by Neil Chyten
One would think that if any institution would be immune to the effects of COVID-19, it would be Harvard University, with a $50 billion endowment. However, this is not the case. Harvard, along with virtually every other college in the world, has been deeply gouged by the pandemic. Enrollment in Harvard Business School, HBS as it is known, will be down nearly 25% to a record low of 700 students. It may drop even further if accepted students are unwilling to engage in online classes beginning in the fall. Even though graduation from HBS is a virtual certainty of rewarding business opportunities, $70,000 annually is a lot to pay for online classes – even Harvard’s online classes.
It is also a virtual certainty that some international students will forgo their deposits at Harvard College, as well as Harvard’s 14 other prestigious programs, and decide instead to attend a prestigious college or university locally. Indeed, international business programs, especially those in Asia, are gaining prestige and traction. For example, CEIBS (China Europe International Business School), HKUST in Hong Kong, are among the world’s top business schools. The National University of Singapore Business School, Fudan University School of Management, Renmin University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and others are also highly regarded and are taking market share away from Harvard and other top US Business schools such as Northwestern (Kellogg), Duke (Fuqua), Michigan (Ross), MIT (Sloan), and UPenn (Wharton). And, there is the added attraction of not having to travel to the US, a country that is now showing hostility or indifference toward its former Asian allies. The Trump administration has proven to be no ally to international students or international businesses.
Further, Harvard’s main source of revenue is alumni contributions and other donations. Of course, these will be severely affected by an economy being ravaged by COVID-19. Both wealthy individuals and businesses that have traditionally been reliable sources of contributions are evaporating in the heat of the pandemic. And while it could be said that any institution with $40 billion in the bank, or invested in the stock market, is in no eminent danger of collapse, it should also be noted that Harvard spends billions of dollars on keeping its institution world class, including world class research featuring some of the most prominent doctors, scientists, researchers, mathematicians, and thinkers on the planet. All of these factors combined may not jeopardize Harvard’s position as one of the top colleges and business schools in the world. However, when an institution as deeply entrenched and respected as Harvard University shows that it, too, is vulnerable, it shakes the very foundation of the society upon which its success is based. Movie theaters, mom and pop stores, restaurants, even entire industries are in danger of collapse—but Harvard? This realization has made the ground under our feet a little less solid. It has driven home the point that humanity itself is susceptible to extinction, or at least to correction. No, Harvard is not immune to COVID-19. As a result of this realization, the red flag that was raised by the pandemic back in January of 2020 has just gotten a little redder and a little larger.