Cornell Approves One-of-a-Kind Bitcoin Degree

Cornell University student Ella Hough, founder of the new Cornell Bitcoin Club, will be the Ivy League school's first major focused on cryptocurrency.
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Published on February 2, 2024
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  • The Robert S. Harrison College Scholar Program allows students in the College of Arts and Sciences to create their own interdisciplinary majors.
  • Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a decentralized monetary system that does not use banks or governments but a peer-to-peer computer network to regulate direct purchases.
  • Ella Hough will defend her thesis in May 2025 and have "bitcoin" as her degree and transcript title.

One student at Cornell is creating her own degree — in bitcoin.

Ella Hough, a junior at Cornell and founder of the new Cornell Bitcoin Club, is the first to major in bitcoin through the Robert S. Harrison College Scholar Program in the College of Arts and Sciences, according to Bitcoin Magazine.

"When asked, 'What is my College Scholar major?' My response would be Bitcoin," Hough told Bitcoin Magazine. "The cognitive and game theoretical components related to Bitcoin adoption and the implications of Bitcoin to emphasize why it matters."

After the program director approves it, bitcoin will be her official degree and appear on her diploma and transcript, Bitcoin Magazine reported.

Bitcoin is a type of cryptocurrency, a decentralized monetary system that does not use banks or governments but a peer-to-peer computer network to regulate direct purchases.

Students must apply to the program in their second year, outlining their study through a research proposal and personal statement.

To graduate, students in the College Scholar Program design their interdisciplinary majors and take 120 total credits, with 100 in the College of Arts and Sciences. All students must complete an independent project and thesis.

Students may also receive up to $500 per semester, including summer, to support research, conference, and travel costs.

According to Bitcoin Magazine, Hough plans to present an honors thesis with an oral defense in May 2025 about the worldwide adoption and implications of bitcoin as a network and asset. Her thesis will be displayed in Klarman Hall and the program library.

"While the hurdles were incredibly worthwhile, I do hope it will now be easier for the next student," Hough posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Not that Bitcoin needs approval (because it doesn’t), but, now, just a day after #Bitcoin received validation from financial institutions, it received validation from an academic institution."

While Cornell does not offer a bitcoin or blockchain degree program, it does offer a certificate program in blockchain essentials. Several other universities offer a variety of online and in-person courses in financial tech (fintech).

This spring, Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business began offering a fintech microcredential for bachelor's degree holders, including current Ohio State graduate students.

The microcredential is 4.5 credit hours with two classes: "Introduction to Fintech" and "AI and Machine Learning for Business."

"With fintech representing the second-largest industry sector in Ohio by GDP (gross domestic product), this micro-credential will help professionals and graduate students establish a critical, baseline knowledge of the technological levers and mechanisms that drive business and finance today," Anil K. Makhija, dean of the Fisher College and John W. Berry Sr. chair in business, said in a press release.