A message to incoming and continuing students
Dean Bridget Long
June 3, 2020
I am writing you today with an important update on our plans for academic year 2020–21. As you know, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, HGSE has been carefully considering a number of possible scenarios for our degree programs this coming year. We have contemplated a range of options, consulted with our faculty and staff, university administration, health officials, and leaders at other institutions, and considered how we might use our expertise and skills to hold true to our mission to prepare education leaders and innovators who will change the world by improving education. Through it all, we have focused on our top priority: the health and safety of our entire HGSE family, which includes you as our incoming and continuing students.
After careful deliberation, we have determined that the best way to provide you with a high-quality learning experience that honors the commitment we made to you upon admission is to focus on a fully online experience during 2020–21. Our decision largely centers on continued disruptions to residential learning in the wake of COVID-19. In addition to the strong likelihood of intermittent periods of quarantine (orders to remain at home), we expect distancing measures will need to be in place through the entire academic year to continue to mitigate the spread of the virus. This scenario presents many challenges and likely multiple interruptions to an on-campus program, which would result in a severely altered experience that could compromise the HGSE learning experience. In addition to the public health conditions, we know that continued travel restrictions may limit many students’ ability to join us in person on Appian Way. Based on our specific context, programs, and diverse student body, we are not confident we can bring students to the HGSE campus in a safe, equitable, sustained way.
Our decision is also grounded in HGSE’s strong track record of offering high-quality online experiences. We are certain that the online learning you will undertake will be an experience you will deeply value — one that will prepare you for the changed world you will enter upon graduation. Building on our existing offerings, we are crafting online courses and co-curricular experiences that will take advantage of the best that digital learning has to offer, giving you unparalleled access to instructors and to peers. Our courses will combine thoughtful and engaging asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences, accounting for a range of time zones and providing unprecedented curricular flexibility. Capitalizing on what we know and have learned about how online communities thrive, we are designing approaches that will foster cohort and community in numerous ways, ensuring that you build and maintain a network of colleagues, friends, and support systems that will last beyond your time at HGSE.
Fortunately, the most foundational and transformative aspects of HGSE are not changing. You will build relationships with our world-class faculty, who are pioneering researchers, seasoned practitioners, and influential policymakers from across the educational landscape. We will help you to develop and hone your skills as aspiring leaders, scholars, and practitioners, and to expand your thinking by grounding your studies in real-world problems. You will engage in field experiences and professional development — something we will be able to do in new ways; our thousands of esteemed alumni and education leaders and partners worldwide, are now available to join us at the click of a button. And we will bring voices from across education and from around the world to enrich our community-wide dialogue.
In sum, this coming year will not simply be “HGSE online.” This will be HGSE transformed. We can’t wait for you to be part of it.
I recognize that this is not the situation you expected when you applied to HGSE, and none of us could have imagined the dramatic changes that have occurred in just the last three months. We will continue to actively monitor the evolving situation, and if public health conditions permit, we hope to give you the option to come to campus next spring, towards the end of the academic year, for a short residential experience and Commencement in May 2021. Whether we can come together as a community next May or not, know that we are making a strong commitment to support an outstanding online experience for each and every student next year.
One of the ways we are honoring that commitment is to offer incoming master's students the option to petition to enroll part-time. Our online experience will offer greater flexibility in coursework, and we anticipate this will make it possible to sustain work and engagements in your home community while pursuing your master’s degree. This option is a two-year, fully online program, designed to enable a manageable balance of academic study and continued work commitments. Part-time students should expect to graduate in May 2022.
Soon, you will hear from the faculty director of your program with additional information and opportunities to connect with them, the program administrators, and members of the Office of Student Affairs in the weeks ahead to discuss your plans. In the interim, I know you will likely have a number of questions. In anticipation of this, we have created a list of frequently asked questions and answers, grouped by category:
My faculty and administrative colleagues at HGSE look forward to welcoming you with a series of events and activities over the summer and into the academic year. You have a place in our community, and we are anxious to begin the journey of working together to improve education.
As we look out at a world grasping with the uncertainty of a pandemic, and as we confront daily the inequities that brutally consign too many of our children to a constrained and unjust education, my belief in the urgency of the mission you are embracing has never felt stronger. The world needs education, now more than ever. And the world needs you, now more than ever, as well.
Bridget Long, Ph.D.
Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education
Saris Professor of Education and Economics