These types of offerings provide great exposure for the vendors, students get the right skills, it makes it easy for professors to do their jobs and employers love it because students are coming out of universities knowing the tools that are used in their companies, she said.
But providing the tools in a Web-based, low-maintenance fashion is key, according to Wixom.
Not having any set-up requirements is just as important as the price, because professors don't have the time to set up servers, learn new software and maintain accounts, she said. "There is just no way that I would be able to put that kind of situation in place," she said.
Wixom surveyed IT professors around the world last fall as part of a study on the current state of BI in academia for the Business Intelligence Congress in Phoenix, Ariz.
The study, based on responses from 87 universities, found that professors clearly understand the need to provide students with analytics skills, and that the biggest obstacle to accomplishing this is having the tools to teach with, she said.
"Education is another industry that has really been impacted by the economy," said Wixom. The fact that SAS is offering the tools for free is a huge advantage for universities and students alike who don't have the money to invest in software tools, she said.
The second biggest obstacle, next to software, is having the right kinds of accompanying materials. SAS provides that by developing pedagogy around the software, she said.
Getting access to contemporary tools is a further challenge and SAS satisfies this requirement, she said. Professors "want to give students experiences they will find in the workplace and to do that, we need heavy-duty tools," she said.
The study also noted challenges in finding professors who can teach BI, and again, this type of initiative can help, she said. Faculty may, for example, have a data background but not a business analytics background, and can use the free tools to teach themselves.
SAS's free offering may also help extend analytics education to a broader array of courses.
Professors often don't have a whole semester to teach these tools, said Wixom. Because the tools are free, professors will have the flexibility to offer this to students regardless of the amount of time they have to teach analytics in their courses, she said.