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Slamming Doors

HBS opens many doors. Unfortunately, the tuition itself closes others.
We’ve all heard about the astronomical endowment. Harvard University supposedly has enough funding to allow all students to attend HBS for the next several decades for free without causing much of a dent in the piggy bank. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

During Foundations, MBA Program Chair, Carl Kester, spoke to us about the world’s need for talented managers. This need was cited as one reason for our large, 900-student class size. Stanford Business School, with its 300-person graduating class, may not share this view. But I concur; there is a need for talented managers, and not just in the lucrative areas of investment banking and consulting. There is a more pressing, profound need in the important areas of non-profit, education, and government organizations that we just can’t ignore.

The problem is the $100,000+ cost of the Harvard MBA. When I graduated from law school, without any financial support from my family, my student loans neared $75,000. My monthly payments thereafter were nearly $1,000 per month (on a 10-year schedule). Fortunately some boom years as a New York lawyer wiped out that debt. Nevertheless, CitiAssist and I became quite close friends. Now, it seems, it’s back to square one.

I went to work for a large corporate firm after law school in order to join a sophisticated international practice. However, had I been interested then in representing children or the indigent (a subject near and dear to my heart having grown up on welfare and having felt the wrath of insensitive landlords and their lawyers), I simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to. Such jobs only paid about $35,000 a year. After paying off my student loans, I would have only been left with a few hundred dollars a month for the rest of my expenses. Simply stated, my career choices were limited by my debt.

It is a shame that some of us will leave HBS with a wonderful education and a broad set of skills, but simply will not be able to use those skills to benefit the organizations that need them most due to financial constraints. I would find great fulfillment dedicating my career to helping the indigent, but must I rejoin their ranks to do so?
In fairness, HBS does have some very limited loan forgiveness programs. But they simply don’t go far enough.
Doors are closing. Perhaps it’s time to prop them open.

January 28, 2002
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