Crypto courses are developing and maturing, providing students at America’s top universities greater opportunities to learn.
Whatever the student’s focus – landscape knowledge, multidisciplinary or cutting-edge research – there is a course for everyone.
The diversity of course offerings and high level of student engagement underscores the interest the sector is creating.
The eight Ivy League schools along with other top institutions like MIT and Stanford are increasing the numbers and variety of crypto-related courses they offer. But what’s available, how are they navigating the multidisciplinary nature of crypto, and are they producing students with real-world skills?
Crypto courses for everyone
One element that’s striking when browsing through the crypto courses is their multidisciplinary nature. Not only do courses routinely bring together talent and knowledge from several departments – typically, but not exclusively, business, computer science, engineering and law – but they are serving very different students. At Dartmouth, the MBA Fellows Program that the university’s Center for Digital Strategies offers is aimed at a diverse mix of students from different backgrounds. The onus is on sharing knowledge and building networks in a program that seeks to develop students’ understanding of digital strategies and technology’s impact on the future of general management.
Cornell is a noted international leader in crypto course offerings and research, routinely featuring strongly in rankings. At its SC Johnson College of Business the focus is on combining its “strengths in finance and data science – and expertise in fields as diverse as supply chain, climate impact, international banking, cryptocurrencies, and more – to break new ground.”
This type of approach is also integral to how students are taught at Columbia, which runs crypto courses with “different, but complementary approaches.” Here, multiple options allow students to gain a deep knowledge of blockchain technology from different perspectives, including business, scientific, and technical. Through its blockchain research center, Columbia has launched and redesigned five new courses, which now feature on the curricula of its Engineering and Business schools.
Underscoring the developing multidisciplinary nature of the sector, several schools have a cybersecurity offering – after all, ensuring the safety of cryptocurrency operations requires strong cybersecurity. Brown University offers a Master of Science in Cybersecurity, in which there are two different tracks – computer science and policy, the latter in collaboration with the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. This allows students not only to learn from cybersecurity incidents, but also explore the politics and history that run alongside, and often contribute to, cyber threats and risks.
Harvard has arguably taken this further than any other of its Ivy League counterparts running a Master of Liberal Arts in Cybersecurity, which offers a “strong foundation and detailed technical knowledge in security, privacy, and cryptography.” Among the skills this graduate course helps to develop are those to plan, manage and maintain the security of an organization’s computer infrastructure; strategies to mitigate security risks in traditional and cloud-based situations; and skills to develop and communicate information security policies that address national and international threats.
Courses offer real-world experiences and understanding
The sector is one that demands real-world skills, and as it continues to grow and mature, requires workers with increasingly specialist skills and knowledge. There are now myriad courses for lawyers in various aspects of crypto, but beyond this, many fields need individuals with crypto knowledge. For example, a technical or operational understanding of the sector is becoming increasingly useful in international relations and government affairs. Universities are looking to support this, and many note the use of real-world examples, project-based coursework and work in the field as part of the credentials for a course.
Cornell’s Two-Year MBA Fintech Intensiveexpressly provides “hands on learning in the emerging financial technology sector”, and as part of the final evaluation, students enter a business plan competition where they present early-stage fintech-related business ideas to a panel of venture capitalists, as well as work on real-world projects with clients.
At Columbia, the focus is on tangible research projects leading to publication. In one course – An Introduction to Blockchain Technology – a homework series gives students both hands-on experience with the threats and challenges in big data protection and use, as well as offer practical application of protective technologies in real-world systems.
Developing existing strengths
It should come as little surprise that the institutions are developing programs on the basis of their existing strengths. Inevitably, this feeds through into the research that these universities are pursuing internally, in partnerships with each other, and with companies.
Princeton’s Engineering School founded DeCenter for the decentralization of power through blockchain technology. Meanwhile, researchers at its Center for Information and Technology Policy, work to better understand and improve the relationship between technology and society underscoring the center’s expertize in engineering, technology, public policy and social sciences.
Yale runs the Cyber Initiative, a cross-disciplinary project between its Law School and Department of Computer Science. Its focus is on the legal and technical aspects of cyber conflict, and more broadly, legal challenges related to cybersecurity. Its goal is to “bridge the disciplinary divide” and through the Yale Cyber Leadership Forum it brings together those working in business, cybersecurity and policy to assess threats, solutions and the outlook for cybersecurity.
It also has PAVE – a center for ‘privacy, accountability, verification and economics’ of blockchain systems, which brings together academics from Yale, Columbia, City College of New York, and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, with legal and economics experts. This cross-disciplinary team works to advance blockchain systems and explores their connections with economics and law.
