Daily Archives: November 2, 2009

HBS Dean Jay Light Says Class Size Won’t Increase Any Time Soon

Last Week The Harbus published an interview with HBS Dean Jay Light, covering a variety of important topics ranging from Harvard’s increasingly international flavor to the school’s reaction to the recent financial crisis. Most interesting for applicants, though, were Light’s answers to questions about whether or not HBS plans to increase its class size any time soon.

When asked if the school will soon add a section and increase its class size, Light responded:

So facts-so let’s talk some facts. Typically, we target 900 to 910 students. I don’t see the class size increasing to anywhere near 1,000. This year the target was 2% higher, and we have about 937, for a few reasons:

First of all, the number of applications we had was up, with great quality applicants. The first round last year was up 25%. So we said wow, our admit rate is going to be one of the lowest we’ve had; does that make sense?

Secondly, we needed to because of what was going on in the financial markets and the endowment, to cut back on expenditures in the budget. So the question is, how do you reduce the net expenses of the MBA program while still holding fellowships steady? And our solution was to admit a few more students, and that allows you to keep the fellowships. In fact, we increased fellowships by $1 million last year. It was not necessarily an easy thing to do.

We appreciate the fact that he acknowledged that increasing the class size (and bringing in more tuition-paying students) helped HBS cover some budget issues. This is something that was widely assumed, and even given Harvard’s financial might, there’s no shame in admitting that the school needed to make some moves to improve its financial situation, as long as the product doesn’t suffer.

He reasoned that a classroom with 80-100 students is in fact more ideal than one containing 60 students. While Harvard Business School certainly knows the case study method better than anyone, this argument does seem a bit self-serving… If Harvard ever decided to shrink its class size, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear them argue that they’ve found that 60 students is in fact the ideal size for a case-oriented classroom.

It may take another year or two, but given the addition of the HBS 2+2 Program students and the continued growth in applicants to all top business schools, we expect that HBS will eventually add an additional section. 1,000 students is probably a mark that HBS will reach sooner rather than later.

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