Jun 02 2022

3 Benefits of Blockchain Technology in Higher Education

Colleges and universities are carefully exploring beneficial ways to implement the storage technology.

As blockchain gains more adoption and interest across the economy, higher ed institutions are taking a closer look at the technology.

Advocates say blockchain has the potential to enhance record keeping, increase efficiencies, improve security and expand educational opportunities.

Yet while blockchain has been around since 2009, adoption hasn’t happened as quickly as many expected. Academics are putting considerable research into blockchain technologies, but university administrators have been slow to implement it in their operations, says Quinn DuPont, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia.

“When it comes to integrating with what universities do, they have been slow to adopt,” DuPont says. “Most initiatives are on the research end, but there are several potential areas for innovation.”

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Blockchain Technology Enhances Efficiency and Security

Blockchain is a digital ledger of chronologically stored records that contain a history of all past transactions. As a distributed ledger technology, it is supported and maintained by several computers joined in a network. Blockchain advocates say this design ultimately enables a better way to store, secure, validate and trust digital information.

A report by the American Council on Education notes that blockchain could give individuals agency over data like degrees, transcripts, certifications and apprenticeships. This offers promise to create “more efficient, durable connections between education and work” by creating a centralized, trusted depository for learners, students and employers to share and validate education and experience, according to ACE.

LEARN MORE: Modernize the college transcript with blockchain technology.

3 Ways Blockchain Could Benefit Higher Education

While mass adoption of blockchain in higher ed may still be years away, there are several promising applications. Another ACE report examined more than 60 educational projects and initiatives in higher education, with many focusing on record keeping.

Here are three ways blockchain can benefit higher education.

It Can Improve Record Keeping

Many universities rely on antiquated student information systems. These decades-old, non-cloud-based systems can’t keep pace in a digital learning environment where students take courses and earn certifications across multiple platforms and schools.

Some universities are already piloting blockchain technology to document the educational journey during and after college, says Louis Soares, chief learning and innovation officer at ACE. For example, Arizona State University uses a tool called MyPath to track degree requirements and then uses Pocket to map students paths beyond graduation. Pocket is based on distributed ledger technology, serves as a digital wallet and continually stores achievements to support career moves. MIT has also helped develop Blockcerts, a technology for creating, issuing and certifying blockchain-based certificates.

Disrupting legacy systems

Many universities rely on the legacy operational models of their registrars’ offices. Yet these systems cannot fully support online education and dispersed learning models, according to analysts at BCG. While half of the university leaders consider their schools to be “digital performers,” only a third of university tech leaders express confidence their data is sufficiently integrated.

Distributed ledger technology could be the next step in fostering integration, as it enables multiple authenticated users to access, input and consume the same information, says Soares.

“There’s always been demand for ledgers that could be used by many people, but only recently has the technology allowed for highly reliable authentication of users and validation of their various actions on the ledgers,” Soares says.

To embrace these changes, higher ed leaders will need a change of mindset. “We need to think more broadly about the power of learning records and the tragic limits of the existing model,” he says.

READ MORE: Design a top-tier college experience in the digital age.

Finance and Financial Aid

One of the easier areas for universities to adopt blockchain could be in finance and financial aid, says Soares. For example, there are ways in which blockchain can be used to process financial aid faster and in a more transparent fashion while ensuring compliance. There are some areas of financial aid where third-party distributed ledgers of some type have already been used for decades, says Soares.

A few institutions are not only using blockchain but accepting cryptocurrency payments. Bentley University announced in May 2022 a partnership with Coinbase to accept bitcoin, Ethereum and USD Coin for tuition payments. The University of Cumbria in the United Kingdom and the European School of Management and Technology in Germany both accept crypto payments.

While blockchain adoption is happening more slowly than anticipated, Soares expects growing interest from higher ed institutions in the coming years.

“This is a convenient sandbox for innovation — less federal student aid, less regulation, more opportunity for consumer feedback, shorter business cycles. We are starting to see large universities and university systems develop blockchain for traditional learners pursuing degrees,” he says.

Daniel Balakov/Getty Images

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