The $3.9 Trillion Impact Of A Harvard Degree

Harvard Business School Rock Center for Entrepreneurship - Ethan Baron photo

Harvard Business School Rock Center for Entrepreneurship – Ethan Baron photo


Lerner, who served as the ‘principal investigator’ of the study, and his team sent online surveys to more than 244,000 Harvard alums with registered email addresses. They received responses from more than 35,000. “We were very cautious by how we proceeded,” Lerner tells Poets&Quants. “You read a report like this and you’re like, ‘Come on, guys, you used every favorable assumption.’ But we tried to do this in a cautious way.”

According to the school, companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Staples were included in the findings, but as “luminary” ventures. Meaning, they were “not used to make upward projections for the Harvard alumni population as a whole.” Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were granted what the school termed “associate alumni status.”

The team also used social media stalking to calculate better estimates. “We carefully tracked those who responded or didn’t,” Lerner says. “And we tried to control for certain characteristics by comparing the LinkedIn profiles of those who responded and who didn’t.” Survey participants also were able to fill out detailed demographic and professional backgrounds using editable autofills with their LinkedIn profiles. This helped control for survey fatigue and weird or outlandish number amounts or graduation dates.

The result, Lerner believes, is a more accurate, but also, conservative estimate. And he’s probably right. Back in September, Wealth-X, a firm that does research and valuations of individuals with ultra-high net worth (UHNW), found Harvard to have more UHNW alums than any other university in the world. Specifically, the firm only looked at individuals with a net worth of more than $30 million. Wealth-X identified 3,130 Harvard alums meeting that criteria. That’s a minimum of nearly $94 billion of personal wealth if everyone on the list were valued at exactly $30 million.

Impressively, the 3,130 nearly doubled the University of Pennsylvania’s 1,580 UHNW alums, which was second on the list. Stanford University was third with 1,240.


The study also reveals Harvard claims its fair share of do-gooders. According to the research, Harvard alums serve on nearly 300,000 boards around the world. Each month, they volunteer a combined 1.6 million hours.

“In addition to founding their own entities, they are also shaping processes in a variety of ways and are very involved in the governance of many organizations,” Lerner believes. The research reveals that 66% of Harvard alums have served on either a for-profit or non-profit board. Of the nearly 300,000 boards in which Harvard alums are currently involved, 72% are nonprofit. Interestingly, the median time spent on a single board is six years with about 35% reporting board tenure for at least a decade.

The study estimates that some 115,723 Harvard alums are currently volunteering. The amount of monthly volunteer hours is equivalent to about 6,575 full-time jobs. The most active age group for volunteers is 65- to 74-years-old, in which 57% currently volunteer. About 59% say they volunteer at the local level.


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