- In a vote of confidence for online postsecondary education, Harvard University announced Tuesday that it is rebranding its online business education platform from HBX to Harvard Business School Online.
- Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria said in a statement that the HBX platform, which launched in 2014, gave the school "an entirely new medium" through which to expand its reach "to people wherever they are in the world." About 40,000 people have completed a course through HBX.
- The certificate-based platform uses the case study method for which the business school is known, with curriculum tailored to the needs of experienced professionals and individuals interested in pursuing an MBA.
Harvard Business School was slow to join the flock of colleges offering credentials online. In 2010 Nohria told faculty a pivot online wouldn't happen in his lifetime. Yet since then the Ivy League business school has established and significantly expanded its digital footprint. In 2012, it teamed up with MIT to launch edX, which today is a nonprofit and open-source provider of MOOCs and other online courses for colleges and businesses.
Two years later, the school debuted HBX on its own online platform, charging fees that promised "significant new revenue streams," according to a university release. HBX had three offerings: a set of fundamental courses for non-business students and professionals; executive education; and a virtual classroom experience for 60 people, called HBX Live. HBX courses range from $950 to $4,500 and span several weeks. That's significantly less than the school's executive education programs, which also have more stringent acceptance criteria.
Like many colleges weighing their value proposition online, Harvard sought to differentiate its highly selective in-person programs from its more accessible online offerings. A set of guiding principles for HBX explains it should "strengthen" rather than "dilute" Harvard's "treasured" residential programs and "establish a standard for excellence in online business education and pedagogy."
Nohria explained in a blog post that his hesitancy to bring Harvard business education online was because he perceived it as a threat to traditional campus-based education, and he was also "unimpressed" with the largely stagnant experiences of early MOOCs. He wasn't alone among Harvard colleagues in his uncertainty. More generally, many university administrators and employers have expressed doubts around the value of degrees obtained online.
That's changing. A recent report from Northeastern University's Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy analyzing a survey of more than 750 human resources leaders found a majority (61%) believe online credentials are "of generally equal quality" to those completed in-person, a figure the report says is up from prior years. About half (52%) of human resources leaders surveyed believe most advanced degrees will eventually be completed online.
Other Ivy League institutions are bringing degrees online. The University of Pennsylvania will offer its first fully online degree starting this spring in response to strong demand for the on-campus version of its master's of computer and information technology. Beyond the Ivy League, several colleges are exploring partially online law degrees, and more providers are entering the market to service institutions' growing online education reach.