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Education: Practicing What They Teach

Business schools are refining their programs to meet the needs of both employers and students

By Mark Green

Kentucky’s business schools are innovating and enrollments are rising as colleges respond to student demand that their tuition investment will bring a job upon graduation or boost the career they have already begun.

Business education is growing more experiential and specific, delivering precise skills. Focused certificate and degree programs are blooming, some in collaboration with other colleges such as engineering, law, medicine and pharmacy. New advisory committees are impacting curricula.

Students and the businesses that want them have a rising awareness of corporate social responsibility and sustainability practices, which are now regular classroom topics.

More of the instruction and student interaction occurs online.

“I am the king of remote education,” said Simon Sheather, dean of the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky. His experience creating online college classes dates to 1989 in his native Australia; he launched both live and at-your-own-pace remote programs at Texas A&M University before coming to Kentucky. One of his first initiatives upon taking his Gatton post in 2018 was an online MBA option.

The 2022 Gatton freshman class is up by 35%—from 914 last year to 1,228. There are around 150 new graduate students and more than 4,000 overall in undergrad, graduate and online programs, some of which end in certificates rather than a traditional UK degree.

A graduate certificate in business analytics is new this fall, one in human resources launched last year and a financial planning certificate is in its third year.
Freshman numbers are also the largest in history at Western Kentucky University’s Gordon Ford College of Business, where a new $74 million building to house its programs is scheduled to open in fall 2025.

Program ‘fit’ is a driver
GFCB Dean Christopher Shook said a recent survey shows the No. 1 driver of students’ choice of college is program fit. Shook says WKU is “the perfect size” for students who want the activities and cutting-edge education of a Division I school while being part of a community where faculty know them by name.

WKU offers not just a finance degree but one in financial planning. It offers a degree in mathematical economics (actuarial science.) A student can get a marketing degree or a degree in sales.
“One of the main goals of GFCB is to get high school students on campus and let them experience life as a GFCB Hilltopper,” Shook said. “We started strategically focusing on how we connected with high school students and our messaging, including adapting our modes of communication.”

University of Louisville College of Business enrollments are up, especially in graduate programs, where student numbers have increase 124% over the past five years, said Interim Dean Jeff Guan. He credits “innovations. We created new programs, and we enriched existing programs with new academic content such as certificates.”

For example, UofL created a new Master of Science in Business Analytics, he said.

“We also started an online MBA and created five graduate certificate programs, such as franchise management, distilled spirits, family business management and advising, horse racing industry business, and managerial analytics,” Guan said.

Data is today’s currency
Analytics has shifted from being obscure a decade ago to a key skill in business management today.

“A couple of years ago,” Guan said, “we started offering to all of our graduate students classes in a certificate program called managerial analytics, which includes classes such as AI, blockchain, database, advanced statistics, and storytelling.”

Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Business has its largest freshman class, up 8.5% from last year, Dean Tom Martin said. Graduate student numbers are up 50% overall in online and face-to-face classes. The MBA program that was completely redesigned and restarted in 2018 has grown to 105 students.

Martin estimates 90% of MBA students are people who have been working and want to sharpen their talents.


EKU has new minors in sales and in entrepreneurship to go with a risk management and insurance program degree that is rated best in the nation at preparing graduates for industry. EKU is among only 18 schools nationally with a professional golf management program.

At Murray State University, enrollment at its Arthur J. Bauernfeind College of Business is up 60% since 2020, due largely to a successful partnership to teach students remotely at the Shandong Institute of Business and Technology.

Murray State has nearly 300 undergraduates in the joint program with Shandong, which is located on the eastern coast of China between Beijing and Shanghai and directly west of Seoul, South Korea.

Foreign partnerships grow workforce
Northern Kentucky University is also aiming to attract students from outside the region to its Haile College of Business, which has around 2,600 enrolled. Dean Hassan HassabElnaby said Haile has agreements with four universities in India and one in Egypt that allow international students to begin their MBA program studies afar and complete them in-person at NKU.

Support at NKU facilitates students’ travel logistics, connection with housing near campus and related needs to ease their transition into the university network and be part of the NKU family, HassabElnaby said.

Growing the local workforce is part of the international agreement strategy. Haile, NKU and local chambers of commerce are collaborating to help connect incoming MBA students to jobs within a year with a goal of getting a U.S. work visa.

“Most are indeed hoping to get a job in the U.S.,” HassabElnaby said.

NKU sees 85% of its graduates stay in the region, he said.

Haile steadily examines its entire curriculum to find ways to make it more relevant to area employers, many of whom maintain a close relationship to NKU. There are new minors in esports and sports business and a sales focus has been added to the marketing degree program. Analytics is integrated into all courses. There are graduate certificates in construction management, cybersecurity, supply chain, human resources management and data analytics.

“We are lucky that we are connected to industry,” HassabElnaby said. “They love to help the university. That is something that attracted me to Northern Kentucky. They believe that they are members of the university community; they are not external.”

Among new offerings at NKU is a one-year Eva and Oakley Farris Leadership Academy program. The 25 students it accepts each year work on resolving an issue the community is interested in. The first project is tackling why many minority students have less interest in STEM subjects and do not place a high value on college education.

