When it comes to crypto and higher education, Cornell University is not just leading the Ivy League: It offers more blockchain-related courses than any other top university in the world, according to a survey by digital asset exchange Coinbase and researcher Qriously Technologies.
Just over 40% of the world’s top 50 universities offer at least one class on blockchain or crypto assets, according to the study, which focused on undergraduate-level courses planned for fall 2018 (or the most recent data available). Classes were offered by computer science professors, as well as by anthropology and finance departments. Cornell, ranked 14th overall among US universities by US News & World Report, offers 28 courses on cryptography, cryptocurrencies, or blockchain.
Demand for crypto-related classes shows there are ways to make money on bitcoin and its offshoots without having to bet on whether prices rise or fall. And crypto mania has been particularly pronounced among young people: Yale economist Robert Schiller noted last year that he could sense the excitement for bitcoin among his students. However, he also said the mania was a good example of a financial bubble, and crypto classes are not included in the Nobel prize winner’s course offerings, according to his faculty webpage.
Since then, the hype around digital assets has dissipated. Bitcoin has fallen more than 60% since its high in December, to around $7,000 at the time of writing. Still, that is well up on its price of around $4,630 a year ago and $580 in 2016.
The enthusiasm for blockchain technology has also cooled. Bitcoin’s blockchain architecture—essentially a robust, distributed database—was invented a decade ago, and companies have been exploring whether it could be applied to everything from supply chains to securities offerings. But so far, only 1% of executives in a survey reported deploying the technology at their firms. The main use for bitcoin has been speculation, and it hasn’t caught on in many places as a means of payment. The same goes for most other crypto variants, even ones marketed with supposed “utility” value.
American students, meanwhile, are still racking up education debt that many can’t afford to repay. They’re mired in $1.4 trillion in student loans, and yet employers complain that graduates lack the technical skills they’re seeking. Tuition prices have soared; the cost of attending Ithaca, New York-based Cornell, including room and board, runs to more than $70,000 per year, according to the website Collegedata.
As debt and tuition prices spiral, many are questioning whether traditional degrees are still worth the money. The creator of ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, reportedly dropped out of the University of Waterloo and created the second-most valuable crypto asset.
So are schools promoting a fad as their students fall deeper into debt? Not necessarily. Companies like IBM haven’t lost faith in blockchain to transform industries. The study of crypto assets such as bitcoin marries important disciplines like economics, law, computer science, and cryptography. Expertise in the latter is particularly likely to be in high demand in coming years, regardless of what happens to digital coins.
This, at least, suggests that students who take on debt to study crypto are making a (leveraged) bet on something bigger than just the price of bitcoin. Blockchain may not change the world, but the mathematics and computing expertise necessary to understand it are all but certain to.
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