The Value Of a Harvard Education

An Examination of the Cost and Worth of Four Years at the College

Today's graduates of Harvard College have paid $107,581 in tuition and fees over the last four years.

During this time, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has discussed ways to shrink class sections, curb grade inflation, limit summa cum laude degrees and two weeks ago approved the most drastic changes to the Core curriculum since its inception in 1974.

This fall, the Faculty will examine its overall undergraduate requirements, study the language requirement and begin the review of concentrations that Dean of FAS Jeremy R. Knowles has long promised once Core reform is complete.

The extraordinary flurry of curricular reform, culminating in a year when Harvard fell from its long-established top spot in the U.S. News and World Report survey, suggests that Harvard is reevaluating how it educates its undergraduates.

"I think we're in for a very interesting period in undergraduate education," says outgoing Dean of Undergraduate Education David Pilbeam.


And with student tuition costs continually out-stepping inflation over the last decade, the question begs: what is the value of a Harvard undergraduate education today?

Breaking Down the Tuition Dollar

University administrators say the cost of educating a Harvard student is much greater than the revenue gathered from tuition.

Former University president Derek C. Bok says that if you consider the accommodations, meals, health and athletic facilities and academic and extracurricular opportunities Harvard students receive, the cost would amount to about $100 per night.

"If you were to stay at a Days Inn and join the health club and get Ivy League lectures on tape, you'd be over $100 pretty soon," he says.

The University's educational expenditure per student last year, as reported by U.S. News and World Report, totaled $42,902. With undergraduate tuition and fees totalling $28,896, it would appear that students are getting a bargain of more than $14,000.

University Director of Public Affairs Alex Huppe says that Harvard does not regularly make its own calculation of the cost of educating students.

The University's only attempt in recent memory to comprehensively determine the "real cost" of educating the average student in the College was conducted a few years ago by an outside firm, according to Knowles.

The study attempted to calculate the fraction of FAS expenditures--including Faculty salaries and research costs, libraries and facilities cost and administrative costs--spent on undergraduates.

"It's a complicated question," Knowles says.