niche of student, such as women who dropped out of the workforce to have children, currently have young kids at home, and now want to reenter the workforce with a new set of highly marketable skills.

"That's a fantastic niche for us," says Weber.

InformationWeek's June Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of big data. Find out one CIO's take on what's driving big data, key points on platform considerations, why a recent White House report on the topic has earned praise and skepticism, and much more.

Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 11:43:31 PM
Data Science Hits Main Stream ?

This is really great news for the field of Data Science.  I am not so sure one can " write their own salary" once you attain the lofty requirements to earn this degree, but I do think a degree in Data Science is the most exciting new degree today.

User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 11:04:53 PM
Re: I'll Skip this Program...
State universities often susidize in state tuition with high professional program fees There is no excuse for a master's program to be more than 2 semesters.
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 10:58:56 PM
Re: I'll Skip this Program...
I think severla other universities will jump into the same band wagon and start offering online courses like these. (There are options but from top schools, it is few in number.) Naturally, the more providers deliver it, the cheaper it will be. I am not confiednt that they will be able to hold the price at that level for long.

User Rank: Author
6/23/2014 | 3:34:02 PM
Money matters
You can certainly find less expensive MOOCs, however, this is a master's degree program from a respected university, so it is a different animal from a one-off online course. Also you are paying for access to that UC Berkeley alumni network -- no small matter in the Bay area. Would a one-year timeframe make it more appealing, readers?
User Rank: Ninja
6/23/2014 | 1:42:10 PM
I'll Skip this Program...
Wow -- did they really say this?

>> The program appeals to a certain niche of student, such as women who dropped out of the workforce to have children, currently have young kids at home, and now want to reenter the workforce with a new set of highly marketable skills.

"That's a fantastic niche for us," says Weber.

Regardless of how off-putting that statement is, the program takes too long and costs too much. By the time you are done the market will have changed three times.

Some academic and lots of hands-on training in less than a year for about $18K with guaranteed placemement should do it.
User Rank: Author
6/23/2014 | 1:03:54 PM
Premium vs. Cost Savings
We heard a lot about online education being able to lower the cost of higher ed. This goes the opposite direction -- a way to get a degree to market quickly and capture a premium by meeting a perceived skill shortage.
User Rank: Moderator
6/23/2014 | 12:48:14 PM
Quantitated Justificatiions..for things not true
As everyone pushes for the miracle solutions in quantitating everything, more of this will appear as well.  I'm not saying it's all junk by any means,but this lives within the framework as well as all you have to do with a news article is put an algebraic formula in the article and people just suck it up like it has to be the truth.


My Killer Algorithm page is stocked with many experts smarter than me that explain how this works and sometimes how Quants, data scientists, just flat out guess when they use non linear formulas and can't find actual numerical relationships...just don't get soaked on "all" reports and studies you read as this lives out there too.


User Rank: Strategist
6/23/2014 | 12:46:41 PM
Yeah - I'll bet that's a real high quality education.  
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