Tag Archives: harvard

Boston.com: Can’t Get Nothin’ Right

Extension School classes are open to everyone — “no application required,” the site says. Therein lies the major difference.

Calling yourself a Harvard student comes with a set of assumptions: you scored well on the SATs, kept up a top GPA, led some extra-curriculars, wrote a grammatically correct and interesting essay, and maybe even had a parent attend.

Extension School students don’t need any of these qualifications; they just need an interest to learn and some money to spend. “Many simply enroll in a course or two to gain the knowledge or skills they need for their current career or for personal enrichment,” a spokesperson said, and most don’t intend to graduate. That makes some difference in determining the ‘Harvard student’ definition.
Boston.com: When Is a Person Taking Classes at Harvard Not Considered a ‘Harvard Student?’

Boston.com is absolute shit. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the merits of an article based on comments—because, you know, that’s where the *real* magic happens.

After all that text, the article still fails to make the distinction between non-credit—those that take classes at Harvard—and for-credit students—those who are “Harvard students” given their privileges at the University. By privileges I mean access to libraries, events, ID cards, and the all important diploma which look exactly the same as those from the College except for the actual degree conferred. In the end, those who take courses at Extension for credit are earning an accredited degree from the school that is a part of Harvard University. Nor does Boston.com take the time to explain the entrance requirements that do exist. This is not a hard distinction to make, but one that I am not surprised Boston.com fails to get correct.

Digging deeper, there’s this guy…

I would categorize a Harvard student as someone who gets a degree from the University,” Baveja said, “so I guess in that sense I wouldn’t necessarily categorize [an Extension School attendee] as a ‘Harvard student.’ ”

No. Now pay attention. No one gets a degree from “the University.” Those of us taking courses for credit are getting degrees from our respective schools—Harvard College, Extension, Business, Law, and so on—which are all a part of the University.

As to the merits of basing on article on comments, Boston.com is absolute shit.

Gates Notes: Online, All Students Sit in the Front Row

I don’t talk about my going to school much here, for a variety of reasons that I don’t delve into here, but this piece from Bill Gates provides a good overview of the current state of continuing education:

In my experience, what separates the great courses from the mediocre ones is the quality of the professors, whose passion and expertise bring their subjects to life, as much online as in-person. That’s why it’s critical that during this time of transition we keep our focus on the instructors. They are the ones who inspire and guide students. The best online learning technologies expand the reach of the most inspiring professors by allowing more students to be part of their classes.
Gates Notes: “Online, All Students Sit in the Front Row”

This, however, is just as important point as the above:

The biggest challenge facing all higher education institutions is how to ensure more students stay in college or university and complete their degrees. They are looking everywhere for solutions. Arizona State University, for instance, discovered that the college catalogue overwhelmed students with too many class choices and gave them too little guidance. So the university redesigned the entire experience. The new, personalized online catalogue features “major maps,” which outline a major’s key requirements, optimal course sequence, and career options to help keep students on the path to graduation.

I can see where students, potential and otherwise, would have a problem with course selection, as with anything where there is a lot of choice and minimal guidance. I’ve faced that dilemma a few times, especially now that I am mopping up the last of my non-credit requirements, and more able to choose the courses I want to take. But course selection is an answered question in the form of advisors. The key to good curriculum choices is to have a plan walking into school. If someone doesn’t have a plan, a good advisor will help create one. But, course selection is the least of my problems as a continuing education student.

The larger, and much harder, problem is balancing school with other responsibilities. There are times when my passion for school outweighs my passion for work. Work is, at times, mundane and uninteresting because I am in maintenance mode, fixing bugs in Applescripts and my utility apps because of some application or operating system upgrade. Compare that to learning something completely new to me in any of my classes, and I can’t get out of work fast enough to go to class or do homework. Then there are times like this semester when the opposite is true, where my passion for work exceeds my passion for school, and doing enough work to get good grades (not passing grades, good grades) is really hard. Add two kids in the mix—five and three this year—and I occasionally get overwhelmed. There’s been a lot of “take a deep breath” moments over the past several years because quitting my job, dropping out of school, or ignoring my kids is never an option.

