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Salisbury seeks approval for data science degree as need grows

Holloway Hall on the campus of Salisbury University (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Holloway Hall on the campus of Salisbury University (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Salisbury University plans to launch a data science major, joining other universities in Maryland that are hoping to meet the growing demand by employers for students with data experience.

The university is getting calls once or twice a week from employers looking for data science graduates before the program has even been approved, said Michael Scott, the dean of the Henson School of Science and Technology.

“Data science is an extremely fast-growing field right now,” he told the University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Education Policy and Student Life Committee Friday. “Data science… is a fundamental need, both in the state of Maryland and across the country for all kinds of industries — from health care to retail to manufacturing, just about nearly anything you can think of.”

The Education Policy and Student Life Committee approved the new Bachelor of Science in Data Science Friday. It will likely be approved by the full board later this month and also requires approval from the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

If approved, Salisbury would begin offering the degree program Aug. 2020.

Salisbury’s move reflects an evolving challenge for universities to, on one hand, provide broad-based education along traditional lines while they are now being challenged to serve as a job-training resource for employers, particularly those in technology fields.

Salisbury would be the first school in Maryland to offer an undergraduate degree in data science, though other schools have majors in data analytics, a similar field.

Scott defined data science as “the ability to manipulate, capture, maintaining processing and communicating large data sets.”

At Salisbury, the program grew out of its computer science program. That has been the case at other universities in Maryland. 

But data science is also being used in other fields, including at business schools.

Joann Boughman, the University System of Maryland’s senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs, said most schools are looking to incorporate some element of data science into their programs, including offering certificates in data science or data analytics.

In the cyber field, the system is working with the Greater Washington Partnership to develop credentials for data generalists and data specialists, she said.

“We can’t turn them out fast enough,” she said. “The same thing is true in the cyber world and computer science. I think we could probably double or triple the sizes of all of our programs if we had the wherewithal to do it and there still wouldn’t be enough people.”

In its application for the new degree program, Salisbury cited a 2017 study that found 2.35 million listings for data science and analytics jobs in the United States. It also found that demand for these jobs is growing 10% every year.

The challenge will be encouraging more schools to keep up with these demands.

While many schools have developed programs out of computer science, others are looking to other programs in developing data science and analytics. The University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, is looking at data programs out of its biology and chemistry degrees, Boughman said.

But at other schools, there is still a need for these types of programs.

“Coppin is actually coming at it from their viewpoint in the content majors that they have, but this is one of the challenges that the new president at Coppin is going to have and I think will turn a corner in and be able to elevate,” Boughman said.

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