How MBA programs are adapting to ‘huge’ interest in cryptocurrencies

BY Sam BeckerJuly 23, 2021, 2:00 AM
A billboard in Times Square displays signs for Dogecoin, as seen in July 2021. Alexi Rosenfeld—Getty Images

Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, are going to change the world. At least, that’s what you’re likely to hear from a crypto enthusiast. They might be right; cryptocurrency has the potential to open up previously economically underdeveloped areas, unearth new investment opportunities, and transform existing business models. 

Cryptocurrency and blockchain, the technology that powers this industry, seem destined for widespread adoption over time.

That adoption is well underway, too. Major banks and brokerages, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, have already embraced cryptocurrency. And with Bitcoin and other cryptos becoming more commonplace, businesses will need to develop new infrastructure, ways of conducting business, and perhaps more importantly, talent, in order to properly adjust.

But how will companies source talent in the crypto space? Will America’s business schools, including the best MBA programs, be able to supply it?

Right now, MBA students hoping to beef up their crypto credentials have slim pickings. There are some MBA programs that offer classes that focus or touch on crypto and blockchain in some way, including those at NYU, Stanford, and Columbia. Those students typically graduate knowing the basics of blockchain, and use cases for crypto.

But at some schools, there is a growing push to make crypto and blockchain a bigger or more central part of MBA programs.

Blockchain goes to business school

While a full-blown crypto or blockchain MBA program isn’t readily available to most U.S. business school students (there are international programs specializing in the fields, or plans to create them, in South Korea and Spain), the idea is picking up steam.

Bringing blockchain and crypto education to Fordham University’s MBA curriculum was an initiative led by Dr. Benjamin Cole, former director of the MBA program at the university’s Gabelli School of Business and a recently elected fellow at the British Blockchain Association. His efforts culminated in the creation of a secondary MBA concentration in blockchain at the school.

“There’s a lot of innovation that’s happening at smaller schools,” Cole says, referencing blockchain and crypto education. While big-time MBA programs at schools like Penn or Harvard may be slow-rolling their way toward these types of classes, Cole and his colleagues at Fordham are blazing the path forward.

However, a full-on “crypto education” for business students requires taking classes at many of Fordham’s graduate schools. For now, that’s essentially how crypto and blockchain are included in business school curriculums.

Basically, MBA students looking to round out their crypto education take classes in conjunction with Fordham’s business school, law school, and computer science department. For example, Cole’s course falls under the strategy and statistics department of the business school, and it covers blockchain across 10 different industries, he says. 

“My students have to do white papers on blockchain initiatives, so by the end of the course, the students have been exposed to like 40 different projects across different industries.”

Cole says he was spurred to bring blockchain and crypto to Fordham’s program after he was contacted by alumni inquiring about it, either to satisfy their own personal curiosities, or to get a sense of whether their own industries would need to adapt for a world that increasingly uses cryptocurrencies. And they’re not alone.

‘A huge amount of interest’

“There’s a huge amount of interest” in crypto and blockchain education among MBA students, notes Alberto Rossi, an associate professor of finance and the associate director of the Center for Financial Markets and Policy at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Similar to Fordham, Georgetown’s current offerings for MBA students interested in the world of crypto are limited to a handful of classes. Rossi teaches a fintech class that covers some ground related to blockchain and crypto. But he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see elements of his single fintech class—like those relating to blockchain and cryptocurrencies—spun off into their own classes in the future.

“I think that people are moving on from the traditional topics of corporate finance—leveraged buyouts, and IPOs—and are now much more interested in how they can leverage technology to help individuals, or help improve the functioning of financial markets,” he says. “Going forward, I can imagine that a single class in fintech is going to be split into multiple classes—a class like mine could become three to four different courses in the near future.”

If that were to happen, those classes could potentially form the nucleus of a crypto concentration. Or, looking even further down the road, the kernel of a crypto MBA program. But both Rossi and Cole say that’s likely a far way off. Again, most bigger MBA programs are still merely experimenting with the topics in individual classes.

But the interest and demand are there, both Rossi and Cole agree. For most schools, the evolution of crypto education comes down to the matter of adopting and sliding crypto and blockchain into MBA curriculums, at most schools. 

But the question, for many of those students, remains: Will that education help them find a job working in the burgeoning crypto field, or in relation to it?

If you ask employers in the crypto space, the answer isn’t so clear-cut.

Teaching the future

Most crypto companies still are in relative infancy—Bitcoin debuted in 2009, meaning that a crypto company of any type could be a decade old or so, at most. Employees have mostly come from adjacent industries, with little or no education in digital currencies, specifically.

Ray Youssef the CEO and co-founder of Paxful, a six-year-old peer-to-peer cryptocurrency marketplace, says that the crypto field is different than almost any other out there. As such, he’s not convinced that a job applicant who has taken graduate courses concerning blockchain or crypto will necessarily bump that person to the top of the list. 

Above all, he says, Paxful is looking for team members that are empathetic, passionate, and that are squarely behind the company’s mission of helping achieve widespread, mainstream adoption of cryptocurrencies in the years ahead.

“If those people have an MBA, that’s great,” Youssef says. “But I’m not looking to hire MBAs…You only really learn entrepreneurship by hustling. And that’s multiplied by one hundred for crypto.”

When it comes to the crypto industry, he adds, “there’s no damn textbook.”

Even though Youssef doesn’t see the immediate benefit or need for MBAs in the crypto field, plenty of others might, which means that it’s likely that MBA programs will cater to increasing demand for crypto education, and perhaps follow Fordham’s model, to varying degrees. Cole says the potential for crypto and blockchain, as it relates to business, is simply too big to ignore for both schools and employers.

“When people recognize what this technology can do, this is going to restructure entire industries,” says Cole. “As a strategy professor, I said, I am obliged to teach the future, not just teach the past.”

See how the MBA programs you’re considering landed in Fortune’s ranking of best full-time and online programs.