There’s an unprecedented demand for statistics graduates in the United States according to a news release from the American Statistical Association (ASA), and that demand is still growing.
According to the ASA, the number of statistics graduates is growing faster than that of almost any other degree, but there still aren’t enough statistics graduates to meet the demand.
Dennis Tolley, chair of BYU’s Department of Statistics, said the field is growing so much because more and more data is being used in decision making. This has resulted in an increase in the amount and types of data collected and stored.
“People are gathering more [data] and they’re recording it,” Tolley said. “In the past, a lot of data was gathered on sheets of paper and nobody did anything with it. Now it’s getting stored into various databases, so it’s more easily accessed.”
With this increase in easily accessible data comes the need for statisticians to analyze the data and use it in a productive way. Businesses want the data they collect to guide their decisions, whether that is to increase sales or improve performance.
“One of the big discoveries in the last few decades is that empirically-driven decision making is quite effective,” said Tolley.
The number of undergraduate statistics students in the United States has grown for fifteen consecutive years, and the demand for statisticians continues to rise faster than the number of statistics graduates. The need for statisticians is further illustrated by an average yearly salary of $84,000, compared to the general national median income of about $50,000.
“A discipline that is meeting a need will naturally grow,” Tolley said.
He has certainly seen this growth at BYU, where the statistics majors have more than doubled in the last eight years, from 172 to 403. Tolley said BYU’s statistics department doesn’t strongly recruit and mostly focuses its efforts on meeting the needs of students that have already come to the major. He expects to have at least five hundred majors within the next five years.
The BYU statistics program is one of the largest and oldest in the country, established in the early 1960s. It’s also a little more independent than most. While many statistics programs started with just one or two professors from other departments and gradually grew into their own departments, BYU’s program was established faster and more deliberately.
“Most departments grew out of a math department or an economics department . . . and then they spun off a statistics department,” Tolley said. “For us, why, the president of the university decided we needed a statistics department and poof! It was there.”
It also helps that BYU offers three different statistics degrees: statistical science for students who want to go to graduate school; a degree for actuarial careers; and applied statistics, which leads to jobs in quality control and experimental design. Because of the program’s age, independence, and different emphases, the BYU statistics program is well known.
“The undergraduates that come from [our] program are perceived to be well prepared and capable of either going on to graduate school or doing well in the industry,” Tolley said.