The term “big data” has permeated society without much clarity for many about what it means.

A proposed master’s program in data science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha will cover the topic and capitalize on the need for big data experts in the workforce.

UNO’s proposal will go to the NU Board of Regents on Friday at Varner Hall, 3835 Holdrege St. in Lincoln. Presentations will be made at 10 a.m. on flood recovery efforts and information security. The official board meeting will start at 11 a.m.

Big data has emerged as a special subject area from computer science’s ability to collect massive amounts of information and statistics.

Other colleges offer data science courses and programs as well. “We live in an ocean of data,” said Anthony Hendrickson, dean of the College of Business at Creighton University.

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“Everybody essentially uses big data” now, he said. “I don’t know of an industry that doesn’t.”

Creighton has a new major called FinTech that combines finance and technology. Banking and other finance industries use big data a great deal, Hendrickson said.

“The challenge now is how do we sift ... through the data to get the information we need to make decisions?” Hendrickson said.

Big data is used by insurance companies, hospitals, law enforcement, business and others to maximize the availability of so much information. The field of health sciences, for instance, can examine how certain drugs perform for hundreds or thousands of patients and make a determination on what medication works best.

UNO’s proposal says one of the benefits of big data is that an expert doesn’t need a problem or hypothesis to use it. “The challenge is to explore data and discover hidden value” in it that can lead to problem-solving, UNO says. But using it, UNO’s proposal says, requires skill.

UNO said in its documentation to the Board of Regents that other colleges that have programs include the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Creighton and Bellevue University. But UNO says its program will stand apart because it will be “interdisciplinary,” using professors from the College of Information Science, College of Arts and Sciences and College of Business Administration.

To excel in the use of big data, UNO’s proposal says, a person needs understanding of mathematical concepts, computer algorithms and business programs, so all three colleges are needed. This approach is fairly rare, UNO says, and will enable graduates to fit into the workforce where needed.

Jim Lewis, assistant dean of Bellevue University’s College of Science and Technology, said big data can be used to track inventory, products and customer behavior to predict what customers will want to buy.

Lewis said Bellevue has had an online Master of Science in data science degree for about 18 months.

“What we have to do is wrangle that data ... to something usable,” he said. The data can be filtered, searched, sorted and collected, and ultimately it can be presented for problem-solving, he said.

And experts in the field, Lewis said, are in demand.

UNO’s paperwork says a study commissioned by IBM indicates that 2.7 million job listings for such positions are expected by 2020. UNO described these as high-wage jobs that need to be filled by skilled data scientists. The number of such jobs is growing rapidly, too, UNO said.

The professors involved already work at UNO, the paper says, so the university estimated the increased cost of offering the program at a total of $60,000 over five years. Revenue from tuition and fees in the program, UNO said, should vastly exceed that.

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rick.ruggles@owh.com, 402-444-1123