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While crypto has been increasingly making headlines over the past several years, many are wondering “what about crypto in higher ed?” While it may have initially appealed to risk-seeking investors, crypto has garnered mainstream attention for everything from in-app game purchases to payments. And now colleges and universities are taking notice. 

Many are considering enabling crypto payments for everything from donations to tuition payments – and some already have. Some view crypto as a creative way to gain a competitive edge. While in the nascent stages and not yet reaching mass adoption, crypto seems to be gaining momentum as a promising technology. As with any decision regarding payments, there are both risks and benefits to consider. 

The Benefits – and Risks – of Crypto Payments in Higher Ed

As more businesses toy with crypto payments options, higher education seems to be dipping its toes in, too. This experimentation for many has been prompted by increased financial pressures in the wake of a global pandemic paired with uncertain economic conditions and rising inflation. 

Some universities have begun accepting crypto payments for crypto courses. The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania accepts Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies for its “Economics of Blockchain and Digital Assets” course. 

In addition to broadening payment options, this move allows schools to stand at the bleeding edge. This can have a reputation-enhancing effect, especially for students who believe in the technology. 

Beyond reputational impact, it also opens up new potential revenue streams for colleges and universities. As more and more universities open up donations via cryptocurrency, some are handling it differently. The common process has been to work with a third-party vendor that converts crypto to U.S. dollars. However, some schools are now experimenting with holding cryptocurrency as an investment. 

Obviously, this comes with risks as crypto prices ride the wave of uncertainty. Yet some of the upward waves have generated immense wealth for crypto holders over the past several years. That said, universities that choose this route should take note that large volumes of crypto are still held by relatively few big investors. This can increase volatility. 

NFTs Gain Traction

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are making waves in higher ed as well. These digital assets are unique video, audio, or image files that represent items (like physical artwork). The file and ownership information is then stored on a blockchain. NFTs have gained momentum and many have sold for tens of millions of dollars.

Colleges and universities have caught on to the hype and some are minting NFTs to raise money and strengthen alumni relationships. Take, for example, the University of California, Berkeley. The school created an NFT based on Nobel Prize winner and immunologist James Allison. The token was sold at auction, raising roughly $50,000, which funded immunology research. 

Other schools are pairing NFTs with physical perks like VIP tickets to events. This can enhance interest in NFTs for people who may not know much about them. Other schools are awarding certificates as NFTs or offering commemorative NFTs to graduates, including Harvard College and Duke University. 

The path forward for crypto may be uncertain, but interest in the technology is not. As the mainstream becomes more invested in blockchain, crypto, and NFTs, higher ed should pay attention. 

If you’re considering how different payment methods may play a role at your university, contact us for a free consultation.

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