SARASOTA -- With a stamp of approval from the State University System of Florida Board of Governors, New College of Florida will move forward with its first master's program in data science.
The program, one of only a few such master's programs in the U.S., was designed by New College officials to meet the demand for workers trained in data analytics. The program will be headed by Pat McDonald, a New College professor who has been named director of the data science program, and will launch for the 2015-16 academic year.
"This is a field with incredible demand," McDonald said. "Our students are already very interested in data science. They just need a little more education."
A change in the college's mission, approved in March, paved the way to let the college apply for a master's-level program, according to Norman Tripp, a board member who presented the proposal Thursday in Boca Raton. At the time of the mission change in March, it was also decided the college must go through the same approval process as required for the doctoral programs, which is why the proposal was before the board on Thursday.
"This program will strengthen the link between a liberal arts education and the world of work, while enhancing our undergraduate program and raising New College's national profile," President Don O'Shea said
in a statement.
About 15 students will be enrolled each year, which will maintain New College's tradition of small classes. The college will hire four new faculty members and use existing faculty to round out the staff. The program will be funded with about $700,000 in annual state funding that has already been approved by the Florida Legislature.
New College will also add an undergraduate major in computer science, strengthen the existing mathematics major by adding some electives and have master's faculty teach undergraduate classes.
Officials heralded the program as a public-private partnership. The program was designed in collaboration with companies that rely on data analytics, including Google, Gallup, Ancestry.com and Omnicom.
In the first year of the two-year program, students will study mathematics and computer science tools used for data analysis. In the first semester of the second year, students will work with real-world data provided by the partner companies to produce a data analysis solution. The final semester will be a paid practicum with a partner company.
The goal is to examine data in the context of liberal arts and create a more comprehensive program than other colleges offer, McDonald said.
"We want to play to our strengths and think about it in a more robust way," McDonald said. "This is something that's valuable to employers."
In other New College business Thursday, the Board of Governors approved $453,840 for a joint program in arts education with Florida State University's programs at Ringling Museum, located next to New College. The request now goes to the state Legislature for approval.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.