After Christopher Low graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York with a bachelor’s in industrial engineering in 2012, he spent a year analyzing voter data for a political consulting firm in California. The experience drove home just how central “big data” – and the ability to make sense of it – has become, across a wide range of industries. So when RPI launched a master’s of science in business analytics in 2013, he jumped at the chance to join the inaugural class.

“Business analytics was a booming field – everyone was talking about it,” says Low, 24. After finishing the one-year program last May, he immediately nabbed a job with IBM as a consultant.

RPI is one of dozens of universities answering an insistent call for analytics and other technology experts in all sorts of fields. Some are integrating tech training with the coursework for other advanced degrees, such as MBAs, nursing degrees and J.D.s. Others are rolling out niche degrees in hot specialties such as medical informatics, digital forensics and cybersecurity. Savvy students know that jobs of the future will rely on technology, argues Tim Westerbeck, president of Chicago-based consulting firm Eduvantis. “So higher education institutions are working hard to create these programs.”

Indeed, the career opportunities for people with technology creds are expanding rapidly. Big data is becoming so key to strategic decision-making that the consulting group Gartner estimates that 4.4 million jobs in information technology have been created around the world just to support it – and that every one of those jobs has spawned three additional jobs. McKinsey & Co. estimates that by 2018, the U.S. will be short as many as 190,000 people with much-needed deep analytical skills and 1.5 million managers qualified to assess and make decisions based on data.

“Tsunamis of data are being created every day,” says Jim Spohrer, director of global university programs for IBM, which works with 1,000 colleges and universities to help shape data science curricula. “Employers want to hire people who can hit the ground running.”

And they’re willing to compensate them well. Statisticians, for example, were paid an average of $75,560 in 2012, and computer programmers earned $74,280 – both more than double the median for all workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition to the new program at RPI, anyone interested in big data as it relates to business can pick from recently launched master’s programs at New York University, George Washington University in Washington, District of Columbia, and the University of Southern California, to name a few. These programs are designed to equip students with management, marketing and professional savvy along with expertise in topics like database software and coding, predictive modeling and data analysis.

One target audience, says Thomas Begley, dean of the Lally School of Management at RPI, consists of all the college grads in technical fields looking to cultivate the broader array of competencies necessary on the job. Advanced degrees in analytics allow “students with strong quantitative skills to become highly marketable,” he says.

Much of the appeal of these degrees to employers is the practical experience graduates gain. Most business analytics degrees build in courses that require students to work in teams to complete real-world projects. In GWU’s practicum course, for example, one group of students worked with consulting company Deloitte to analyze data from the U.S. Agency for International Development for insights on how best to promote international trade. Other planned projects range from mining information available on the web to see if it’s possible to approximate census stats on more of an ongoing basis to using historical data to predict voting patterns.

The first four full-time students to complete GWU’s degree graduated in August 2014 and were snapped up by employers such as financial services firm TIAA-CREF and software giant SAS, reports Dustin Pusch, the program’s director. Starting salaries ranged from $70,000 to $135,000.

Maybe you’d rather manage technology than work on the analysis? Several universities now offer “tech MBAs” designed to groom grads for careers as chief information officers or as founders of their own tech startups. Among them: Cornell University in New York and Drexel University in Pennsylvania.

Many of these MBAs operate on traditional two-year schedules, including programs offered by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California, and cover the full range of business topics beyond technology, from marketing to accounting. Others, like the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program recently launched in New York City, are intensive one-year experiences. Cornell’s program – one of the flagship residents of the NYC tech hub envisioned by former mayor Michael Bloomberg – includes classroom lectures and projects but is largely focused on providing students with work experience. Students spend much of the fall semester working with companies like Google, Qualcomm and MasterCard on technology projects. Then they devise and prototype ideas for tech startups.

Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, which offers both a master’s and an MBA focused on business analytics, requires full-time MBA students to get actual work experience during the summer term. Some students compete for the opportunity to participate in the school’s “C-Suite Co-Op,” a summer program that puts them in positions in companies such as eBay and software provider SAP, where they work with company leaders on high-level projects.

“Companies can hire a lot of first-rate technologists, or they can go to business schools and hire people who can do a strategic plan and understand customers. What they don’t have is people who can cross both disciplines,” says Doug Stayman, associate dean of the Johnson Cornell Tech MBA, who believes that the new degree programs serve that need.

Read more: Taking the Tech Track

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