Similarly, Penn is running the Wharton Blockchain and Digital Asset Project, which “explores the implications of distributed ledger technology for organizations, governments, and individuals.” There is an emphasis on working with policy-makers and industry experts, and the project aims to develop insights into blockchain networks, cryptocurrencies, decentralized applications and Web3.
At Columbia, the Columbia-IBM Center for Blockchain and Data Transparency supports research into enhancing blockchain and related technologies. Alongside this, its School of International and Public Affairs has, since 2016, run a project on Cyber Risk to Financial Stability (CRFS), which fosters dialogue between academic, government, and industry experts “at the intersection of cybersecurity and financial stability.” The university’s FinTech Lab is an open source initiative that aims to broaden the industry’s financial literacy by exploring the research application of open source software tools that “focus on systemic counterparty risk within the global financial system.”
Befitting its status, MIT runs a host of fintech research projects as well as the Digital Currency Initiative, which seeks to “empower individuals by making it as fast and easy to move value across the world as it is to move information.” Its Lincoln Laboratory covers cybersecurity and information sciences, and researches, develops, evaluates, and deploys tools and systems designed to ensure national security missions can be successfully accomplished, despite cyberattacks.
Given its notoriety for computer sciences, math and engineering, Stanford has a similarly engaged approach to research. Its Advanced Financial Technologies Laboratory (AFTLab) “accelerates research, education and thought leadership” and develops next-generation financial technologies harnessing advances in big data, computation and machine learning. Meanwhile, its Applied Cryptography Group pursues research into network and computer security, looking at how cryptography can be applied to real-world security problems.
Stanford Law School has a Blockchain Group with a wide mandate to research and publish informed perspectives; track, guide, and influence policy and regulation; and be a neutral forum for policy-makers and regulators to talk to academics, professionals, and technologists. As part of its work, the group runs a Blockchain Education Initiative with a focus on improving legal education in the blockchain ecosystem. Alongside this, runs CodeX: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, which focuses on the research and development of computational law.
Students for all crypto reasons
Reflecting the market and broad demand for sectoral knowledge, a striking aspect of the course offerings is the breadth of the students they cater for. Several universities – including Brown, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Penn, Princeton, Stanford – offer online programs for career professionals. These range from certificates to full masters, although unusually, Brown offers its Master of Science in Cybersecurity as a fully online degree program.
This brings a necessary element of flexibility to a number of the offerings, not only in terms of where, when and how students study, but also entry qualifications.
Harvard Extension School offers a flexible certificate, with study based on the student’s preferences and availability, with a maximum time frame of five years.
In a similar vein, MIT offers an Executive Education program online designed by its Sloan School of Management and targeted at business professionals looking to gain a “balanced perspective of the crypto space” at their own pace.
Self-pacing also distinguishes Penn’s Wharton Executive Education course offering, which includes a self-paced program aimed at a range of professionals, particularly those looking to leverage technology to create better financial services.
Active student communities
A final aspect that marks out study in this area is the apparent enthusiasm of its student communities. Several of the universities have blockchain (or similar) student groups, some of which engage with fellow students and faculty (Yale offers a Blockchain Bootcamp) as well as leading figures in the sector. These act as a springboard for valuable experience, networking, and ideas sharing.
Among them are Harvard Law School’s Blockchain and Fintech Initiative (HLSBFI), a student organization that focuses on crypto, DeFi, and fintech. Both Princeton and Yale have blockchain clubs. Dartmouth’s Tuck FinTech Club (TFRC) promotes opportunities for its students by inviting speakers and offering career resources. Cornell is home to the Blockchain and Innovation Club, where students engage with blockchain-based business initiatives, while MIT has a Bitcoin Club.
Many of these clubs are also involved in or organize conferences. The Cornell Blockchain club hosts an annual NYC conference. Stanford organizes a crypto policy conference and an AI in Fintech Forum, while Columbia hosts a State-of-the-Field Conference on Cyber Risk to Financial Stability.
Undoubtedly, there is a lot of credibility – and a definite advantage in the job market – to studying at a top US university. The wealth of study options available and the depth of the research into many areas of the crypto sector is heartening, and there is a real sense that these crypto courses help students prepare for a variety of careers, or fill knowledge gaps in their existing professional life. There will continue to be a shortfall in skilled cybersecurity professionals for the foreseeable future, but these courses are helping to address this, offering both practical and theoretical knowledge and skills.