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Extension School Degree Names 'Academically Wrong,' Dean Says

Extension School Layoffs
The Extension School grants degrees in extension studies — a point of tension for some students.

Dean of the Division of Continuing Education Huntington D. Lambert said in an interview Friday that he agrees with student complaints that degrees awarded by the Harvard Extension School should be rephrased to more accurately reflect students’ programs of study.

Currently, all degrees conferred at the school are said to be in “Extension Studies” rather than a student’s specific concentration. The Extension School grants Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies and Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies degrees.

Lambert said that these degree names are inaccurate and that he has previously spoken to the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, about the issue. He said, however, that his efforts have thus far been unsuccessful. Lambert, who announced earlier this semester his plans to retire at the end of the calendar year, called on his successor to continue calling for this change.

“I told the Corporation that I believe our degree names are academically wrong, and that's the metric I look at. A different name might market better, but that's not really a factor for Harvard. The issue is, are the degree names academically right?” Lambert said.

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“I would like to — and have supported all our efforts unsuccessfully — to make the degree names academically correct. And I hope whoever follows me succeeds in getting that done,” he added.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on calls for the degree name change.

Extension School students have shared dissatisfaction with the degree names for years, protesting for a change outside University Hall in 2016. Many have claimed that “Extension Studies” does not reflect their academic work.

“It doesn’t sound like anything that makes sense,” said Michael A. Rosero, a former board member of the Harvard Extension Student Association. “What are you ‘extending’?”

Lambert echoed Rosero’s issue with the degree name.

“There is no such thing as ‘in Extension Studies’ in an academic definition, unless you’re a land grant school training people for the agricultural extension service,” he said. “We don’t do that.”

Sam D. Carroll, who has taken Extension School courses and is considering pursuing a degree, said the names diminished the work that students put into completing them. He said that while the degree programs are described as being in specific subjects, those distinctions are not reflected on degrees.

“When you get your diploma after two years of really hard work, including oftentimes being a full time employee somewhere while pursuing your studies, you get a degree that does not say, you know, ‘Master of Arts in Software Engineering, Harvard University’, or even Harvard Extension School,” Carroll said. “It says Master of Arts or ALM in Extension Studies.”

Carroll added, however, that “most people don't see the actual diploma on your wall,” so he believes there is more freedom in how it’s described to others.

According to the Extension School website, students may list degrees on their resumes as either “Bachelor [or Master] of Liberal Arts, Harvard University Extension School” or “Bachelor [or Master] of Liberal Arts, Extension Studies, Harvard University”.

But including the term “Extension” at all can negatively affect students’ professional pursuits, Rosero said.

“I do think it leads to more questions than needed on a person's resume, and it can be harmful,” he said.

Rosero said he knows peers who earned “a side eye” or were otherwise affected by having to pause job interviews and explain what “Extension” means. Beyond getting the Extension School degree names changed, he said he hopes there will eventually be an overall program name change to help distinguish admitted Extension School degree candidates from students “just taking classes.”

—Staff writer Lucy Liu can be reached at lucy.liu@thecrimson.com.

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