The privilege of auditing any number of courses without charge is one of the distinctive and most valuable aspects of Harvard during the regular school year. Unfortunately, this opportunity is not available during the summer session. Students who wish to attend the lectures of a course are required to pay rather stiff fees for the privilege.
To the regular Harvard or Radcliffe student, this restriction is irksome. Accustomed to dropping in on interesting lectures or auditing a course steadily, he finds a Harvard with closed doors somewhat strange and alien. The ambitious student from any college, who views the summer months as an ideal time for a relaxed pursuit of a variety of academic interests, finds in the auditing rules substantial financial barriers.
According to Summer School officials the present auditing fees are essential to the budget of the school. In addition to bringing in considerable revenue they also eliminate the kind of person who would gravitate to Cambridge in the summer and take advantage of the Harvard curriculum without paying for the opportunity. Certainly the School is justified in demanding high auditing fees from persons not enrolled in any course for credit. Otherwise it would soon go out of business.
When a student, particularly one from Harvard or Radcliffe, is paying tuition for a credit course, however, the argument for high auditing fees is harder to maintain. Despite the revenue such fees bring, surely the current rates are more difficult for most students to pay than for the School to give up. The average Harvard student, faced with expenses of about $3,500 during the regular year, finds summer tuition almost prohibitive. Auditing fees are often impossible to meet. With only a slight increase in tuition the School could probably make up any revenue lost by permitting free auditing for credit students.
Policing the system would present no special problems. Regularly enrolled students could buy an auditor's card for a nominal fee (like $1.50) to cover bookkeepping expenses, and their names could be added to attendance lists. For the person wishing to visit a class just once or twice, the present system of visitor's cards could be maintained.
This arrangement for auditing should be feasible for all students enrolled for credit, but if necessary, it could be introduced experimentally just for Harvard and Radcliffe degree candidates. The absence of auditing restrictions in the winter does not result in overly-packed lecture halls; there is no reason why there should be disastrous results in the summer.
Summer Schools officials say that they have already reviewed the auditing problem in the past and concluded that the fees are necessary. Perhaps the time has come for another study of the problem, with careful attention given to alternative sources of revenue. Free auditing privileges would be a significant contribution to the intellectual life of the summer student.