UA Little Rock online information quality program nationally ranked

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The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has one of the country’s best online information technology programs, according to an independent digital publication that provides resources to students and their families.

College Choice recently released its list of the “35 Best Online Master’s in Information Technology Degrees for 2017.” UA Little Rock, the only Arkansas school included in the ranking, was No. 27 in the nation.

In compiling the list, the publication factored tuition costs and the College Choice Score — created based on schools’ reputations and their return on investment. The organization derives its score from a national survey of freshmen by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute and from data compiled from sources such as U.S. News & World Report, the National Center for Education Statistics, and PayScale.com.

“The end result is a list of schools that balance cost, reputation, and, ultimately, what they can do for you and your unique goals,” a College Choice article announcing the rankings said.

Since the UA Little Rock Master of Science in information quality online program began about 10 years ago, the university has focused on giving students options in how they learn and prepare for their careers, said Dr. Elizabeth Pierce, UA Little Rock chair of the Department of Information Science and associate professor.

“I think the biggest benefit — and what makes us unique — is that we do not do the canned online experience, where the material is put out there and it’s static,” Pierce said. “It’s very important to us that everybody feels like they’re getting a quality experience.”

While students taking the course online can review materials and watch replays of lectures, they also have the option to participate in the sessions live through video streaming. The technology lets them view everything the professor is presenting while also interacting with the lecturer and fellow students.

“We want them to feel like they’re sitting right ‘front and center’ in the classroom,” Pierce said.

Students who regularly attend the physical class also can participate in the online version or view the recorded sessions as their needs and schedules change from week to week, Pierce said.

Strong job outlook

Now is an excellent time to consider an information technology career, said Dr. John Talburt, professor of information science and one of the founders of the university’s program.

College Choice, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projections, called the outlook for the profession excellent, with high median earnings and a job growth rate in the double digits by 2024.

Many employers are starting to recognize data as a valuable asset separate from the information technology infrastructure, Talburt said.

As those organizations look for the best ways to get value out of their data, Pierce said, some are struggling to find employees with the right mix of talent, training, and interest.

The UA Little Rock program fills that gap by equipping graduates to collect and validate data and then get it into a format that can be used for the company’s competitive advantage, she said.

As the goals and strategies of employers have changed, the UA Little Rock program continues to position students for success, Talburt said.

Employers are increasingly finding the need for data governance, Talburt said, and a data governance course has been part of the Information Quality master’s degree program from the beginning.

“We’ve always taken a very broad view of information quality,” Talburt said. “We feel the students are very well rounded coming out of the program.”

The university has collaborated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on its information quality programs, most recently on the Institute for Chief Data Officers at UA Little Rock. The institute is led by Executive Director and Founder Dr. Richard Wang, who also has been the director of the MIT information quality program.

Talburt redited UA Little Rock College of Engineering and Information Technology Dean Larry Whitman for his role in the Information Quality department’s success, noting that Whitman put an excellent team in place for the program that celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2016.

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