THECB Awards $1.4 Million for Data Science Credential Program

March 1, 2022

Two people reviewing data graphics on a table

SAN MARCOS, Texas — The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has awarded $1,445,000 to Texas State University to develop a new data science credential program offered in partnership with Sam Houston State University.

The grant will enable Texas State to create more undergraduate data analytics offerings and a certificate at the university. The effort has been led by Dr. Larry Fulton, professor in the School of Health Administration, and Dr. Melinda Villagran, executive director of Texas State's Translational Health Research Center.

Courses will be developed by 21 faculty members from various disciplines from across the university, including Dr. Tahir Ekin, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Quantitative Methods (CIS+QM), who is Texas State's Presidential Fellow for 2021-2022.

Dr. Ekin and Dr. Francis Mendez, professor in CIS+QM, helped with forming the team that consists of several faculty members from the McCoy College of Business: Dr. Emily Zhu, assistant professor in CIS+QM; Dr. Dincer Konur, assistant professor in CIS+QM; Dr. Fereshteh Zihagh, lecturer in the Department of Marketing; Dr. Masoud Moradi, assistant professor in marketing; and Dr. Emmanuel Alanis, assistant professor in the Department of Finance and Economics.

The new program is funded by the governor’s Emergency Educational Relief Funding under the Accelerating Credentials of Purposes and Value Grant Program to meet the needs of the fast-growing Texas economy.

About Data Science

Data science is an emerging field that uses methods from statistics, mathematics, and computer science in order to find and communicate meaning in data. As the field grows, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that data science and related approaches can add an additional $13 trillion of global economic output by 2030. This added output would boost the global gross domestic product by 1.2 percent per year. However, both Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers have reported a major need for trainees with data science skills in the marketplace — in 2020, there was a shortage of 250,000 employees with requisite data science skills. Without explicit changes to curricula, universities will struggle to keep up with this demand for new trainees.

Demand in Texas

Multiple industries in Texas and across the United States are seeking to expand their data science workforce, but qualified applicants are in short supply and high demand.

As the Great Resignation continues, workers may find themselves looking for new opportunities. Certifications can improve job opportunities and salaries — especially in high-paying, high-demand fields such as tech and healthcare.

And it’s not just those industries that need data science and data analytics support. The pandemic required people from a range of professions like journalism and education to interact with and interpret COVID-19 data every day.

"Learning data science skills through this platform will help Texas achieve its goal of developing a resilient workforce," Dr. Villagran said. "Through data science, we will be able to improve healthcare delivery, support small businesses and a range of other industries hit hard by the pandemic."

A Fundamental Skill in Today’s Workplace

Dr. Ekin notes that while proficiency in data management and analytical methods are important, it is also paramount to turn the model outputs into actionable insights and communicate them to an audience with varying backgrounds, especially in business domains. 

“Another important trait is to consider the impact on society and address concerns such as potential algorithmic bias,” Dr. Ekin said. “The ability to read, work with, analyze and argue with data is becoming a fundamental skill in today’s world and workplace.”

Dr. Ekin aims to introduce data-literacy skills and present the societal and ethical considerations of data science applications in a new module as part of the proposed data science certificate: “It is very important to have different domains represented while we are creating these courses to ensure they are accessible to students with wide range of backgrounds.”

Launching in September

The program’s first course, launching in September, consists of 10 blocks of instruction leading up to an associate big data analyst (ABDA) certificate issued by participating universities. Following the course, students will be prepared to pursue the professional ABDA certificate from the Data Science Council of America.

As the program grows, additional data science courses are planned, with the expectation that additional universities in the Texas State University System will begin offering the credentials.

Courses will be developed by faculty members working in collaboration with the program’s advisory board of chambers of commerce and local companies in the area. The advisory board will provide direction about the ongoing and changing needs of the workforce to make sure the courses offered meet the needs of the business community.

"Long term, I want this to be the go-to certification platform for the Texas State University System — providing high-quality, industry-leading certifications of value for a low price,” Dr. Fulton said. ✯

Note: This story was compiled from an earlier story from Texas State University's Newsroom, a release from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the draft of the Minor in Data Science Working Group Report, and information provided by faculty members in the McCoy College of Business.

For media inquiries about this story or about the McCoy College of Business, contact Twister Marquiss, Manager of Marketing and Communications, at 512.245.2990 or

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