Statistics is one of the world’s hottest career tickets by any standard these days. Beginning this fall in Aggieland, undergraduate students will have the opportunity to punch theirs, courtesy of one of Texas A&M University’s newest degree programs, a bachelor’s of science in statistics.
The Texas A&M Department of Statistics, already home to one of the nation’s top graduate programs, is set to expand into the undergraduate market in fall 2016 with its first bachelor’s degree, approved earlier this year by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Since 1962, the department has provided fundamental statistics courses and related instruction in support of other departments’ undergraduate degree requirements but never for its own programs beyond master’s and Ph.D. degrees.
Valen E. Johnson, professor and head of Texas A&M Statistics, says the move capitalizes on a nationwide trend in higher education as institutions across the country work to expand their statistics and data analytics-related programs and course offerings in order to meet the growing global demand for what is projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), among countless other sources, to be one of the fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. According to BLS data, total employment for statisticians has grown 54 percent since 2000. Moreover, the BLS estimates it will continue to grow by another 34 percent from 2014 to 2024.
“The department is very excited about enrolling Texas A&M undergraduates into our program,” Johnson said. “We are expending a great deal of effort to ensure that these students are well prepared for either careers in industry or to continue their statistics education in graduate school. The range of employment options for statisticians is very broad, and we expect that our majors will be in very high demand following graduation.”
Texas A&M statistician Alan Dabney, one of two faculty advisors for the new major along with fellow Texas A&M statistician Thomas Wehrly, says it’s clear that there is no time like the present to launch an undergraduate major in statistics. Beyond the general increase in appreciation for statistics and the vital multidisciplinary role it plays across sectors from business to health care to government, he cites a host of broad endorsements during the past few years of statistics as both a popular and profitable career — perhaps none more famous than career-based professional networking site LinkedIn’s declaration of statistics as the “hottest skill” in 2014. More recently, U.S. News & World Report ranked statistician No. 1 in Best Business Jobs and No. 17 among its Top 100 Jobs, while Money magazine reported that professionals with expertise handling big data tend to earn 5-to-6 percent more on average than their peers who lack such expertise.
Any way you slice it, Dabney says, the data point to a bright future for the profession and for students considering a new major, a possible change of one or a double major.
“The degree plan for the bachelor’s of science in statistics is modern and comprehensive but also highly flexible,” Dabney said. “Undergraduates with a statistics degree are currently being placed well right out of college, according to Shane Reese, a professor of statistics at Brigham Young University. By continuing on to graduate school for a master’s or Ph.D. degree — either here at Texas A&M, where our department’s graduate program is among the highest rated in the country, or elsewhere — many additional doors of opportunity can be opened. By selecting the appropriate electives and area of specialization, students have great control over their education and professional preparation.”
At present in the Lone Star State, the Texas Workforce Commission lists more than 500 jobs with the keyword statistics. And while five other Texas-based institutions (Rice University, Baylor University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Southern Methodist University and the University of Houston-Downtown) already offer bachelor’s degrees in statistics, Wehrly says Texas A&M has what he considers a significant advantage — being the only large statistics department in Texas to offer one.
“The Department of Statistics is part of one of only three Tier 1 universities in the state,” Wehrly said. “Our students will be taking classes from professors who conduct cutting-edge research and also collaborate with top researchers across numerous fields.”
As further proof of popularity, Dabney points to a dramatic increase in the number of high school students taking the Statistics Advanced Placement® (AP) exam in recent years. According to AP Central, 169,508 students took the Statistics AP exam in 2013 — a 10 percent increase over the previous year and a 57 percent increase since 2008. By comparison, the Calculus AB AP exam numbers increased just 6 and 27 percent for the same two respective periods. He says they plan to actively recruit these students via the department’s annual AP Statistics Institute and through established connections with various magnet schools as well as those with high AP statistics concentrations across the state.
Dabney says he is particularly excited about STAT 182, a one-hour writing-intensive course for first-year statistics majors or double majors slated for spring 2017 and featuring live interviews with prominent leaders in the statistics field. Dabney will work with enrolled students before each interview to introduce relevant background and help craft appropriate lines of questioning tailored both to speaker and topics. The current list of confirmed guests includes all four of the department’s distinguished professors; David Hand, a professor at Imperial College, London, and author of the book, The Improbability Principle; Christian Galindo, head of marketing analytics at Facebook; Tim Hesterberg, a senior statistician at Google; Kristen Lennox, director of statistical consulting at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Jeff Morris, a professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center; Robert Tibshirani, a professor at Stanford University and co-author of several seminal books, including An Introduction to the Bootstrap, The Elements of Statistical Learning and An Introduction to Statistical Learning; and Larry Wasserman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of the book, All of Statistics.
“This will be a golden opportunity for our students to get a big-picture view of the field and become inspired to really dive in to their studies,” Dabney said. “Furthermore, the interviews will be recorded and posted to the Department of Statistics website, and we will advertise them to AP Statistics teachers.”
Wehrly says the department will continue to offer a joint undergraduate degree in applied mathematical sciences in partnership with the Texas A&M Department of Mathematics. Interestingly, the same BLS survey that lists statistics as its 9th fastest-growing occupation also predicts mathematical science jobs will grow 28 percent by 2024 as well.
“The program in statistics is flexible enough to allow students to obtain a double major and is ideal for students who have a strong interest in any area of application,” Wehrly said.
To learn more about the program and related requirements, visit http://www.stat.tamu.edu/academics/undergraduate/.
For additional information about statistics as either a discipline or a possible career, visit the American Statistical Association’s This Is Statistics website.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Dr. Alan Dabney, (979) 845-3141 or email@example.com or Dr. Thomas Wehrly, (979) 845-1359 or firstname.lastname@example.org