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Universities Slowly Adopt Cryptocurrencies for Transactions

While a handful of higher ed institutions are now accepting cryptocurrencies for tuition payments, the trend has yet to take off at most universities for reasons such as environmental impacts and market volatility.

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Despite market volatility and a recent decline in value, interest in investing in cryptocurrency remains on the rise, with 87 percent of parents saving for their children’s college expenses saying they have invested in a crypto, according to a recent survey of 1,250 U.S. parents by the online magazine Meanwhile, higher education institutions in the U.S. have started accepting cryptocurrencies for transactions.

According to a recent news release, Bentley University in Massachusetts is now accepting cryptocurrencies for tuition payments. The announcement said the university partnered with Coinbase to accept Bitcoin, Ethereum and USD Coin to give students and their families new ways to pay tuition, as well as to make gifts and donations in the form of cryptocurrencies.

“As a business university, Bentley is committed to being at the forefront of technologies that are shaping society and the business world. It makes sense for Bentley to embrace cryptocurrency because it’s a technology that is changing the global economy that our students will soon enter,” Bentley spokeswoman Helen Henrichs said in an email to Government Technology.

The university joins a small handful of higher education institutions with similar policies, such as University of California at Berkley, King’s College in New York City and the University of Nicosia in Cyprus, which became the first accredited university to accept Bitcoin in 2013.

Among the small number of schools taking cryptocurrencies is the University of Pennsylvania, which began accepting Bitcoin, Ethereum and USD Coin from students to enroll in its online Economics of Blockchain and Digital Assets certification program launched last year. As of this week, cryptocurrency payments are still only accepted for this program, according to an email from the university.

Besides these few trailblazer institutions now accepting cryptocurrencies for tuition payments and other education-related expenses, University of North Carolina at Greensboro business Professor Nir Kshetri said most schools remain timid about adopting similar policies.

Kshetri thinks it’s unlikely that policies such as these will become a widespread trend anytime soon across higher ed or at UNCG, where officials say there have been no policy discussions recently about accepting crypto payments.

Kshetri said many higher education institutions are concerned about contributing to the carbon footprint of cryptocurrency “mining” for coins like Bitcoin, whose annual energy consumption was recently estimated at 150 terawatt-hours — more electricity each year than the entire country of Argentina — by the University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index.

Among other reasons that institutions remain cautious, Ksherti said the volatility of the market and recent declines in the value of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have made them look like unreliable assets.

“One problem for the universities is they have to pay salary to people like me in U.S. dollars,” he said. “It is not a feasible way of running a university at this point in time from universities’ point of view.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.