There's something else I would like to highlight from Tim's post:
I was one of only 14 History majors graduating this year. The Dean of the Extension School stated that, in the 97-year history of the program, less than 1% of people who enroll in the Extension School finish their degree requirements and graduate. (and No, there should not be an extra number after the "1" in 1%).Wait a second, you say. Didn't the Harvard Extended entry on ABTs a few weeks ago state that the completion rate was 52%? What gives?
Well, the 52% figure that I shared with readers refers to the all-time percentage of matriculated students in the liberal ALM programs who had finished their degree requirements and graduated as of 2006. The number that Tim heard from the dean refers to the percentage of *all* students who enroll in Extension School classes who actually end up receiving their degrees.
I am not sure if the 1% figure just applies to the ALM program, or whether the ALB and certificate programs are also included. Regardless, it points to an important fact about the Extension School student body: The overwhelming majority take classes on a casual basis. One DCE administrator recently told me in an email that "88 percent enroll in a course or two for personal enrichment, career advancement, or to test the waters for future graduate work." I regularly find evidence of this in my Google blog search RSS feed -- see recent entries from Free Range Chick and Unpunished Rapture.
This has been the nature of the student body since President Lowell established the program near 100 years ago, and Harvard has benefitted greatly because of it. Hundreds of thousands of people, most of them from nearby communities, have been able to take classes and sample the Harvard experience while bringing in revenue and furthering the University's community outreach goals.
Harvard Extension School criticsHowever, this has also led to an unfortunate situation for those students who are not taking classes casually. Amongst some members of the Harvard community and the public at large, the Extension School's reputation is associated with the temporary experiences of the majority, as opposed to the serious, long-term academic commitments of the minority. For instance, a press release that was apparently composed by two Harvard officers named Eric Sinoway and John Longbrake makes a point of distinguishing the Extension School from Harvard's "principal academic units," and describes the student body as casual class-takers. This article in the Harvard alumni magazine 02138 portrays the Extension School as an avenue for people or companies that want to "purchase the Harvard brand," and calls Extension School degree programs a "perk." Alexandra Petri, a columnist for The Crimson, thinks even less of Extension School students, judging by a quip in her recent discussion of the Core curriculum.
Never mind the dedication of the ALM and ALB candidates who can matriculate only after proving themselves in EXPO or the ALM proseminar, the contributions of the Extension School students who work closely with Harvard faculty as teaching and research assistants, or the accomplishments of the 1% who complete their coursework and research requirements and graduate. For those who have never bothered to find out about this subset of the Extension School student body or the degree programs they belong to, the HES does not appear to be much different than the typical continuing education program at a local community college, providing casual classes for people who want to satisfy personal interests or give their careers and educational goals a boost. In their eyes, the 88% defines who we are.
Don't get me wrong: Casual, continuing education is a great thing. It helps individuals and benefits society. I've personally benefited from taking classes for personal enrichment and/or career advancement, such as the Mandarin courses I took at the Taipei Language Institute in the 1990s and my very first class at the Extension School -- an introductory short story writing class that I took through the Summer School in 2002, almost on a whim. It was for undergraduate credit and had no impact on my graduate coursework or research, but it was a lot of fun -- it gave me a chance to indulge my interest in fiction and creative writing, and also produced a short story that was later published in the Harvard Summer Review.
A real review of the Harvard Extension SchoolMy ALM journey was a completely different experience. It was academically rigorous and intellectually demanding, and took years to complete. The ALM thesis requirement goes far beyond the writing and research assignments found in many "traditional" masters programs, and can in no way be considered fun. It therefore disappoints me that those of us who have been admitted to the Extension School's degree programs or have earned our diplomas are not taken seriously in some quarters. On a person-to-person level, it's very easy to correct misperceptions. But when 02138, The Crimson, and Harvard's own officers promote the casual Extension School identity and even negative stereotypes, it's very difficult to highlight another perspective of the Extension School experience. This in turn makes it harder for serious Extension School students -- and the programs we belong to -- to get the recognition we deserve.
|Harvard Extension School graduates lining up for Commencement|