Roughly 40 miles north of Dallas, the University of North Texas (UNT) is quietly building an army of data scientists prepared to take on the world of tech and business.
When the school first established its master’s in data science program about a decade ago, just 4 students enrolled. Today, there are more than 700 students enrolled in its master’s program this semester alone. Among schools that participate in Fortune’s ranking of best data science master’s programs, UNT has the greatest number of students.
The university as a whole is very committed to the idea that data science is going to play a major role in the future economy, according to Junhua Ding, the director of UNT’s master of science in data science program. That’s why, he says, they have been able to expand.
“For me, the guideline is how to provide high-quality education. That’s very important. That means education for us is whether the student that can work for the high tech company on (a) data science project,” Ding tells Fortune.
Teaching the in-demand skills—affordably
UNT may not be one of the first schools to pop into your head when thinking about data science programs, Ding says his department is most committed to building a high-quality educational experience—with top tier faculty that can attract driven students. The program is debuting as No. 2 on Fortune’s 2024 ranking of the best master’s in data science.
Bhanuprasas Gollapudi initially made the decision to come to the UNT from India after talking to current students about the curriculum and career opportunities as well as hearing about the affordability of the program.
He graduated from UNT in 2022, and now works in software engineering at T-Mobile. He tells Fortune that the master’s degree program helped equip him—as well as his classmates—with the in-demand data science skills needed to be competitive in the growing space.
Ding says price is a factor that drives many students to UNT’s data science master’s. The average annual in-state tuition and fees for the program is about $8,640.26. Out-of-state students pay a little less than double that at $16,200.26 annually.
In comparison, at neighboring Texas Tech, which also offers an in-person master’s program in data science, average annual tuition and fees is close to $25,000, and at private Southern Methodist University, an online data science master’s costs at least $57,000 for the entire program.
Gollapudi says he started out with little knowledge in data science research but was eventually able to be part of multiple endeavors, including journal publication. The courses gradually increased students’ capabilities, starting from Excel and Tableau all the way to PowerBi and SAS. He adds that the research and collaboration opportunities while interacting with real-world projects is what has helped distinguish himself in the extremely competitive field.
“UNT is the place where we can learn everything, like they will help us,” Gollapudi tells Fortune.
Plans for growth
CompTIA predicts that over the next decade, the need for data scientists and data analysts will grow by 266%—the fastest of any other tech profession.
The department has around 12 faculty members, with PhD backgrounds in areas like statistics, machine learning, and computer science, and there are plans to nearly double to 20.
He says his goal is to increase the program’s domestic outreach because while it is great they can support a 70% international population, changes in the economy could easily affect that.
The program also works across disciplines—with health informatics or material science, for example—to provide students with real-world learning experiences through computation, application, and data-driven intelligence.
From Texas to top tech companies
Ding says an overwhelming majority of graduates are able to land jobs—and at toply-sought after firms like Microsoft, Google, Capital One, and JPMorgan Chase. Gollapudi added that many of his peers ended up at companies Amazon, Walmart, and Goldman Sachs.
“We’re in the Dallas area, so it’s (a) pretty good position to find jobs. But, this year, it’s a little bit tough, but I’m still confident students will eventually, they may get a job, but the time consuming (will be) probably a little bit longer,” Ding says.
But for Gollapudi, above all, the UNT data science program and its team provided a support system for him to feel at home.
“They don’t treat you as a student, they treat you as a family member,” he says.
- Acceptance rate: 26.5% (2023–2024)
- Annual in-state tuition: $8,640.26 (9 credits/semester, includes fees)
- Annual out-of-state tuition: $16,200.26 (9 credits/semester, includes fees)
- Credit hours required: 36 (1.5-2 year average)
- Average class size: 35-45 students
- Standardized testing: None
- Letters of recommendation: 2
- Proof of English proficiency: Yes, for international students (TOEFL accepted)