Harvard has a long and distinguished continuing education tradition. And it treats and serves those nontraditional students well. But even at Harvard, the continuing education mission is questioned by those who don't know any better. By Harvard alum Theodore R. Johnson, writing in The Atlantic.
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.
I often felt the same way – that I’d snuck into one of the world’s premier institutions for higher learning. There is little chance that my slightly-above-average undergraduate GPA and an extra-curricular résumé that only consisted of a part-time job at a music store would’ve secured a spot for me in one of Harvard’s ultra-competitive graduate schools. Yet, with no admission letter in hand and exactly zero hours spent preparing for graduate admissions tests, I became a Harvard student.
And I was not alone. The Extension School – Harvard’s degree-granting continuing education school – has a student population of more than 13,000. In fact, almost all of the Ivy League schools offer courses to “nontraditional students,” which the National Center for Education Statistics considers to be those who are older than typical college graduates, work full-time, or are financially independent and may have family dependents.