KEY INSIGHTS

  • Morgan State University has the first-ever financial technology center at an HBCU.
  • In 2019, the Center received millions of dollars for the next five years from fintech company Ripple, which has positioned it as a funding and educational hub for other HBCUs.
  • This year, it will help teach HBCU faculty about creating NFTs.


In 2017, as the price of bitcoin exploded for the first time, interest in cryptocurrency among students and faculty at Morgan State University was rising, too. Ali Emdad, Associate Dean at Morgan’s Graves School of Business, noticed the growing interest and decided to develop not just a course in blockchain fundamentals, but to create an entire center dedicated to it: the Center for the Study of Blockchain and Financial Technology, the first of its kind at an HBCU.


For Emdad, it is important that HBCUs be involved in fintech.


“Why should it be the predominantly white schools that come up and then we have to take whatever is available? Why don't we create knowledge?” Emdad told The Plug.


The blockchain has been touted as a way for Black people to build wealth because of its decentralized nature, outside of the traditional financial system that has traditionally excluded Black Americans. According to a survey from NORC at the University of Chicago, of the 13 percent of Americans who trade cryptocurrencies, 44 percent are people of color.


Fintech as a whole is a rapidly growing industry. According to an October 2021 study by Plaid, the use of fintech has reached mass adoption in the U.S. 


Consumers using technology to manage their finances increased from 58 percent in 2020 to 88 percent in 2021. Americans more frequently use fintech than video streaming and social media, at 78 percent and 72 percent respectively, making fintech the most used consumer technology next to the internet. 


The FinTech Center is helping create a knowledge base through a variety of programs for faculty and students, not just at Morgan State, but across HBCUs. In 2019, the Center received millions of dollars for the next five years from fintech company Ripple, which has positioned it as a funding and educational hub for other HBCUs. As part of Morgan State’s agreement with Ripple, officials have not disclosed the exact amount of funding the school has received. 


Now, three years into the partnership, the Center has helped at least 45 faculty members from 30 different HBCUs incorporate fintech into their curriculums. The Center has also given faculty at HBCUs $10,000 grants to develop projects that educate the community on fintech, through initiatives like blockchain clubs, think tanks and a campus token.


Faculty across HBCUs have also learned how to create new courses and update existing curricula to incorporate fintech in disciplines as varied as accounting, computer science, law and business. The Center has also funded at least 14 research projects involving fintech, including estimating environmental impacts of crypto mining, looking at the application and development of machine learning for the blockchain and the effect of the blockchain on supply chain sustainability.


For the past two years, HBCU students have also had the opportunity to get hands-on crypto trading experience. Students who participated in the crypto challenge were given $200 in crypto on the trading platform Binance and competed over eight weeks on their ROIs. Last spring, 28 students from 13 HBCUs competed to the end of the program and they collectively achieved a 140 percent ROI, according to the Center.


Emdad and his colleagues have also started the National HBCU Blockchain and Fintech Conference, which will be held for the third consecutive year this fall. Throughout the year, the Center also hosts virtual seminars on topics ranging from the blockchain for social good to disruptive fintech trends. 


It has hosted conversations with Securities and Exchange Commissioner Hester Peirce on the SEC’s role in regulating cryptocurrencies and with Anoop Nannra, Amazon’s Global Blockchain Leader, on the disruptive fintech trends transforming jobs.


In this next year, the FinTech Center will be exploring a new topic in addition to the programs it has already been running — NFTs. It will help HBCU faculty learn how to teach students to create non-fungible tokens, unique digital assets. The NFT market is estimated to have surpassed $40 billion in 2021 alone. According to the Harris Poll, in April 2021, 25 percent of Black Americans said they’ve bought NFTs versus eight percent of white Americans. 


Yet, despite the volatility in blockchain-enabled fintech and an ever-growing list of cryptocurrencies that are being created or folding, Emdad thinks fintech is here to stay.


“We don't have a crystal ball. We don't know what the future is going to hold,” Emdad said. “But I see a trend. The trend is going in the direction that we're going to see more and more and more innovations in this space.”