In the mid-1970s, Harvard was hemorrhaging support staffers. Their average employment spanned one to two years, costing the University greatly in recruitment, training, and retraining.
Something needed to change.
Considerable change was already underway in the University’s continuing education programs. In 1975, then-President Derek Bok and FAS Faculty Dean Henry Rosovsky hired Michael Shinagel, Ph.D. ’64, to lead the newly restructured continuing education programs, pulling University Extension, the Summer School, the Alumni College, and special students (individuals pursuing graduate-level study without entering degree programs) together under one roof for the first time. With the support of Dan Cantor, then director of personnel, a plan took shape to offer employees reduced tuition rates at the Extension School.
“My argument was: We’re the primary educational institution in the world. That’s our product,” said Shinagel in his Wadsworth office, where he has settled in semi-retirement after 38 years as dean of the Division of Continuing Education. “Why don’t we make our education accessible to our staff?”
A year later, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) was born, eventually expanding to offer reduced tuition rates at several other University Schools. Together with the Tuition Reimbursement Program (TRP), which helps employees to fund their education at other accredited institutions, the program remains a big draw for current and would-be employees. In the 2016-17 year alone, just over 2,000 Harvard employees have taken advantage of TAP through the Extension School, a large jump from the 350 or so who first matriculated in the ’70s.
“It’s been a big boon to Harvard and to all the staff,” said Shinagel. “It speaks to Harvard as a premiere educational institution that has also looked after its own, mentoring staff and enabling them to achieve whatever they wanted to achieve.”
When TAP employees are asked why they embrace the program, they commonly cite their innate curiosity about the world and their desire to improve their lives.