Being smart about my time is at the core of that balancing responsibilities. Good time management means everything is strategized and planned, from what I eat to maintain a semblance of good health, to when I spend some time with the kids so they don’t feel ignored, and all the way down to when I go to bed to get enough sleep to press on the next day. Courses are at night by necessity, which means I don’t get home until 23:00 (at the earliest if I don’t need to speak with the professor right after lecture). I love going to campus and sitting in the classroom. Online lectures are convenient and I get the meat of the course, but nothing beats the atmosphere of being in a classroom watching the lecture live, and being able to ask questions. But, my morning alarm goes off at 04:00 for a variety of reasons, and there are times when I have to choose sleep over live lecture and instead watch the course online when I am in a better state to do so. Honestly, most nights I don’t go to be because I am relaxed and tired; I often go to bed simply so that I can get enough sleep for the next day’s activities. Not that any of this is a complaint; this is all simply a statement of fact. I will never complain about school because I have chosen to take on the challenge, and I believe one ought not to complain about those things for which one has volunteered.

I have a course I am taking this semester now where the professor is really great, very engaging as is the material he assigns, challenging coursework in all the good ways, but the papers are philosophical, therefore very time-consuming, and sections are required (though my understanding that is against the school’s policy, but, hey, each course is its own little kingdom as my advisor once told me). At the same time, I have a company-wide project I’m now leading at work that just got approved after years of flogging to the powers that be. For that, I need to be alert and awake for some really tough meetings where I have to make tough decisions. That sounds very cliché, I know, but it’s true. Building a content management solution that my company will live with for probably the next ten years requires making decisions at morning meetings that will impact our workflows for years to come.

All things being equal, a project with years of impact that will be a huge addition to my resume, unfortunately, has to trump one grade out of thirty-two I’ll complete by the time I’m done with school. To put it another way, school will be done in two years, but this system, and my job, will be around for a lot longer. Instead, I have to focus on the core coursework needed to get a passing grade and finish off the semester with my sanity intact. My professor likely wouldn’t agree, not that I would blame him, but my getting burnt out will do no one any good, least of all myself.

School is a lot of things, but in this context, it’s an endurance race. I don’t expect schools to address that issue for me as a student, and so I wouldn’t expect to see that in Bill Gates’ article. But, his article does cast a light onto a gap in the conversation about contenting education: how best to approach the balancing of school, work, and other responsibilities. Schools are doing amazing things now to accommodate non-traditional students (here defined as not having gone to school right out of high school), but their efforts are only a part of a larger problem for many people. There is not a government or school policy that is going to provide a solution to that problem.

That…

That first cup of coffee brewed from a french press that is fresh out of the dishwasher. Bad coffee is bad coffee, but a completely clean press can turn an okay grind into a surprisingly good one.

That wonderful diminishing effect holiday weeks have on the traffic in which I almost inevitably find myself along my fifty-mile commute. I actually have time to post something this morning.

That mix of both hope and dread at the remaining weeks of a semester when almost of the final assignments have been released, and the true scope work needed to be done in the next (less than) four weeks has been revealed.

That sense of calm that comes from finding out that others are in the exact same situation in their own words.

The Atlantic: Did I Really Go to Harvard if I Got My Degree Taking Online Classes?

Here’s the article so you read the answer to this non-starter of a question yourself: Did I Really Go to Harvard if I Got My Degree Taking Online Classes? – Theodore R. Johnson – The Atlantic

But, in case of TL;DR: Yes.

I hate these kinds of articles. I am undeniably proud of my work at Harvard, and am looking forward to completing my education. The author, in the end, is proud of his work as well, but also puts all this other needless burden on top the degree, as if somehow he not only has to qualify the degree to himself as well as others. The headline and opening headline are little more than link bait and some of the author’s own reactions speak to a conflict not shared by any of my schoolmates, both of which are in direct contrast to his evidence and summary. Let’s dissect…

About two years ago, my classmates and I gathered in Harvard Yard to receive our graduate degrees alongside more than 7,000 of the university’s newest alumni. As the procession made its way to our designated seating area, an onlooker eyed our banner with a puzzled look and asked the guy in front of me, “What in the world is the Extension School?”

My classmate’s reply: “It’s the back door into Harvard.” Ouch. . .

Bait. How can anyone associated with Harvard or critical of online curriculum not bite? Even so, so what? The author notes that schools like HES were established to “to engage the local community, further the education of university staff and their family members, and provide new skills to working adults.” Yep, that sounds like a back door to me, that Harvard wanted to make accessible quality education to as many people as are able and willing to attend, for the betterment of themselves and those around them in the real chance that some good will come of their work creating a virtuous circle perpetuated by a social service bestowed by an organization that wants to teach. The classmate’s attitude to their education is a problem only because it is typically punctuated by a short-sighted and wrong “Ouch” by the author. Was there not a smack to the back of the head and a “shut the fuck up” that followed his response if only because he didn’t get it?

