What goes on outside Harvard’s gates affects us within. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, kicking off the Great Recession, so did our own.
At the same time, while Harvard students were not immune from the ensuing job struggle, 10 years later it is clear that the Harvard name cushioned us from the worst effects of the crisis. That cushion may be what has allowed many students who struggled in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis to derive silver linings and life lessons from the uncertainty they experienced.
We must acknowledge that the protection Harvard affords us will likely be just as powerful when the next recession comes, which might be soon. We cannot ignore how the perceived prestige of the Harvard name plays a substantial role in both formal job application processes and the informal ways people score jobs by using the Harvard network.
Nevertheless, the Great Recession did change the way some students thought their careers. Consider Harvard students’ relationship to the finance and consulting sectors. In 2007, 47 percent of seniors entering full-time employment did so in those sectors. By 2009, that percentage had dropped to 20. In the following years, the Office of Career Services saw more students exploring different, perhaps more personally fulfilling, paths.
A decade out, it appears that the trend is reversing. Of last year’s graduating class, 35 percent of those entering the workforce went into those sectors. While we cannot presume to speak for individual students’ motivations, we continue to encourage students to look past finance and consulting as default career choices. If nothing else, the Great Recession should have demonstrated to our more mercantile classmates that these sectors are not guaranteed tickets to wealth and success. And in general, considerations of future employability should not influence our college decisions too heavily, since too often we have overly narrow views of what exactly future employability means.
Nor should we need another crisis to remind ourselves that the economic concerns the recession brought to the forefront of national dialogue are ones that many college students across the country, including more at Harvard than might be assumed, have long cared about. The stresses of working to secure one’s economic future and balancing a job with studying, for example, have already been pressing concerns for some Harvard students long before the recession. (Who do you think likely cleaned up that Adams House faux-memorial party for the late Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers?)
Of course, it is inevitable that there will be another recession, and Harvard should be ready whenever it comes. To that end, we hope the OCS continues to expand the industries in which it offers students programming so that more students can take advantage of the resources Harvard offers to find jobs in careers that they actually want to pursue. We also reiterate our hope that University leaders continue to plan proactively for the next downturn.
Ten years later we can see that the recession shook, but did not destroy, the foundations undergirding the system that allows the elite — of which Harvard is an integral part — to maintain their socioeconomic status. How are we to reckon with that?
Perhaps here is a start: The counterpart of the idea that what goes on outside Harvard’s gates affects us within is, of course, the more familiar and flattering (but not false) idea that we can affect what goes on outside Harvard’s gates. As we seek to build a more egalitarian world, perhaps we should start with that.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.