Bringing Blockchain into the Business School at the University of the Cumberlands

What does the advent of artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, cryptocurrency, and their related sub-fields mean for the future of business programs at universities?

For example, financial technology, usually called fintech, is an emerging discipline that includes AI, big data, blockchain, and crypto. This assortment of components makes fintech an interdisciplinary field and thus presents a challenge to determining where it should live at a university.

Lois McWhorter, Chair of the Hutton School of Business at the University of the Cumberlands, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about what the advent of artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, and cryptocurrency means for the future of our business programs, and how to think through the academic governance of interdisciplinary programs that cross business and IT.

Where Should Fintech Live at the University?

“When we looked at it,” Lois said, “we determined that it needed to be a split program.”

She believed the university needed an IT side to teach programming and a business side to cover the functional areas of business. 

“We have blockchain,” she said. “We have artificial intelligence. The technology is there, and that’s certainly an important part of it. Also an important part of that is how is it going to be implemented in the functional areas of business?”

Lois and her team looked at every aspect of HR, finance, banking, and asked, “How are these implemented?” 

Their goal was to integrate both the IT and the functional areas of business sides.

How Should Split Academic Governance Work?

“Our Master’s in Global Business with Blockchain Technology is a split degree,” Lois said. “50% of IT and 50% of business classes.” 

IT staffs all their own classes. They’re the experts. They know their faculty and their faculty’s strengths. On the business side, the business school staffs all their classes.

“What we tried to do when we created the degree was to create a total immersion of a given topic,” Lois said. If the topic is HR, for instance, then in each business-focused HR class, students are going to get a portion of content that’s going to be IT related. 

The same thing happens in an IT class. The students are going to study the functional area that this IT piece impacts. In this way, students get immersed in blockchain, technology, and the implementation of the functional areas of business.

Do We Need to Adjust Technology Entrance Requirements for Business Students? 

“I think that we have to,” Lois said. 

Experts in the future of work predict that all workers across all industries will need a knowledge of data analytics. But prospective graduate students may not come with those skills in hand for a few years yet. 

“We are introducing classes in our undergraduate business program that will introduce students to emerging technology,” Lois said. “Things like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and big data.”

You have to start laying the groundwork for these ideas at the undergraduate level or even earlier. 

Lois was just at a curriculum meeting for high schools in Kentucky where 40 people from business and marketing attended. When asked what knowledge and skills high school students needed to graduate with, every one of those folks put data analytics at the top of their list. Again, that was high school.  

“As colleges, we have to respond,” Lois said. “I don’t think that it’s going to be just relegated to business and IT. I think it’s going to be every single occupation, something about data analytics.”

Does that mean every student have to dive deeply into math and statistics? No, but they will have to know how to manipulate data, where its from, if it’s credible, and so forth.

“That being said,” Lois added, “there will be no degree in the future that’s not going to have to have some portion that’s about data analytics.”

Could Fintech Make the MBA Relevant Again?

Traditionally, MBAs have offered a generalist curricula. Later, they added several areas of specialty. 

“Industry is looking for that specific skillset,” Lois said. “The generalist MBA doesn’t meet that standard. As a consequence, I think that’s why we’re seeing more of an increase in specializations within MBA programs.”

At the University of the Cumberlands, Lois and her team are looking at those areas of specialization all the time, evaluating them and developing new ones.

Next-Steps Advice for Interdisciplinary Program Governance

Her first advice? Let those people who have expertise in technology develop and staff those classes. 

One challenge to be prepared for, though, is explaining to people what the technology is. 

“Anytime you develop a degree and it’s using technology that is so new that you have to explain to people this is what blockchain is,” Lois said, “that’s a challenge.”

If you talk to people working in finance, technology, and banking, however, they already know what blockchain is. Consequently, Lois says we’ll see immediate growth in finance and banking.

“Certainly that’s been true in Europe and the other places that it’s already existed for several years,” she said.


This post is based on a podcast interview with Lois McWhorter from University of the Cumberlands. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.