Harvard College, Shame on You!

Harvard University, Harvard College, Shame on Harvard College

Harvard has reversed course on its transfer policy and it’s not right.

The administrators at Harvard College would be wise to take a course in business planning at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania because, well, it seems they haven’t been attending courses at the Harvard Business School this year. How do we know? That’s an easy one. The deadline for applications for transfer students for fall 2008 was February 15th. Yet a few days before February 15th, it was announced by Harvard’s admissions office that the deadline would be extended to February 16th. Now, over a month after applications were due and after applicants paid and submitted their files, it has been announced that the college is not accepting transfer students for the next two years. Just yesterday, March 20th, Harvard’s Director of Transfer Admissions, Marlene Vergara Rotner, emailed applicants with this news.

Harvard Accepts Transfer Applications, Then Reverses Course

Ms. Vergara Rotner’s email read as follows: “Harvard College will be unable to enroll any transfer students for the next two academic years, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. Following the most thorough examination of its residential housing in Harvard’s history, the Dean of Harvard College, Professor David Pilbeam, has concluded that the Harvard Houses cannot successfully accommodate any new transfer students. Instead, the College has embarked on a planning process for substantial capital investment to renovate and revitalize its residential spaces. In important respects, undergraduate education at Harvard College is residential in character. Students learn a great deal from the residential experience and contact with one another, complementing the experience of classrooms and laboratories. Harvard does not admit transfer students to non-residential status. The College offers a Visiting Undergraduate Program, which enables students to enroll in Harvard College for academic credit at their home institutions. Visiting Undergraduates are not ordinarily offered College housing, and they are not permitted subsequently to transfer to Harvard as degree candidates.”

Harvard’s About-Face on Transfer Admission Isn’t Right

Harvard administrators attribute this decision to cease accepting transfer students to a lack of available housing. While Harvard doesn’t require students who enter as first-year students to live on campus for all four years, they do require transfer students to reside on campus for the entire period of their undergraduate studies since they’ve already spent a significant portion of their college experience at another institution. Yet as the stock of available dorms has not changed for some time, we wonder how Harvard administrators could not have come to this decision before they made transfer applications available for the upcoming 2008-2009 school year. After all, students invest their hearts, minds, and scores of hours in completing their Harvard applications. If these administrators had to come to this conclusion so late in the process, couldn’t they have at least continued to accept transfers for one more year? And then when they made public their decision to not accept transfer applications for the subsequent year or two, there would have been fewer casualties. This would have been the kinder and more responsible thing to do in our book, and much more in line with what one would expect from an institution such as Harvard.

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