At HES, of the 13,000 students, only about 2,000 are admitted degree candidates, and the school confers about 600 bachelor’s and master’s degree every year. Shinagel notes that of all the students that have taken courses at HES since its inception, less than one fifth of 1 percent have graduated with degrees. As it turns out, Harvard is hard. . .

At least the author has established one of the more little-known facts on campus that speaks to the fact that while admissions may be easier than, say, the College, Harvard is clearly not for everyone and is reflected by the dropout rate. But did he really have to take more than halfway through the article to get there?

That said, people drop out for a lot of reasons—the life of a working adult, especially with kids, is not easy—and while making someone drop out is likely a challenge, the chances increase dramatically when real life gets involved. Not that I am one for data-less speculation, but I have to wonder, perhaps idly, what the dropout rate would be if such issues were not in play in people’s lives.

. . . unfortunately, sometimes its students walk in with guilty consciences, especially when, like me, they probably would not have gained admission in the more traditional way.

Why is there guilt in taking something that is publicly, and soon freely, offered? If Harvard had a problem with the HES degree programs, they would shut them down. But they have not and the student body is growing in other ways that makes it even easier to take Harvard classes: see edX. Guilt has only to do with an individual’s attitude and has nothing to do with Harvard. Stop projecting and get on with it.

All who apply themselves can walk proudly out of the gates with a prestigious diploma in hand. This is exactly what Harvard allowed me to do. The school even provided a few stalks of wheat to carry during the procession as a reminder of HES’s founding mission and as confirmation that I did indeed belong.
Did I Really Go to Harvard if I Got My Degree Taking Online Classes? – Theodore R. Johnson – The Atlantic

Thank heavens for small miracles coming to that conclusion. I never thought this was going to end. This is the same kind of weird self-pity found over at Extensionstudent.com, and I have rarely ever see any questioning like this outside of the Extension student body. Maybe all this mucking around is self-doubt really does come from having left-over guilt of not having “done the right thing” and gone to college right outside high school. But one’s character is derived by one reaction to a situation, not necessarily the situation itself. By going to school, we are each righting some personal wrong, fulfilling a leftover, unkept promise. Here matters only the fact the work is being done, not a preconceived notion of temporal requirements predisposed by a non-answerable-to society.

In the end, either you are proud of your degree or you are not. You pays your money, you makes your choices. Live with it. While I am not going to kid myself even for one second that Harvard Extension is anything like Harvard College, but you won’t see me perpetuating this crap that a Harvard Extension degree is somehow inferior to any others just because some courses are also online. Casting around that kind of self-doubt undermines defenses that the HES degree is better than the online-only for-profit schools, despite the elevated levels of coursework. In the end, the HES degrees say “Harvard University” across the top just like all the others, and I highly doubt Harvard would be putting its name on those degrees if they felt the work was not worthy. Maybe I’m naive, but I am not worried about my school or my degree, if only because I am not doing this for anyone else but me. On this issue, I really don’t care what anyone else thinks. The author should consider the same.

Go Crimson.

The Atlantic: Which Colleges Should We Blame for the Student-Debt Crisis?

. . . for-profit colleges are the worst offenders in another respect: their alums are singularly incapable of paying back their loans. Despite educating just a small fraction of students, these institutions contributed a full 47 percent of defaults among students who began repaying their debt in 2009. By comparison, the private nonprofits, despite the truckloads of loans they generate, were only responsible for 13 percent of defaults. . . About three-quarters of for-profit college students attend nominally four-year schools. And I say “nominally,” because only about 28 percent ever graduate, about on par with the bottom rung of public institutions. They cater to a class of student that is disproportionately poor, and frankly don’t always belong in college to begin with.
The Atlantic: Which Colleges Should We Blame for the Student-Debt Crisis?

I remember when I was researching schools to obtain my degree, I looked at University of Phoenix first because of its focus on online classes (commute and kids makes attending on-campus classes very challenging), not knowing much about the school or the quality of the degree. I called to ask some cursory questions and quickly found myself in a conversation that sounded like I was being sold some land; the “admissions rep” wanted me to sign up right then and there, and just said “yep” to me on everything I asked. Before I even had a chance to research the school more on my own I was compelled to call back and turn them down because the rep was calling me at least once a day (sometimes three) to see if I had made my decision. If a school has to sell themselves that hard to get my tuition money, how good could it possibly be? I always—always—question the hard sell.