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It’s the online business education that isn’t an online business education. It’s taught by HBS professors, but it’s not an HBS program.  It’s an elite training program for ambitious future business students without the specific guarantees of an MBA degree. Such are the ambiguities and contradictions in Harvard’s new HBX core program.  Is it worth the high price of admission?

The frequently asked questions and HBX Core’s shiny new website look promising enough.  Many people decide to go to business school relatively late in life, it argues. Why should they be at a disadvantage compared to those who got involved in banking right after graduating? HBX core hopes to close the knowledge gap, improving students ability to hit the ground running when they start attending business school. The program is a part time commitment -- you can still do your job while you are taking the classes. It is also designed to be rigorous, delivering grades and promising serious expectations for assignments and class participation.

But can Harvard actually deliver value for the money with HBX Core? The answer isn’t yet clear, and it’s unlikely to be anytime soon. That said, we did our best to find out by contacting admissions officers in the know.  The results were a little disturbing.  Forster Thomas’s admissions contacts at top business schools indicated that not only has Harvard not reached out to them about the program to flout its benefits, many of them were not even aware it existed. Although they will most likely review it along with all the other new initiatives when they meet in the fall to begin considering admissions, it seems unlikely at this point that the Harvard name alone is going to make the Core certification leap out on anybody’s resume.

That said, there are a few things about HBX Core that might make it more valuable than your average community college accounting course, but even these aren’t sure things. For instance, will Harvard’s plan to grade on a high honors\honors\pass basis actually correlate to the business ability of students graduating from the program? If so, the program’s reputation easily grow over time. If not, it could lose all its credibility overnight.

All in all, it’s probably too soon to make a full judgment either way on HBX core. For students planning to apply next year, it’s hard to endorse the program unless you are absolutely planning to apply to Harvard. It seems like a safe bet that Harvard will want to promote the program and make it seem legitimate in its early stages, which means they will probably make a big show of admitting at least a few core students into HBS.

For other schools, the benefit is less clear. Also unclear is whether the core program can substitute in any meaningful way for full MBA program, or even a one-year-old part-time MBA program. Will employers value the certification?  Will Harvard try to bring some recruiters in as partners?  It’s an alternate approach which could bear fruit, but there are no signs of it as of yet.

We will keep our eye on the story as it develops. In the meantime, if you want to get the latest information on HBX core or if you have any questions, just contact us and will be happy to answer them.