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Graduate School of Education Will Pause Doctoral Admissions for Fall 2021, Citing Financial Strain

Harvard’s Graduate School of Education will not accept doctoral applications this year due to pandemic-induced financial stress.
Harvard’s Graduate School of Education will not accept doctoral applications this year due to pandemic-induced financial stress. By DLL
By Ellen M. Burstein, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Graduate School of Education plans to pause its doctoral admissions for fall 2021 due to the financial strain the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the school, according to its website.

Applications for students planning to enroll in fall 2021 would have been due in December 2020. According to the website, the school plans to next accept applicants in December 2021 for fall 2022 enrollment.

Students will still be able to apply for the Ed School’s master’s degree program.

The fall 2019 class of students had only 50 students enrolled in its two doctoral programs, the Doctor of Education Leadership and the Ph.D. By comparison, the class boasted 615 master’s students.

Ed School spokesperson Bari E. Walsh wrote in an emailed statement that the decision would not impact the school’s long-term commitment to doctoral students.

“Like every institution (at Harvard and beyond), HGSE has had to make tough decisions to manage the complex challenges that the pandemic has brought. But the proactive decision-making has put us on confident ground and helped us prioritize the highest quality learning experience and the continued academic progress of our students,” Walsh wrote.

“The school remains completely committed to the Ph.D. and Ed.L.D. Programs, having welcomed new cohorts in both programs this fall. Even with the one-year pause, HGSE will continue to serve an incredibly talented pool of students and help them grow into the types of leaders and scholars desperately needed by the field of education,” she added.

University spokesperson Jonathan A. Swain declined to comment on the decision.

Thomas D. Parker ’64 — a senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, who holds a masters and a doctorate from the Ed School — wrote in an email that the decision was “not surprising” in light of the school’s prior announcement that it will conduct classes online for the entire current academic year.

“Short term master's programs have always supported the doctoral programs at the Ed School. The one year Master's programs especially have generated a good number of full or nearly full payers and hence have been quite lucrative,” Parker wrote.

“Many of these full paying Master's students seek the cache of a year in Cambridge, and it wouldn't be surprising if large numbers of them decide not to pay for anything less than the full experience. It seems probable that applicants to the Master's programs are down and the resulting downturn in income means that there just isn't the cash to pay for financial aid to the doctoral students,” he added.

Parker wrote that though the Ed School would receive some funding from the endowment, “under current circumstances that is likely not enough to make up for lost Master's degree income.” He noted that the pandemic “magnified” the underlying financial problems facing the education school.

Harvard is not the only university suspending some doctoral admissions due to COVID-19 costs. The University of Pennsylvania announced Tuesday that its School of Arts and Sciences will likewise pause school-funded Ph.D. admissions for the 2021-2022 academic year.

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

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