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Harrisburg University of Science and Technology received approval from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education to offer a Ph.D. in data sciences, the University’s first doctoral program.

“In a sense, this fulfills one of the final pieces of the promise of when Harrisburg University was founded,” said HU President Dr. Eric Darr. “It creates a wonderful potential to positively affect business and government and to have an immediate impact here in Pennsylvania and around the world.”

Looking to the future

The doctoral program in data sciences was developed in partnership with businesses, as are all Harrisburg University programs. Conversations with several local health insurance companies led university leadership to see that the future of those businesses relied on the ability to gather and analyze data to make smart decisions.

Harrisburg University launched bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in analytics in 2014 to help meet this demand, and as of last fall enrollment was approaching 700 students in the master’s program, Dr. Darr noted. But Harrisburg University’s leadership realized there was still a need to go a step further.

“It has been predicted that by 2018, there will be 150,000 to 200,000 openings for data scientists that would go unfilled,” said Dr. Bilita Mattes, Chief Academic Officer and Provost.

“Forty-four percent of those working as data scientists have a master’s degree and 48 percent hold doctorates, so when you put that large overall need together with the credentials people working in that field already have, the result indicates that our doctoral program will be at the forefront of meeting that demand.”

Bringing the best to HU

The benefits of the doctoral program will extend far beyond the students involved and their employers. In terms of classification, it puts Harrisburg University in a different peer group. While there are many academic institutions in the area and the mid-Atlantic region, few have doctoral programs, adding Harrisburg University to a comparative group with the likes of Carnegie Mellon and Drexel.

The doctoral program will bring an internal change, as well.

“Having doctoral students involved in teaching, walking the halls, having conversations with other faculty and staff about research, that changes the dynamic of the institution,” Dr. Darr said. “Doctoral students have the opportunity and responsibility of exploring brand new ideas and doing unique new research that pushes the boundary of human knowledge. To have those conversations going on excites the imagination of everyone at HU. It changes the whole nature of the institution in a very positive way.”

Dr. Darr, along with Dr. Mattes, said the university has gathered a world-class faculty to lead the program well ahead of its anticipated fall 2017 launch. They reached out through professional societies and hosted symposia on topics related to analytics, bringing some of the best academic minds in the world to Harrisburg.

“We have outstanding faculty here already who will teach and mentor in the doctoral program,” said Dr. Mattes. “They are all really excited to build a program from the ground up and to continue to help build the university.”

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