New online Master in Data Science launched — no data, computing or science backgrounds required

master in data science
University of Pittsburgh School of Computing and Information is launching a new online Master in Data Science in 2024. Source: Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh.

Those without a data science-related degree or any computing or STEM experience will soon be able to join a new online Master in Data Science (MDS) programme offered by the University of Pittsburgh School of Computing and Information (SCI). 

Offered from next year, the MDS has an accessible and flexible curriculum that’s regarded as one of the school’s most ambitious initiatives ever.

The programme will be available through the popular online learning platform Coursera. 

It will allow those from Pennsylvania, the US and across the globe to learn data science skills and analytic tools, gain abilities to pose and answer real-world questions through data, and complete projects to build a portfolio they can share with potential employers — all at their own pace. 

Applicants do not need to show prior data or computer science work, programming experience, or even an academic history beyond a bachelor’s degree. 

“The curriculum aims to be accessible with as few barriers as possible to entry,”Dean Bruce Childers told Study International in an email interview. 

“Therefore, no resume, transcripts, essays or letters of recommendations are required, only a verification of an earned bachelor’s degree from an accredited US university or its equivalent. To gain admission, learners take a three-credit ‘pathway course’ on the Coursera platform, earning a B or better.”

Will online learning be popular in 2024?

Much of online learning’s popularity in recent years was driven by COVID-19, which forced campuses to close and switch to remote classes. 

Students were and are still drawn to its greater convenience and accessibility, as these reports and surveys show:  

  • Recent McKinsey research finds that most higher education students want to continue to incorporate at least some aspects of online learning into their education. 
  • Online colleges and universities enrol nearly 2.79 million students — almost 15% of all US postsecondary learners.
  • According to the National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES), public colleges enrolled about 8.5 million online students in 2021.

Although it seems like the demand for online education spiked in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers behind the annual “Changing Landscape of Online Education” report said they believe the demand has not yet reached its peak.

“For many institutions struggling with enrollment and revenue levels, success in building online capacity may spell the difference between viability and crisis in the next decade,” Ron Legon, CHLOE senior editor and executive director emeritus of Quality Matters, said in the report.

The annual “Changing Landscape of Online Education” report, released in August, polled hundreds of chief online officers at higher education institutions and focused on the state of online and hybrid leading in higher education. 

Quality Matters and Eduventures Research, a division of Encoura, a data science and analytics platform, conducted its eighth annual report. It surveyed the chief online officers on what they experienced over the 2021–22 academic year.

master in data science

Andrew Ng co-founded Coursera, the popular online learning platform, with Daphne Koller in 2012. Source: AFP

Curriculum and impact of the University of Pittsburgh’s Master in Data Science 

Apart from partnering with Coursera to host the MDS, the master’s programme was uniquely designed to teach students to explore the social impact of data science. 

“Throughout this programme, learners will learn to unlock the ethical use of data and how to explore the social impact of data science and craft their professional path to becoming responsible data scientists. Students will learn to choose the right methods, validate findings, and make ethically informed decisions,” says Childers. 

SCI brings together students of various disciplines through a shared investment in innovation and technology. The MDS reflects this.

When designing the programme, research and teaching faculty made sure it was relevant for working adults from various fields seeking to learn data approaches relevant to their current career paths or to land data science jobs, which are some of the fastest growing globally

Information security analysts, software developers, data scientists, and statisticians are ranked among the top jobs in terms of pay and demand, according to the US News and World Report in 2023.

“SCI was inspired by making data science more accessible to even more students, both in the US and abroad, since so many fields now can benefit from data and STEM backgrounds,” Childers says. 

“SCI also wanted the MDS to be inclusive, welcoming students from all academic and professional backgrounds, and at any point in their lives and careers.”

According to Dean Childers, the MDS starts with introductory data science and programming courses since the programme was designed for learners from non-STEM backgrounds.

The introductory courses will get new students up to speed with data science and programming essentials, which they will build upon throughout the 30-credit programme, which can be completed in as little as 20 months.

master in data science

The Master of Data Science builds skills relevant to one of the fastest-growing jobs globally. Source: Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh.

Pay-as-you-go tuition and high return on investment

SCI has priced the tuition for this novel, minimum 20-month master’s degree programme at US$15,000, which is 38% more affordable than the average online master’s degree programme, according to the latest data from the National Centre for Education Statistics. 

“The MDS is designed to be affordable for all types of learners, regardless of residency (in or out-of-state, or international),” Childers says.

“The pay-as-you-go model also allows students to pay only for the courses they’re enrolled in, rather than committing to the full cost of the degree upfront.” 

Data science is one of the fastest-growing employer needs, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimating growth at 35% over the next decade.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 identified analytic and creative thinking skills as some of the most crucial for future workers. 

“The MDS delivers on the skills needed by the workers in this high-demand area, as identified by BLS and the World Economic Forum, through advanced analytics, data science, and ethical leadership, empowering them to be responsible data managers and scientists through practical experience,” says Childers.

 SCI graduates have gone on to work at ALCOA, UPMC, Apple, Naval Nuclear Lab, NSA, IBM Research, Duquesne Light Company, CGI, Fast Enterprises, and Microsoft.

Enrollment is scheduled to begin Feb. 12, 2024, with the first course starting in May. Admitted students can begin a full course load in Fall 2024.