Professor Andrew Hinkes was ready to begin teaching the class “Digital Currencies, Blockchains and the Future of the Financial Services Industry” promptly at 10:30 a.m. inside one of New York University Stern School of Business’s largest classrooms. It’s a packed house for the lecture, which is also livestreamed.
“A lot of students view education in this area as pivotal to success in the job market,” Hinkes said. “It’s one of the hottest areas in law and business.”
With little reverence to it’s speculative price, the number of undergraduate students across the country deciding to study cryptocurrency and blockchain is booming. A new study from Coinbase says that almost half (42 percent) of the top 50 universities offer at least one course on cryptocurrency or blockchain.
Students from all sides of campus are increasingly requesting some kind of blockchain designation in their degrees, believing it’s mandatory to land the best jobs after graduation. Universities can’t keep up. Waitlists abound.
“In the past few years, as we’ve seen Bitcoin technology and ledger technology develop, it has implications in the legal field,” said law student Mustafa Khan. “In the environment we live in today, it’s especially relevant to know how new technologies work and how they interact with the legal system.”
The class at NYU has attracted law and business students, but also students from the philosophy and political science departments, “who appreciate the libertarian aspects” of decentralized systems, said NYU Finance Department Chair David Yermack, who co-teaches the course.
“I think by and large, people are here for the intellectual curiosity, and they may not be aware until they’ve taken the course of what the job opportunities are,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of unmet demand for these students in the industry. There’s a lot of legacy banks and exchanges that are trying to adopt blockchains into their businesses and they need people to help make that happen.”
The surge in undergraduate offerings is noteworthy. Stanford University offers 10 courses, Cornell University offers nine and the University of Pennsylvania offers six cryptocurrency and blockchain courses to undergraduates according to the Coinbase study. The numbers increase if you include traditional cryptography classes in the mix.
“This is a grassroots movement. These are students saying ‘University, I want to take a class on this,’” said Adam White, vice president and general manager at Coinbase.
The cryptocurrency exchange’s report also found about one in four undergraduate students want to take a cryptocurrency course. Coinbase will travel to campuses across the country this school year for Crypto 101 sessions designed to encourage students to participate in the field.
NYU has doubled its offering of ‘Foundations in Fintech,’ the university’s first graduate level cryptocurrency related course, this year. Last year, 230 students enrolled in his course which was first offered in 2014.
“To be honest, the first year we overloaded our teaching with the expectation this might actually be cancelled. People did think we were a little bit out of our minds,” Yermack said. “This looked like something that could take off. Once you take a look at the technology and understand it, you realize there’s something quite different and creative here and it has the potential to change the financial system.”
Students from all disciplines and even alumni have come back to learn about the latest financial buzzwords. With pen and notepad, those alumni stick out amongst rows of Mac laptops belonging to 20-somethings interested.
“There’s a few people who graduated some years ago that have come back to sit in on this just because of the novelty and the edginess of the topic,” Yermack said. “I think by and large, people are here for the intellectual curiosity.”