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Harvard Kennedy School Students Split Over Bidding-Based Course Registration Process

Harvard Kennedy School's bidding system allows students to "bid" points for admission to oversubscribed classes.
Harvard Kennedy School's bidding system allows students to "bid" points for admission to oversubscribed classes. By Ben Y. Cammarata
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Kennedy School students were split over the school’s bidding-based course selection process following class registration for the spring semester.

The system allocates students a set number of “points” annually, which they can bid for admittance to overenrolled elective classes.

“I was very surprised when I got into the school that it was an additional layer to it because we already pay a lot of money to be here,” said Veronica Devia, a second-year master’s of public administration student. “It’s a bit weird that we may not have access to the courses that we really want.”

During HKS course registration, the highest-bidding students are admitted into the class and are refunded the points they bid in excess of the lowest-bidding among them. Any students who are not admitted receive all their spent points back.

Extra points carry over to the next term, but not the next academic year.

But despite the refund system, master’s of public policy student Juan C. Orrego Zamudio said it was difficult to decide whether to spend or save points, especially between semesters.

“I bet, like, 400 points for a course in the fall, and then was almost running out of points for the spring,” Orrego said.

Several students also said the current process limits first-year MPP students from taking courses that interest them. Since graduating second-years have fewer opportunities to take electives, they receive 1000 points, while nearly all first-years receive only 300 points.

First-year MPP candidate Maiko Yagi said the gap in points makes it hard to get into popular courses as a first-year, calling the system “not so helpful.”

“It’s hard to get classes that you really want,” first-year MPP candidate Marietou Diallo added.

HKS spokesperson James F. Smith wrote in a statement that the bidding process “applies to the relatively few HKS courses that are oversubscribed — about 10 percent of all our courses.”

“Unlike a lottery, the bidding system allows students to express how strongly they feel about getting into an oversubscribed course through the number of points they are willing to bid,” Smith added.

MPA student Ruben Anzures praised the bid system, saying it allows students to “prioritize” the classes they most want to take.

Anzures called it an equitable solution to address “the underlying issue, which is limited seats for limited courses that have greater demand.”

Some students remained hopeful that the system could be improved.

Currently, if a student drops a course that originally went to bidding, the instructor decides who fills their slot. But MPA candidate Eric Y. Huang said HKS should instead conduct a second round of bidding.

“In the strange cases that some student has dropped after this round of bidding, I should be able to bid into the course,” Huang said. “Not based on the professor’s discretion, because you potentially create a loophole there.”

Second-year MPP candidate Kaamila Patherya suggested HKS should increase capacity in classrooms to “accommodate a lot more” students.

“I think it’s an easy fix,” Patherya said.

Smith wrote in the statement that “class enrollment is limited both by room size and by a faculty member’s capacity to teach every enrolled student effectively.”

But Devia, the second year MPA candidate, proposed that HKS should enroll fewer students “so that the ones that are here are happier.”

MPP student Fernando Serrano called the bid system “annoying” but “fair.”

“It worked for some, it didn’t work for some,” Serrano said. “I feel it’s pretty fair, to be honest. I don’t have any complaints.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at william.mao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at dhruv.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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