Harvard Business School moves online after surge in breakthrough COVID-19 cases

BY Sydney LakeSeptember 27, 2021, 5:34 PM
A view of the campus of Harvard Business School, as seen in July 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Exactly one month following the start of its fall term, Harvard Business School announced Monday it has moved all of its first-year MBA students and some of its second-year students to remote learning this week due to “a steady rise in breakthrough” COVID-19 infections among its student population. Students, faculty, and staff at universities across the country have feared these types of on-campus breakthrough infections.

Harvard requires that all community members—students, faculty, staff, and researchers—be vaccinated. As of Sept. 22 figures, 96% of Harvard employees and 95% of Harvard students were vaccinated. That’s a much higher vaccination rate than the U.S. adult population, which currently lands at just more than 64% vaccinated. As of Monday, HBS students have been asked to learn remotely through the weekend.

“In recent days, we’ve seen a steady rise in breakthrough infections among our student population, despite high vaccination rates and frequent testing,” HBS spokesperson Mark Cautela said in a statement on Monday.

“Contact tracers who have worked with positive cases highlight that transmission is not occurring in classrooms or other academic settings on campus,” Cautela added. “Nor is it occurring among individuals who are masked.”

Harvard University, which Fortune ranks as having the No. 1 full-time MBA program in the country, was advised by city and state public health officials to move MBA students to remote learning from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, Cautela said in a statement. The school also asked students to eliminate unmasked indoor activities and limit in-person interactions with people outside of their household. They’ve also asked that group gatherings be moved online and that travel be cancelled. 

Harvard has also increased its COVID-19 testing frequency to three times per week, and will send a daily email to all students with updates on “all aspects of the situation,” Cautela said in a statement.

Harvard Business School admissions

Although some business schools saw an increase in online MBA applications in 2020, students admitted to top programs like HBS questioned the value of a virtual degree. Between 2019 and 2020, the deferral rates for MBA programs jumped from 3% to 7% due to concerns about online learning, travel, and visas, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2020 Application Trends Survey

HBS offered all accepted students in 2020 the chance to request a deferral. The school agreed to consider deferrals in 2020, but at the time could not guarantee whether it would be a one- or two-year delay in enrollment. This was the only time in HBS history that deferrals were granted, according to Cautela.

HBS’s most recently admitted class is its largest ever, with 1,010 students. In 2020, 732 students enrolled, which was about 200 fewer than its typical class size. 

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.