As online education persists during the ongoing pandemic, Harvard Extension School students have renewed calls on the University to alter the school’s degree names to “accurately reflect students’ programs of study,” according to an open letter penned by the Harvard Extension Student Association.
Currently, all Extension School degrees label the field of study as “in Extension Studies” instead of referencing the student’s specific field. Some Extension School students said they believe this component of their degrees does not accurately reflect their programs of study.
“The degree name is just a misrepresentation of the field of study,” said Sylvia A. Black, director of events for the Harvard Extension Student Association. “We’ve earned our degrees and our degrees should reflect the area of study.”
Veronica E. Bruno, the Bachelor of Liberal Arts liaison for the Harvard Extension Student Association, said the current degree name has the possibility to stymie graduates when they apply for jobs.
“From what I understand there’s real prejudice around the degree,” Bruno said. “You’re working a job as well and you’re taking Extension Studies at night, and then you go to improve your prospects at a job and you’re told, ‘Well, is your degree really real?’”
“We’re proud Extension School students. We proudly want to display that name on our resumes, on our LinkedIn profiles,” Bruno said. “We just don’t want when we walk into an HR office for them to say, ‘Well, you know, is it really a degree?’”
“That’s our nightmare,” he added.
Natela V. Gluzinskaia, director of student affairs of Harvard Extension Student Association, said she believes the degree name is “disrespectful.”
“I do feel like maybe the entire school needs to be, in fact, the School of Continuing Education because this is who we are,” Gluzinskaia said. “We are continuing our education, and that is what should be on the diploma as well, but ‘in Extension Studies’ — I feel it’s so disrespectful.”
“Nobody’s looking for a Bachelor’s in Extension Studies. This is why it’s just so disrespectful,” she added.
Before his retirement, former Dean of the Division of Continuing Education Huntington D. Lambert expressed his support for the removal of “in Extension Studies” in 2019, stating that the degree names are “academically wrong” and that he had spoken to the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, about the issue.
In 2016, a group of Extension School students held a protest on the steps of University Hall against the degree name.
Jacob J. Khan, president of the Harvard Extension Student Association, said he considers the label “in Extension Studies” to be an “equity issue.”
“Any kind of student initiative that says, ‘let’s remove “Extension Studies,”’ we would have to support it 100 percent,” he said. “I think it’s an equity issue — it’s dehumanizing. I think that the fact that it says Extension Studies kind of puts a label on people.”
“A student is a student — we shouldn’t label them because it’s wrong, it’s unethical,” he added.
Ryan G. Kramer, founder of the HES Campaign for VERITAS — an initiative dedicated to bringing about a revision in the degree nomenclature — said there is a disparity in treatment between Extension School students and students from Harvard’s 11 other schools.
“They’re in general treated as second-class students or alumni, and it’s just not appropriate,” Kramer said. “It’s basically, without saying it, it’s like a Harvard Lite.”
“Now someone may say, ‘Well, that sounds like an insecurity issue.’ It’s really not,” he added. “Nothing at Harvard is easy — there’s nothing Lite at Harvard. You need to earn your way into Harvard Extension, and you need to earn your way through it and out of it.”
In October 2020, Kramer penned a letter to Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow and members of the Board of Overseers to request their consideration of removing the “in Extension Studies” label. According to Kramer, University administrators did not reply to his letter, but he did receive a response from Dean of Continuing Education Nancy Coleman.
In an emailed statement to The Crimson, Dean Coleman said she is “aware” of student requests for a degree name change, but maintains that the degree name does not stymie graduates’ success.
“We are aware of some students’ desire to change the name of the degree. We are equally aware of a large number of students and alumni who are proud of their degrees from Harvard Extension School and who have commented that the degree name has had no bearing on their success,” the statement read. “We will continue to explore the question of degree naming in appropriate governance venues.”
Bruno said she is “optimistic” the University will consider changing the degree naming.
“I’m very optimistic. I think that there’s no better time than right now,” said Bruno. “Not everyone can go to Harvard College, not everyone can go to the Harvard Business School, but Harvard Extension School is really a beacon of education.”
“It is one of the most powerful institutions for spreading real education around the world,” she added. “We think that’s something that Harvard University should be proud of and not try to hide away.”
—Staff writer Ashley R. Masci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.