Why the heck is education is so expensive?

I like to have my hands full. And if you know me well, that’s an understatement. But I’ve had this itch to look up something exciting to learn, something that would pique my curiosity, advance my skills while intellectually satisfy me. Something that will make me a better leader and a human being.

After spending almost an hour searching for one such program, I bumped into Harvard Business School’s executive education program. I was particularly interested in one that was scheduled in India. And, gosh! It’s freaking expensive! (I know some would argue that is a gross understatement!)

I mean INR 38 lakhs or $55,000 for a six month program is ridiculous! No wonder student debt is a nation-wide concern in America. What surprised me wasn’t the price tag but that it just didn’t make any sense to me. Here’s why:

  1. You actually can buy a sweet one or two-room apartment with that money. A home is almost every Indian’s dream. Heck, it’s a universal sentiment!
  2. Leaders from small or medium-sized businesses can’t even think about affording it. For some, this would be their entire year’s (or a couple of years’ in most cases) salary!
  3. Clearly the program is for Fortune 50-100-500 companies who can afford such a massive investment for their high-potentials. The ones who’re a shoe in to become the next VP of some mumbo-jumbo.

This brings me to the next question — what’s so special about this (and other programs offered by HBS or other Ivy League schools) program? Curriculum-wise, I don’t think the professors would have anything more to say outside of their published papers, books, articles, podcast/radio/television interviews, webinars they have appeared on. Their livelihood and credibility as an expert depends on that afterall. Right? And all of this is practically available to the public for a few dollars. Quite literally.

So, if the education and expertise is accessible what really makes these programs so expensive? It’s simple — the cohort network. The relationships that you build with your cohort is what makes the whole system is special and prestigious. The bonds are tighter and you’ve got a solid chance of making it in the top echelons if you were friends with Rick who now works as the President of one of those big consulting companies. And that’s great! People really look out for each other in this network and they stay connected, as in forever.

But here’s my challenge — is my relationship with someone worth that much money? Can I not build equally or much stronger relationships outside of this network? Heck, with the same people if need be? You and I know that the answer to those questions is an emphatic yes. Yet, we know that it’s impossible to achieve any of that from the outside.

Pointed noted.

And as I reflect back on how I felt yesterday, here’s what I can say — I’m looking for an education not a club membership. Oh, and one more thing — just remember that the Ku Klux Kan, Medellín Cartel and Third Reich were clubs with memberships too. 😉

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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