By William L. Wang and Luke W. Xu

The rise of executive, continuing, and paid online education at Harvard, University leaders say, is part of a larger strategy to extend a Harvard education to an audience beyond the traditional on-campus undergraduate and graduate students. Conveniently, it’s also quite profitable.

These programs are a promising new revenue stream in a time when low endowment returns have constrained budgets across the University. In the past ten years, revenue generated from continuing and executive education doubled from roughly $170 million in fiscal year 2006 to $381 million in fiscal year 2016.

According to University President Drew G. Faust, Harvard educates seven non-degree students—not counting those enrolled in edX courses—for every one degree-earning student on campus.

“Underlying and driving these non-degree programs is the University’s mission to generate and disseminate knowledge, to reach out to committed and talented learners from around the world, and to share our intellectual resources with far more individuals than would otherwise be possible,” Faust wrote in a Harvard Magazine column. “This will be the century of lifelong education, and Harvard is poised to lead the way.”

In short, it’s an opportunity some Harvard administrators are optimistic about.

“Happily for Harvard, this area fits with its mission and it’s pedagogically exciting, and it’s also a source of good revenue,” said Thomas J. Hollister, Chief Financial Officer of the University. “So, it’s a win-win.”

These days, nearly anyone seeking a Harvard education can find one to suit their interests. Those in the corporate sector can bolster their leadership skills with the latest Business School case studies. High school pre-med hopefuls can take Medical School “fundamental” courses online. Lawyers moving up to partner status can gain organizational skills at the Law School.

In recent years, Harvard has made a concerted effort to extend its reach to potential students at all stages of life.

“This market of lifelong learners is very large, it’s changing, and a lot of it is online and it’s new,” Hollister said. “So when a market is new, it’s good to be opportunistic and it’s good to be entrepreneurial.”

Harvard’s newest foray into nontraditional education is “HMX Fundamentals,” an online program from the Medical School which offers four paid courses for individuals considering a career in healthcare.

The program will launch its courses in physiology, immunology, biochemistry, and genetics on June 20. Tuition will cost $800 for a single HMX Fundamentals course, $1,000 for two courses, and $1,800 for all four.

According to Michael J. Parker, the Medical School’s associate dean for online learning, the program fits into the Medical School’s “core mission” to educate a larger audience.

The Business School, meanwhile, has operated its well-established executive education program for over seventy years, attracting more than 9,000 executives annually, according to its website. Last summer, the Business School opened its new Chao Center, a designated space for executive education. The program also has outposts in India and China.

The Business School offers a range of programs for a variety of specialties and executives at different levels. Last summer, Tatum, LL Cool J, and NBA basketball players Pau Gasol and Chris Paul enrolled in a four-day executive education program titled “The Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports” where Tatum—the star of “Magic Mike”—participated in a “live case study” on the impact of dance movies.


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