The Value Of a Harvard Education

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

*Students have more choices than they ever have had in choosing courses and concentrations, with a steady expansion of the number of courses offered and many opportunities for undergraduates to focus their studies in ways not possible just a decade or two ago.

* Information technology, which has brought with it Web sites, newsgroups and e-mail, has enhanced the learning environment outside of the classroom.

"It's a lot easier to track down information, to correspond with faculty, to correspond with classmates and to have open discussions about course material," says Assistant Professor of Computer Science Margo I. Seltzer '83.


Does this add up to a higher-quality undergraduate educational experience?


Not necessarily, according to past, current and incoming deans of undergraduate education.

Marquand Professor of English Lawrence Buell says the value of the Harvard "name" in the outside world has not dwindled, but questions whether students receive the best possible education.

"The members of the class of 1997 do not have to worry that the coinage has been debased," says Buell, who is also former dean of undergraduate education. "It's whether while at Harvard they're getting the very best quality of an education that the institution can deliver."

Todd points out that the growing credentials of incoming students makes it difficult to judge the quality of a Harvard education over time.

"We may do a better job than we did 20 to 30 years ago," Todd says. "But on the other hand, we get better products."

When asked if the quality of undergraduate education has improved during his time at Harvard, Pilbeam hesitates before saying that he believes it has.

"Who's to say whether it's higher quality? For most people, it's more interesting," he says. "It's probably better...yes, I would say it's better."

But at least one former administrator is optimistic about changing the undergraduate curriculum.

"[Harvard's] always changing and for the better I think. Hopefully, [a Harvard education] would change. We all should change," says Henry Chauncey '28, former assistant dean of the College.

Chauncey also points to unquantifiable factors as those that add the most to the value of undergraduate education.

Noting the College's increased diversity, he says the value of a Harvard education is "great."

"Most of the education one gets in college is from other students," he notes.

Where the money goes

A sampling of Harvard's educational costs, divided by the number of students in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences:

Where the money goesA sampling of Harvard's educational costs, divided by the number of students in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences:Robert J. CoolbrithGraphicComponent of Cost  Cost Per StudentInstructional Costs  $12,600Libraries  $7,670Student services  $3,370Housing Operations and Maintenance  $3,450TOTAL EDUCATIONAL EXPENDITURES  $42,902Source: Faculty of Arts and Sciences Budge