Students know today it takes tech
In general, there is a growing technology mindset among students, HassabElnaby said. Students want to know how to use technology to advance their career and solve problems in their work.

The core concepts of business management and education are little changed, he said, but their delivery methods are.

“Students are not willing to sit for an hour and a half in a lecture,” HassabElnaby said. For its part, NKU wants “to make sure they understand clearly that learning does not happen only in the classroom. They need to be part of student professional organizations, have internships, study abroad, be active in working with the business community.”

University of the Cumberlands has been achieving “phenomenal growth” in its business offerings by taking innovative steps such as leasing space and offering in-person attendance classes in Dallas, Washington D.C. and Seattle, and adding more remote instruction, Dean Lois McWhorter said.

She, too, said it is important that schools constantly re-evaluate what they offer and how they offer it, stripping out any “busy work” in a program and adding skill sets. This means augmenting theory instruction with application in projects and requiring fewer prerequisites.

UCumb monitors what is on the horizon and three years ago became one of the first schools in the nation to offer a masters degree in blockchain technology. McWhorter said a trigger for creating the program came when Walmart issued a requirement that its supply partners were going to have to use blockchain tracking to maintain their relationship with nation’s largest retailer.

Deliver my degree faster!
Another trend is the “Amazon-ification” of student expectations, McWhorter said. Students want to obtain their marketable skills more quickly. In response, UCumb added more sections of its business analytics class.

“Students realize that any job now is going to require having to analyze data,” McWhorter said.

Equine studies has been a specialization for 50 years at Midway University, whose Woodford County campus is closer to more horse farm operations than any school in Kentucky. Half its 1,901-student enrollment is in the School of Business, Equine and Sport Management. Most matriculate online and many are working professionals upgrading their skills.

A new equine business and sales class launched this semester with 26 students versus its goal of 15, Dean Mark Gill said. Midway has access to top experts in the Kentucky equine industry and they regularly make guest appearances in classes through the school’s Eagle Connect initiative.

They answer questions, discuss their own career experiences and provide guidance on how to enter the field and achieve a successful career trajectory, Gill said. They also are providing positive feedback that Midway students are ready with the right skills.

Midway’s MBA has six concentrations: health administration, human resources management, equine management, sports management, tourism, and information systems management. It also has a dual Master of Science in nursing and business administration.

Business degrees mean a job awaits
Enrollment is up 50% this year at the Dayton School of Business at Asbury University and innovation is the reason, Dean Alesha Graves said. A recently added finance major “has really grown, largely because graduates are essentially guaranteed to immediately enter a career in their field upon graduation,” she said.

Graves said Asbury faculty think about the value proposition of their classes.

“When we plan our classes, we are planning for the student,” she said. “Every one of us has professional experience. Every one of us has worked in the area that we teach. With that in mind, we also have our terminal degrees. We understand both the theory and the practice, and we can really speak into that with the students.”

Asbury is one of a handful of U.S. schools where students can bring their horse with them. Two of its newest programs are MBAs in equine management and in sports management.

“The world is moving quickly, and this is where having real-life experts who have worked in the field is highly beneficial,” Graves said. “We keep our eyes and ears toward what is happening in the market.

She teaches income tax and is preparing students for a 2024 relaunch of the CPA exam that will bring one of the largest changes it’s undergone in decades.

Create your own credential
Since Bruce Rosenthal arrived in June 2021 as Thomas More University’s new dean of the College of Business, the university has been working to change its straightforward 39-credit MBA into a program with concentrations that include health care, data analytics, finance, sports and entertainment marketing, and entrepreneurship.

In 2021 the university created badging and microcredentials that students can assemble on their own in logistics, leadership, management and more. Its adult programs are being upgraded and will offer concentrations.

“Sustainability is the driving factor for business in the coming century,” said Rosenthal, who spent 25 years as a business manager, working for Dow Jones in Japan as well as eight years in Europe.

Job interviewers specifically ask graduates about corporate responsibility and sustainability and how they can help move their company into the future.

In response, Thomas More’s new sustainability concentration launched this year as a joint effort by the colleges of Business, Health Science and Liberal Arts. The school is planning for further enrollment growth and is breaking ground this academic year on a new building.

Gatton’s Dean Sheather notes that environmental, social and corporate governance issues—ESG for shorthand—are a rising priority in the business world and in education. Gatton’s ESG investment course is open to all UK students. The class collectively manages $2 million of the university’s endowment funds.

Sheather, who is among the top 2% of analytics researchers in the world, said one positive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was that it got faculty who had been resistant to teaching online to do so; they had to. Gatton launched its online evening MBA program in 2019. It now has dual-degree MBA programs with UK’s colleges of Engineering, Pharmacy, Law and Medicine.

The secret of success in online instruction, Sheather said, is to build into the programs plenty of interaction among students and with their instructors. Today’s technology makes it easy to set up groups online, and it allows the dean to monitor live groups and classes. He finds opportunities to step into those online gatherings and contribute to the discussion.


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