As the CEO of SAS, the world’s leading analytics vendor, Jim Goodnight has led the company since its inception in 1976, overseeing an unbroken chain of revenue growth and profitability that is unprecedented in the industry. Renowned for its innovation and corporate culture, SAS is a fixture on best workplaces lists worldwide, including having ranked No. 1 on the Fortune list for the US and No. 1 on the Great Places to Work Institute’s multinational ranking.
A reputation for innovation has secured SAS among the world’s largest software companies. Goodnight continues this commitment to breakthrough technology by reinvesting about a quarter of total revenue each year in research and development, nearly double the percentage of other large software companies.
Born in Salisbury, NC, Goodnight has strong and dedicated ties to his home state. He earned his bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics and his master’s in statistics from North Carolina State University. He also earned his doctorate in statistics at NC State, where he was a faculty member from 1972-76. His passion for learning led him to endow several NCSU professorships and make education the focus of SAS’ philanthropy.
In 1997 Goodnight co-founded Cary Academy, an independent college preparatory day school for students in grades six through 12, with the goal of creating a model school for integrating technology into education.
However, he found the digital curriculum available on the market at the time to be lacking. As a result, Goodnight guided the creation of free online educational resources that help K-12 schools meet the challenges of the new millennium. He also launched free SAS® software and training for adult learners and higher education institutions.
SAS is the leader in analytics and focuses its philanthropic efforts on education initiatives geared toward increasing the STEM-skilled workforce. SAS uses a multi-pronged approach to provide support through many channels and uses its resources to develop creative instructional materials. Examples of this approach include providing free interactive, standards-based curriculum software for K-12, as well as free SAS software to university students, professors and researchers. SAS collaborates with higher education institutions around the world to create degree and certificate programs in analytics and related disciplines, including the first Master of Science in Analytics program at North Carolina State University. By supporting efforts that prepare more graduates for college, work and success in the 21st century, SAS continues to play a vital role in the global community.
We are facing a STEM skills gap that jeopardizes America’s position as the world’s foremost country in innovation. The US continues to lag behind countries such as China and India in producing STEM graduates for the nation’s workforce. As more innovation moves overseas, the US risks becoming a service-based economy.
This is of great concern for me not only as a citizen, but especially as CEO of SAS, an analytics company that relies on, and whose customers rely on, STEM talent. Analytics careers demand strong proficiency in many STEM disciplines, including math and statistics. Analytics is the key to analyzing and deriving value from big data, which is critical to competition, productivity and innovation for companies in the US and around the world.
We need to help students understand the value of a STEM degree and the tremendous career opportunities it provides. A May 2015 report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, The Economic Value of College Majors, revealed a significant disconnect between the popularity and earning potential of degrees.
Nine of the 10 highest-paying majors are in engineering majors, and some of the highest-earning degrees are in the fields of computers, statistics and mathematics. But applied mathematics and statistics both ranked near the bottom in popularity.
SAS helped establish the first analytics master’s program in the country at North Carolina State University. Upon graduation, the class of 2015 averaged three job offers per student, and the mean base salary was more than $96,000.
We need to bolster STEM education all the way down to pre-K so that students have the confidence to pursue what are often seen as intimidating majors.
In today’s world, STEM skills are important for almost any occupation, whether it requires a technical certificate, a two-year degree, a four-year degree or beyond. To reverse that gap, we need to understand what is happening in our education system. Data and analytics can provide that understanding.
We need to stop analyzing our education system in silos. Longitudinal data analysis is important across the entire education continuum, starting with strong early learning programs and on into the workforce.
Student data can be analyzed to understand the incoming academic preparedness of students before they enter the classroom, whether for kindergarten, middle school, high school and beyond. Student data helps in understanding academic growth patterns while that student is in the classroom.
Student data can also be used to identify students in need of early interventions, mitigating the later need for remedial coursework. Conversely, data can identify students who are ready for more rigorous academic opportunities to help them reach their potential. Data can be used to pilot innovative interventions and scale approaches that prove the most successful.
The importance of data and analytics does not end with the education system. Workforce data tied to educational data is critical to reversing the skills gap. For example, data about the workforce needs of businesses will help colleges design curricula, certificate and degree programs that actually meet employer demands.
SAS has launched several initiatives, and has a history of partnering with educational institutions and organizations to generate more STEM and analytics talent.
SAS® Curriculum Pathways® offers free digital resources and mobile learning apps for K-12. It is now used in schools in all 50 states by more than 1 million teachers and students.
Two years ago we launched SAS Analytics U, a global initiative offering students, professors, independent learners and researchers free and easy access to SAS software, training and online communities.
The response has been tremendous. More than 500,000 people worldwide have downloaded SAS University Edition, which offers valuable experience with SAS foundational technologies to anyone, anywhere, for free.
SAS OnDemand for Academics makes it easy for professors and students to use SAS statistical analysis, data mining, and forecasting software at no cost. We now have more than 39,000 active users, and last year expanded the program to make it available through the Amazon cloud.
SAS has partnered with colleges and universities to create and launch nearly 40 masters and undergraduate degrees, as well as 90 certificate programs in analytics and related disciplines.
Other STEM-related initiatives include an annual Math Summit where hundreds of teachers gather to improve math instruction; STEM Career Days, where SAS volunteers get young students excited about analytics; 1:1 laptop initiatives; award programs for students doing interesting work with analytics; and support of Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code.
It will take a comprehensive effort by the public and private sectors to create the STEM talent we need to close the skills gap. I believe a mere 10 percent increase in STEM graduates will accomplish that. Surely, with America’s leadership position at stake, we can work together to achieve that.