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UC Berkeley Adds New Data Science College, Free Curriculum

The university is set to add the new college, its first in more than 50 years — and is providing free curriculum to help spread data science to California community colleges, California State University and more.

UC Berkeley’s faculty and students are marshaling the vast power of data science across myriad fields to address tough problems. And now the university is set to accelerate those efforts with a new college, its first in more than 50 years — and is providing free curriculum to help spread the gospel of data science to California community colleges, California State University and institutions across the nation and world.

As data floods society faster than ever before, demand has surged for specialists who can organize and analyze it with coding skills, computing prowess and creative thinking. To meet the “insatiable demand,” as university officials put it, UC Berkeley will open a College of Computing, Data Science and Society. The University of California Board of Regents was expected to approve the plan.

A new college building is scheduled to open during the 2025-26 academic year and will house the data science major, first offered five years ago, with other degree programs in computer science, statistics, computational biology and computational precision health. Some of the programs will be run jointly with the Berkeley College of Engineering and UC San Francisco. UC Berkeley says no new state funds will be required; the campus has raised private funds for 14 new faculty positions and about $330 million so far in gifts for the new building.

“Infusing the power of data science across multiple disciplines, from basic and applied sciences to the arts and humanities, will help us to fully realize its potential to benefit society, help address our world’s most intractable problems, and achieve our most visionary goals,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ.

Christ told regents Wednesday that huge faculty and student demand — not a top-down decision — led to the data science program. In just five years, data science has become the university’s fourth most popular major among more than 100 offered, with the number of students choosing it nearly doubling to 1,232 in fall 2022 from fall 2019. The number of students who took the introductory data science course was even larger — 4,291 this academic year — and many were majoring in other disciplines, including economics, psychology, sociology, political science and public health.

UC Berkeley’s new college comes as the University of Southern California plans to expand its own footprint in the field with its new School of Advanced Computing. USC aims to bring computing instruction to all students — as well as dramatically expand the number of degrees it confers in technology-related fields. It is part of a $1 billion plan to advance student understanding of the digital world across industries.

At UC Berkeley, the top-ranked public university also plans a broad reach for its mission. The campus is seeding data science into community colleges and other institutions to make the field more accessible to students, offering a path to high-paying careers. UC Berkeley students majoring in computer science, for instance, earn an average annual income of $179,000 four years after graduation, according to federal education data. Graduates in data science earn an average annual income of about $130,000, according to Burning Glass, a nonprofit organization that researches employment trends.

© 2023 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.