University Adds New Graduate Program in Social Data Analytics

Beginning in fall 2017, the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences (EPPS) will offer a new master’s degree in data analytics and research that focuses on the social sciences. 

Dr. Simon Fass

Dr. Simon Fass

The interdisciplinary social data analytics and research degree is designed to meet the demand for graduates who are highly skilled in methods of analysis and research in public, nonprofit and business organizations, said Dr. Simon Fass, associate professor of public policy and director of the new program.

“Organizations of all kinds collect massive amounts of data from clients and customers through websites and social media,” Fass said. “They need people who can sort through the information to solve problems and help them make decisions.”

The coursework also prepares students to organize data and design research projects, said Dr. Euel Elliott, associate dean of undergraduate studies and professor of political science, public policy and political economy. These skills can help organizations evaluate the effectiveness of programs or initiatives and better understand their clients, donors and customers.

“It’s about more than crunching numbers,” Elliott said. “Students will learn how to construct a research design that can answer the kinds of questions they need to answer.”

The career outlook for students with data analysis skills is strong. The McKinsey Global Institute has projected a 50 to 60 percent gap between supply and demand of people with deep analytic training. In 2014, the University’s Naveen Jindal School of Management launched a master’s in business analytics program to address industry need for graduates with these skills. Other business schools have followed suit. But there are few programs like this that focus on social sciences. The EPPS program will be one of only a handful of its kind.

“The amount of raw data available to almost anyone — including nonprofit and government organizations — has absolutely exploded in recent years,” said Dr. Denis Dean, dean of EPPS. “However, turning this overwhelming volume of raw data into meaningful information takes skills many organizations lack. Data management and analysis are some of EPPS’ strengths, so we are well positioned to address the needs of nonprofits and government groups in this area.”     

The program builds on the school’s strength in quantitative and qualitative research in a range of disciplines — criminology, economics, geospatial information sciences, nonprofit management, political science, political economy, public policy, public affairs and sociology.

EPPS will add new courses as part of the program, including research practice in the social sciences, information management and data visualization. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the program last fall.

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