According to an article in Inside Higher Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education (HBSE) is retiring its Ed.D. degree and replacing it with the Ph.D. As an Ed.D. graduate of HGSE, I am happy to see this happen. I would much rather have gotten a Ph.D. from Harvard instead of an Ed.D., and I would certainly have selected the Ph.D. option when I was a student at Harvard had that option been available to me.
Reading the Inside Higher Education article prompted me to think back on my Harvard experience and to ask myself this question: Was the doctoral degree I received from Harvard Graduate School of Education worth the money I invested? If I had the opportunity to make the decision again, would I still elect to pursue a doctoral degree at Harvard? The answer to both questions is no.
|Me in my embarrassingly flashy Harvard academic regalia|
Of course I chose to study at Harvard because of Harvard’s prestige. In fact, I did not even consider studying elsewhere. I recall taking classes from two excellent professors while I was at HGSE--my education law professor and my economics professor. Both professors were gifted teachers, and to this day I try to model my own teaching after the way these two fine scholars taught. I was also introduced to the case method of teaching while at HGSE; and I teach cases to this day, sometimes writing my own teaching cases.
On the other hand, most of my Harvard classroom experiences were pretty ordinary. Since graduating from Harvard, I have taught in educational administration programs at three public universities, and I know dozens of professors who teach in my field at universities all over the United States. When I consider my three years at Harvard as a whole, I feel sure I could have received a comparable educational experience at a good state university at a far lower cost.
If someone were to ask me today if the doctoral program at Harvard Graduate School of Education is a good investment, I would say no. Whether the degree obtained is called an Ed.D. or a Ph.D., I feel sure an individual can get a better value by pursuing a doctoral program at a reputable state institution--Indiana University or the University of Utah, for example--rather than going to Harvard. Twenty years after the fact, I don’t believe my salary or my career benefited significantly from my having a degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education as opposed to one of a hundred other doctoral granting institutions.
I took out about $22,000 in student loans to attend HGSE, a modest amount by today’s standards. I can’t say these loans burdened me unduly. But many of my Harvard classmates borrowed considerably more. I remember one woman who took out a second mortgage on her home to pay for her Harvard experience. And I know at least a couple of people who took out loans to attend HGSE and never obtained their doctoral degree.
In retrospect, I was foolish to have gone to Harvard instead of seeking out a less expensive alternative. I consider myself one of the thousands of imprudent people who take out student loans every year to attend prestigious institutions--Harvard, Dartmouth, Smith, Vanderbilt, etc. etc. and wind up with very little to show for it. We tell ourselves that a degree from an elite university must be worth the money--it’s going to pay off in the end. We delude ourselves into believing that a degree from a high-status institution is a tangible sign that we are indeed bright and special people. And we borrow money--sometimes a lot of money--in order to feed our delusions.
So here is a word of advice from someone with a doctorate from Harvard. Think long and hard before you go into debt to obtain a fancy degree from an elite university, and explore less expensive alternatives. Unless you come from a wealthy family or obtain a full-ride scholarship, all a doctoral degree from Harvard can guarantee is a heavy burden from student loans and the right to wear a flashy academic gown. In fact, you may find that a degree from a prestigious university diminishes the quality of your life rather than enhances it.
Basu, K. (2012, March 29). Ending the first Ed.D. program. Inside Higher Education.