Harvard Goes Hollywood

April 22nd, 2016 / By

Hollywood Public Relations is promoting a new program at Harvard Business School (HBS) called the Credential of Readiness (CORe). One of Hollywood PR’s account executives sent me an email, asking if I would like to blog about the program. Why not? I’ll discuss here the program’s suitability for law students. In a second post, I’ll explore what law schools themselves might learn from CORe.

And, of course, I’ll reflect on the curious marriage of the words “Hollywood” and “Harvard.”

The Program

CORe is an online certificate program that teaches business analytics, economics for managers, and financial accounting. These are subjects that all lawyers should know: it’s hard to represent divorcing couples, advise nonprofits, value intellectual property, or calculate damages in a civil rights case without some knowledge of accounting. Similarly, the course on “business analytics” teaches basic principles of data collection and analysis. Lawyers without that knowledge will struggle to understand clients and experts from many fields.

Law schools already recognize the importance of these subjects. Many teach courses like “Accounting for Lawyers” or “Social Science Methods for Lawyers.” An increasing number also offer “Business Boot Camps” for students who want to learn business basics before enrolling in business law courses.

HBS’s CORe program offers an alternative to these law school courses. The program combines all three subjects into a 10-week online course that demands 12-15 hours of work per week. Students can take the course either during the school year or over the summer, whichever option works best for their schedules.

Law schools do not give academic credit for CORe, but HBS awards both a certificate of completion and a transcript reflecting the completed courses. The school also works hard to maintain the course’s academic value. Participants take several online quizzes during the course, as well as an in-person final exam administered at Pearson test centers. There are even grades: Participants can earn “Honors” or “High Honors” for excellent work.

Is CORe Right for Law Students?

One very prominent law school thinks so: Harvard Law School tells students about CORe and subsidizes their participation. Harvard JDs who took the program last year gave CORe high marks, and the law school is continuing to sponsor student participation.

What about other law students? Should they sign up for CORe? Should schools subsidize students who want to participate in the program? I outline some of the pros and cons below.

CORe Benefits

CORe covers subjects that, as I noted above, all law students should know. I used to teach our school’s “Social Science for Lawyers” course, so I can personally vouch for the benefits of knowing the material that HBS calls “business analytics.” I also hear frequently from students and graduates who wish they knew more business basics.

In addition to substance, CORe offers a credential suitable for framing and a shiny resume line. The appropriate resume line, according to HBS reads like this:

Summer 2014 HBX | Harvard Business School
CORe: Credential of Readiness, Honors

Ooh. That’s probably even more attractive for law students at schools other than Harvard.

Finally, CORe offers a convenient method of obtaining both the substance and the certificate. Students participate online at times and from places that are convenient for them. They must complete their work with a designated cohort, but the timing is much more flexible than with a traditional class.

CORe Costs

This is a course about business principles, so of course there are costs! From the student’s perspective, the primary cost is literally the cost: Tuition for CORe is $1800. That includes all three courses, materials, and the final exam fee; there are no additional charges except a $5 fee per transcript request. Still, that’s a lot of dollars.

Will law students pay $1800 for CORe? Harvard Law School doesn’t think so: It subsidizes tuition so that students pay only $300 for the opportunity. Last year, the subsidy was even higher, so students paid just $250.

Will other schools follow this lead? It’s unlikely. Other schools lack Harvard’s resources; in fact, other law schools are pretty much broke. Subsidizing just 50 students to take CORe at HLS’s price would cost a law school $75,000; subsidizing 100 students would run $150,000.

What about individual students? Harvard law students pay just $300 for CORe; will other students foot the full $1800 bill? That price is considerably higher than what law students pay for other types of online education. Students, for example, pay just $800 for online LSAT prep courses that include more than 150 hours of instruction. That’s many more instructional hours than CORe offers–at less than half the price.

Law graduates do ante up $1795 for a popular online bar review course that, like CORe, uses distinguished professors as instructors. The bar course, though, covers much more material than CORe–and it includes individualized feedback from essay graders rather than just CORe’s multiple choice grading.

Students, of course, don’t put LSAT prep or bar review courses on their resumes. Harvard may hope that students will pay a premium for the HBS-brand credential and resume line. They may well do so, but the price seems high for the educational experience alone.

I say “seems” because there’s another drawback to CORe: HBS won’t let students or reviewers see a sample class. I asked for this opportunity before writing a review, and my request was denied. The program’s marketing videos are pure fluff (“Oh, the places you’ll go!”) rather than a serious introduction to the course material or pedagogy. CORe allows students to preview the program for 10 days, but they pay a 10% “processing fee” ($180) for that privilege.

HLS, notably, has recognized that students may want to preview the course’s method and content. It allows students to try CORe for two weeks with a full refund if they withdraw within that period.

My Bottom Line

CORe is a promising program for law students; it might usefully supplement students’ knowledge while providing an attractive resume credential. The price, however, is too high–and students need more exposure to the course content and method before deciding whether to commit their time and money to the experience.

I was disappointed that HBS didn’t allow me to preview any of the class sessions. I respect HBS, but online education varies widely. I can’t in good faith recommend the course to students (especially at the current price) without more knowledge of the pedagogy or depth of coverage.

How About the Hollywood Part?

I was amused to learn that Harvard uses a firm called Hollywood Public Relations to promote CORe; I was even more intrigued to discover that the account exec communicating with me “came to Hollywood PR from TMZ where, as an associate producer, she broke national news on celebrity sordidness.” It’s not what we’re used to in higher ed.

But so what? The account exec answered all of my questions politely and thoroughly. As I’ll write in an upcoming post, online courses are expensive to produce. They pay off only if they attract a large number of students, and that requires marketing–even for Harvard Business School.

Besides, would you have read this post if I had titled it “Online Business Ed for Law Students”?

 

 

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