By Jeff John Roberts
August 28, 2018

Among the classes on offer at Cornell University this year are “The Anthropology of Money” and “Introduction to Blockchains, Cryptocurrencies, and Smart Contracts.” Those are just two of the 28 courses at the Ivy League school related to blockchain, the popular new technology that creates a permanent ledger across multiple computers.

While Cornell has embraced the blockchain phenomenon more than other schools, it’s hardly alone. According to new research from Coinbase Reports, a growing number of universities are teaching the subject across multiple disciplines.

Here is a chart from the report, which show how other prominent schools, including Stanford and UC Berkeley, are offering multiple blockchain courses:

The popularity of blockchain on campus is remarkable in part because the technology is still new and because some still associate currencies like Bitcoin (which is run on a blockchain) as the province of geeks and cyber-criminals.

Back in 2014, when David Yermack, the finance department chair at New York University Stern School of Business, first offered his course on blockchain and financial services, he says only 35 people signed up. Now, according to the report, the course is packed with 235 students and he is teaching it both semesters.

More broadly, while a lot of the teaching on blockchain has grown out of traditional courses on cryptography, the subject is also popping up in numerous other disciplines, and interest spans the traditional divisions between engineering and social sciences.

“Coinbase’s analysis found that of the 172 classes listed by the top 50 universities, 15 percent were offered by business, economics, finance, and law departments, and four percent were in social science departments such as anthropology, history, and political science,” the report notes.

The multi-disciplinary appeal likely reflects how blockchain projects typically revolve around decentralized communities that rely on incentives (such as cryptocurrency rewards) to maintain a common, indestructible ledger system. Building a successful blockchain thus requires expertise in fields as diverse as game theory, information systems and cybersecurity. And as legal scholars Primavera de Filipi and Aaron Wright explained in their groundbreaking book Blockchain and the Law, the technology is also poised to remake certain social and economic rules of society.

The report also included a survey that found a high level of interest in blockchain among students. This included nearly half of social science majors reporting that they would like to take a blockchain class.

Finally, the report found that interest in blockchain was particularly strong at American universities. Only five of the 18 international universities among the list surveyed by Coinbase—which was based on the 50 top universities as ranked by U.S. News and World Report—offer at least one class on blockchain or cryptocurrency.

Coinbase itself is treating the findings as good news, in part because the company is actively recruiting students with blockchain experience. According to a source close to the company, Coinbase will be kicking off a national tour to provide “crypto 101” sessions on campuses that have demonstrated a strong interest in blockchain.

The company is also conducting a recruiting tour that includes a stop at Howard University on September 13, and at Princeton, Duke and numerous other schools.

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