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Coronavirus Causes 'Precipitous Drop' in Harvard’s Executive Education Revenues

University President Lawrence S. Bacow works out of Massachusetts Hall in the center of Harvard Yard.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow works out of Massachusetts Hall in the center of Harvard Yard. By Sydney R. Mason
By Ellen M. Burstein and Camille G. Caldera, Crimson Staff Writers

Executive and continuing education programs — a growing source of revenue for the University — have been stymied by campus closure, the latest in a mounting number of financial challenges Harvard will face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Executive and continuing education — non-degree granting programs aimed at mid-career professionals — netted $500 million in revenue for the University last year, equal to 9 percent of its total revenue, per the University’s 2019 Financial Report.

Harvard earned only slightly more from its “degree-seeking” undergraduate and graduate programs, at $504 million.

Executive and continuing education revenues also increased substantially more in the last fiscal year than undergraduate and graduate revenues, at 12 percent and 4 percent growth, respectively.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said those revenues have dropped as a result of coronavirus in an interview with the Harvard Gazette — a university-run publication — on Monday.

“We have seen a decline in continuing and executive education revenues — a precipitous drop,” Bacow said. “So the immediate effects [of the pandemic] are significant already.”

Nine of Harvard’s 12 degree-granting schools offer executive and continuing education programs throughout the year, per the financial report.

Harvard Kennedy School posted an update to its executive education website on March 20, writing that “there will be no teaching and learning programs conducted on campus for the remainder of the semester,” including executive education.

“We are reviewing our open enrollment executive programs scheduled through the spring and summer and are considering several options for each program, including offering an online version or offering at a future date,” according to the website.

Some upcoming programs at the Kennedy School are listed as taking place online. However, the program fee for online courses is significantly lower than for in-person courses.

The Kennedy School’s executive education website lists a $1,500 fee for online modules of “Leading Successful Programs: Using Evidence to Assess Effectiveness” in April and May. In contrast, the program fee for an on-campus module of that same course in April 2021 is $9,700 to cover “tuition, housing, curricular materials and most meals,” per the website.

In October 2019, Harvard’s Office of Financial Strategy and Planning published a report entitled “Financial Resilience at Harvard: A Recession Playbook,” as part of its widespread efforts to prepare for a potential financial downturn.

The report said growth in executive and continuing education since the 2008 recession makes it “difficult to predict” the impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on these programs from an economic standpoint.

Experts say declining revenue from executive education programs would pose a significant financial loss for the University.

Christian T. Lundblad, a business professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote in an email that programs like executive education are an “important” revenue source for universities.

“These sorts of things make up an important part of the revenue of the school, even if formal tuition continues,” Lundblad wrote.

Thomas D. Parker ’64 — a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy — theorized that of Harvard’s 12 schools, those with more robust executive and continuing education programs, like the Business School, will be hit the hardest.

The Business School boasts over 60 on-campus executive education programs. In total, its programs drew over 12,600 participants in 2019, including Hollywood celebrities and media moguls.

Still, Parker said he still believes individuals and companies will be interested in online offerings at any Harvard school in the area of executive and continuing education.

“The Harvard name is very attractive, and there are a lot of people who will pay for that name, whether they actually physically set foot on campus or not,” Parker said.

—Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

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