Monday, August 28, 2017

EWU partners with Microsoft for new data analytics degree program

School officials say the collaboration is unique in American higher education

Posted By on Mon, Aug 28, 2017 at 10:51 AM

Eastern Washington University has announced a collaboration with Microsoft on a data analytics degree program that the school says is unlike any other in the country.

Starting this fall, EWU will begin offering courses from Microsoft's data science program to seniors in the school's College of Business and Public Administration. The Microsoft program, called Microsoft Professional Program, is typically offered only online. The new collaboration with EWU means that students can earn a professional distinction certificate in data science from Microsoft, along with a Bachelor of Science in data analytics from EWU.

"We're the only institution in the entire United States that has the Microsoft Professional Program in data science integrated into a B.S. degree," says Scott Gordon, EWU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Data science is a rapidly growing field used in a variety of business and industry sectors — "everything from higher education, to banking, to the insurance industry," Gordon says. By 2018, there will be a shortage of 1.5 million managers and analysts who will know how to use big data effectively, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, a private-sector think tank.

Gordon says he doesn't have to look far to point to an example of big data at work. EWU, fittingly, saw the need for this partnership with Microsoft as part of its process of analyzing large amounts of data regarding the optimal sequences of courses students should take in order to be successful.

"Most decisions now rely on the ability to take big data and make sense out of them, and understand the science behind them," Gordon says.

The Microsoft Professional Program is available to the public, but course completion rates have been low, at around 10 percent. The idea is that perhaps with a faculty member guiding students through the curriculum, the likelihood that students will complete the course will increase.

The school was delighted to collaborate, says EWU President Mary Cullinan.

"By collaborating in the private sector, Eastern can address significant needs in professional and technical areas. The Microsoft initiative is a wonderful model of how we can work together," she says.

Gordon says the program will begin as a pilot program this fall, but full enrollment won't start until fall 2018.

Microsoft works with other universities across the nation, but not quite like this, with the professional program integrated into the B.S. degree.

So why Eastern?

"Why not Eastern?" Gordon says. "We are a leader in developing students into job-ready skills, and we're relatively close by. We're an institution that isn't afraid to try new things. And this is something new."

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Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.