Expensive. Elitist. Out of my reach.
Those words make Harvard Business School’s admissions team cringe. Stereotype aside, it doesn’t reflect the efforts made to make a Harvard MBA affordable, inclusive, and accessible.
Take the August news that HBS would cover tuition and course fees – entirely – for 10% of its students…the students who had the greatest financial needs. On top of that, HBS beefed up its support for middle-income students, too.
A token gesture? Too little too late? No, try an extension of a long-standing policy.
Let’s start with the numbers. The Class of 2024 is comprised of 1,015 full-time students. With tuition being $73,440 a year, HBS is foregoing $7.4 million dollars – or nearly $15 million dollars a year when you add a second class. Now, factor in that HBS has frozen tuition at $73,440…for five years. Comparatively, that makes HBS a steal! Last year, the school’s MBA program cost ranked 13th among the Top 25 schools – and the lowest among Ivy League and M7 schools, too. In comparison, the Wharton School charges $84,874 in annual tuition, which reflects a $10,374 increase over the past three years.
It goes even deeper. During COVID, HBS refunded nearly $5 million dollars to its students. As it stands, the school provides roughly $42,000 in annual support to MBAs, with half of each class receiving some form of financial support. All told, HBS budgets $45 million a year to cover its fellowship grants for MBA students. While this aid doesn’t cover annual living expenses, which hovers around $31,000, it does bring a variety of students into the mix. That only enhances the learning experience, says Matthew Weinzierl, senior associate dean of the HBS MBA program.
“Affordability is of paramount importance because it enables people from all backgrounds, experiences, and interests to enroll at HBS. Our case-based approach to teaching and learning relies heavily on exposing HBS students to a wide variety of perspectives because we’re preparing them to be leaders in organizations and in a world marked by vast human difference and diversity.”
That diversity plays into Harvard Business School’s defining feature: case method teaching. After all, case success hinges on students who bring different backgrounds and experiences to the case teams and classroom discussions. In other words, HBS leverages financial support to sustain the singular exchanges that foster deeper understandings and more holistic solutions. Call it an unheralded investment that prevents students from becoming rigid and complacent.
Last year, HBS celebrated the 100-year anniversary of using the case study in the program. Basically, cases – narratives about real business problems – are designed to teach students how to approach and address issues like a c-suite executive through repetition. Over time, classes learn how to formulate the right questions to identify the underlying causes and pressing issues; weigh options, tradeoffs, and long-term repercussions against various constituencies; establish plans and priorities; and persuade classmates who often bring wildly different perspectives to fray.
“Cases expose students to real business dilemmas and decisions,” observes Nitin Nohria, the former dean of Harvard Business School. “Cases teach students to size up business problems quickly while considering the broader organizational, industry, and societal context. Students recall concepts better when they are set in a case, much as people remember words better when used in context. Cases teach students how to apply theory in practice and how to induce theory from practice. The case method cultivates the capacity for critical analysis, judgment, decision-making, and action.”
Alas, the case anniversary wasn’t the only reason for the HBS community to celebrate in 2022. In Harvard Business School’s Online certification program, surveys showed that 91% of graduates felt more comfortable at work, with two-thirds adding that completing the CORe online program of business fundamentals gave them more respect and influence in their roles. Employers were equally bullish on HBS full-time grads. After a down year from COVID, 2022 grads saw their total median pay jump 16 points to $223,100.
Despite the flurry of positives last year, 2023 is shrouded in uncertainty for HBS. In September, Chad Losee, managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at HBS, announced his departure – ironically on the same day as his Stanford GSB counterpart. An HBS MBA and Bain alum, Losee is heading to Yale University to head up strategy, after recently completing his Ph.D. in education at the University of Pennsylvania.
“As I shared with my team earlier this afternoon, Harvard Business School has changed my life,” wrote Losee in a blog post. “I distinctly remember being in your shoes applying to business schools, now about 12 years ago. I was hopeful but also worried that HBS might be out of reach for me, someone who grew up in a small, rural town in the western US. I will always be grateful to have been admitted to and subsequently transformed by HBS, first as a student and now as a member of the team.
Admittedly, replacing Losee will be a challenge for HBS, which chose him over a hundred other candidates for his role. However, it may also represent an opportunity. For one, Losee got rid of the round three admissions deadline, removing an option for candidates who historically bring non-traditional backgrounds to the classroom. That decision allowed peer schools to see late candidates, denying Harvard a look. For another, he was far less accessible than most peer admission directors. And his tenure was sometimes marked by a lack of transparency, such as failing to release standard admission stats like acceptance rates and a histogram of enrolled students’ years of work experience that had been routinely disclosed by his predecessor ‘Dee’ Leopold.
All of this begs the question: Could Losee’s replacement create a more welcoming environment for applicants and admits? Could it be a more seasoned candidate like Shari Hubert, Duke Fuqua’s associate dean of admissions, who possesses nearly two decades of recruiting and admissions leadership experience? The decision could subtly shift who gets in and why at an iconic school that was on a roll last year. That makes this choice something to watch in 2023.
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