Once you have determined whether pursuing an online master’s in business intelligence is worthwhile, you will want to consider the various merits and drawbacks of available programs. There aren’t many schools that offer an online master’s in business intelligence, but those that do differ in significant ways. Here are some factors you should weigh.
All online master’s in business intelligence programs post their full curricula on their websites. Review these carefully to make sure that the program you choose will sufficiently cover the knowledge you need. Is the program offered through the business school or through the computer science department? The answer will tell you something about the program’s focus. How much emphasis does the program put on programming skills? Database building and management? Data mining and modeling? Statistics? Does it touch on general business subjects (economics, supply chain) or does it focus exclusively on business intelligence?
You’ll also want to consider the degree of freedom you’ll have to pursue electives and perhaps a field of specialization. Some programs offer only a fixed set of courses with no electives; others mandate a small core and allow considerable freedom in fashioning your program. Evaluate your career objectives in light of the various curricula and choose the one that best fits your needs.
Online learning encompasses an expansive range of quality, from highly produced streaming video and robust interactive apps at one extreme to message boards and text articles at the other. Not all programs make the same investment in delivering a top-quality online experience. Some believe it is sufficient simply to offer their live-class content in a remotely accessible format (i.e. by posting videos of live classroom lectures for online students to view). Others believe online education offers unique teaching opportunities and customize their content to exploit those opportunities.
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Specialized programs like the master’s in business intelligence generally don’t employ a lot of high-end video. It’s simply too expensive given the size of the programs. Streaming video lectures are most typically recordings of live-class lectures or self-recorded videos of Powerpoint slides with an audio track explaining the content. Some programs will invest in expensive live simulations, labs, and other interactive learning tools, as well as collaborative apps like Zoom and Voice Thread. These usually make for a more effective and more memorable learning experience, so consider how thoroughly such features are integrated into the program’s delivery system. Likewise, programs that emphasize hands-on experience using real-time data sets generally offer more valuable challenges than those that rely on lecture and pre-defined data sets.
One obvious tell of how significantly a program invests in its online students is whether it offers live class sessions. Small group live sessions led by an adjunct faculty member are costly to schools, but they are very effective in identifying and addressing where students are falling behind. They also facilitate valuable interaction among classmates, providing not only an advantageous sense of community but also helping to build a peer network that can be very useful come job search time.
Tuition for an online master’s in business intelligence can run anywhere from $626 per credit (University of Colorado-Denver, in-state students only) to $1,620 per credit (Stevens Institute of Technology). Different schools require different numbers of credit hours to graduate: while most require between 30 and 36 credit hours, DePaul University requires a whopping 52. As a result, tuition costs at these programs range from $18,780 (University of Colorado-Denver, in-state students only) to $58,320 (Stevens Institute of Technology). Be aware that these figures represent tuition only and do not include lab fees, registration fees, books, and other likely expenses.
Money isn’t the only expense involved, of course; there’s also your time. Most students attend online programs part-time while continuing to work, allowing them to take one or at most two courses per term. Some programs take one year to complete, others 18 months, and others still two full years. Some are full-time only, making it very difficult to continue working while attending school. If you choose to take only course per semester—not an uncommon option for those working full-time—it could take you three or even four years to complete your degree.
Most online graduate students continue to work full-time as they pursue their degrees. They are often at a stage in their lives where other big commitments arise: getting married and having a baby, to name the two most common. Such students need to consider whether the program they choose will allow them the flexibility they may need: to reduce their course load for a semester or two, perhaps, or to take a semester off. Lockstep programs and full-time only programs won’t do that: it’s their way or the highway. Fortunately, most online programs are designed with working professionals in mind, and they are generally willing to work with students to accommodate the many demands on their lives. If this is an issue for you, though, make sure to explore it thoroughly before committing to a program.
Unlike the MBA, the master’s in business intelligence has no independent organization to accredit the degree. Instead, accreditation is awarded either by a national agency that oversees business programs, or by a regional agency that monitors the quality of instruction across the entire institution. Or, by both. Because the national accreditors emphasize different qualities, some business schools seek accreditation from more than one (in order to demonstrate their strength across different metrics). Note that regional accreditors, which typically are older and better established than the national accreditors, often hold greater sway with other academic institutions and employers within their geographic area.
It is not impossible for an unaccredited school to deliver a worthwhile graduate degree, nor are all accredited institutions top-notch. Accreditation simply ensures that the school has submitted to review and met baseline criteria (which, to be clear, are typically pretty stringent). Regardless, employers generally prefer candidates whose degrees come from accredited institutions, so if your ultimate goal is to get a great job, an accredited program should best serve your purposes.
When it comes to getting that great job, your school’s reputation—along with your grades, your prior work experience, and your job interview—can significantly help your cause. A degree from a well-known, well-respected program indicates that you have taken on and mastered challenges similar to the ones you will face in the work world. It also makes it more likely that fellow alum will be working for your dream employer and may be positioned to advocate for a fellow alum such as yourself. Americans believe in and aspire to meritocracy, but unfortunately it still matters who you know and who is willing to help you, at which point a degree from the right university can definitely come in handy.