Harvard Business School, one of the world’s most prestigious business education providers, will offer free MBA courses to low-income students, addressing growing concerns in the United States about the costs of higher education and the need increased social mobility.
The school will waive the $76,000 annual fee over the two years of its flagship MBA program for about a tenth of admissions — about 200 students in the current cohort of 2,000.
“Harvard Business School should be a place where the most talented future leaders can fulfill their potential,” Dean Srikant Datar said in a statement. “We want to remove the financial barriers that stand in their way and ease the burden of debt so they can focus on becoming leaders who make a difference in the world.”
Applicants will be judged on their gross income for the previous three years, assets, socio-economic background, and level of undergraduate debt. They will still need to cover living expenses and insurance, estimated at around $35,000 per year.
Some US universities, especially wealthier ones, have offered improved financial terms amid criticism of steeply rising costs and escalating student debt burdens.
The shift to online teaching and strict restrictions on campus activities during the Covid-19 pandemic, as mental health issues increased, have also fueled a new debate about the value for money provided by universities.
President Joe Biden promised reforms to the country’s $1.6 billion student debt during his election campaign, which has so far included some pauses in collecting payments.
The Black Lives Matter movement has also refocused the discussion around college access. Steven Rogers, a former finance professor, retired from Harvard in 2019 after expressing “strong disappointment” at business school for not doing more to tackle diversity. It has since released a racial equity action plan and appointed a diversity and inclusion officer and other faculty who identify as black or African American.
Dartmouth announced earlier this year that it would join a handful of US universities offering “needs-blind” admission to undergraduate students worldwide, regardless of their ability to pay, in a bid to improve the diversity of its contribution. It will waive annual tuition and accommodation fees of $80,000 for those deemed eligible.
However, some other US colleges have moved away from need-blind admissions policies in recent years, citing financial pressure.
Harvard has the largest overall university endowment and its business school, supported by alumni donations, provides an estimated annual financial aid budget of $45 million. HBS said about half of its students receive need-based scholarships, with average annual support of $42,000 in 2021-22.
Chad Losee, Managing Director of MBA Admissions at the business school, said: “It is unusual for a graduate business school to have a need-based approach to financial aid. We believe we have the greatest.
He said students understand the long-term value of the MBA, but “we want to help people really address concerns about upfront costs.”