Microsoft's new online certification program kicks off with data science specialization

Microsoft is launching the pilot of an online certification program, called the "Microsoft Professional Degree", with a data-science-focused competency.

Microsoft took the wraps off an online certification program called "Microsoft Professional Degree" during the third day of the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.

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The new degree program is in beta/pilot at this point, said officials on July 13. The first certifications, which Microsoft will award this September, will be in the data science area.

According to a website for the program, Microsoft consulted data scientists and companies employing them to figure out what the core skills required are in that field. Microsoft then developed a curriculum to teach the skills via online courses and hands-on labs. Graduates will receive a Microsoft Professional Degree in data science.

Microsoft is allowing those interested to sign up with their email address to be notified when slots in the program are open to the public.

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Participants are allowed to audit any courses, including the associated hands-on labs, free of charge.

"However, to receive credit towards the Microsoft Professional Degree, you must purchase a Verified Certificate for each of the 10 courses you take in the curriculum. For the Data Science degree, the Verified Certificate for the orientation course is $25, and the Verified Certificate for 'Statistical Thinking for Data Science and Analytics' is $99. All other courses offer Verified Certificates for $49 each," according to Microsoft's website.

During the data-science pilot, participants will need to purchase a verified certificate for each required course taken on edX. More information on the courses and pricing is available at edX.org.

More details on the Microsoft Professional Degree program are available on this FAQ page, which notes that data science is currently the only arena where certifications are available, and English is currently the only language supported.

Microsoft angered some in 2013 when it pulled its highest-level Masters certifications. At the time, Microsoft officials said the company was rethinking how best to make its certification program in that space more sustainable.

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