K-School Students Forsake Government Jobs

Rethinking Public Service

The catalogue says it all: "The challenge of the modern world is government." And each year, the Kennedy School of Government instructs more than 750 students in three separate programs designed to train future leaders to meet that challenge.

"They have come here to acquire the skills that are going to be important in becoming leaders in public service," says Terry A. O'Neil, the school's assistant director for programs in public policy.

But in recent years, bolstered by the federal government's de-emphasis of social services and the growth of the non-profit sector, K-School students are increasingly turning away from government jobs to seek employment in non-profit organizations and private firms.

In 1988, more than half the students in the two-year Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Public Administration (MPA2) programs chose careers in non-governmental fields. And while non-profit and private jobs have long been popular at the K-school, the number of students going into these fields is on the rise.

And many K-School students and alumni say they are increasingly becoming convinced that government jobs are no longer the best place to pursue public service careers.

"I was not interested in going into government work," says Carol A. Glazer, a 1985 graduate and vice president of the New York-based Local Initiative Support Coalition. "My position here has allowed me to work with grass-roots organizations and policy makers at a high level."

Particularly dramatic is the increase in students seeking public service jobs in the non-profit sector. In 1986, only 9 percent of MPP graduates took non-profit jobs; by last year that figure had climbed to 28 percent. In the MPA2 program, the figure climbed from 10 percent in 1986 to 28 percent in 1988.

And K-School administrators say the trend is part of a broader national phenomenon. As the federal government has cut back on human services, non-profit firms have been forced to take up the slack, pushing K-School professors to re-evaluate their goals.

"I think they are becoming a more important part of the world," says Ramsey Professor of Political Economy Richard J. Zeckhauser '62, explaining the growth of the non-profit industry. "They offer more freedom and responsibility than government jobs," he adds.

"The number of non-profit organizations is just mind-boggling and it has been a question of identifying those institutions and the good placements," says Judy F. Kugel, the K-School's director of career services.

As a result of this growth, many K-School students find that the types of projects that initially attracted them to government jobs are now being done in the non-profit sector.

"I think it is true that during the past eight years when government cut back on human services that there has been an increased number of non-profits to fill that demand," says Robert N. Stavins, assistant professor of public policy in economics and environmental policy.

"The federal government is just doing much less in the area of human services," says Olivia A. Golden '76, a former Massachusetts official who came to the K-School as a lecturer after mounting an unsuccessful campaign for the state senate.

Non-profit jobs fall into a wide variety of categories, which continue to broaden as the industry grows. Among the areas which administrators say appeal most to Kennedy School graduates are education, advocacy and analysis.

Within the private sector, the most popular jobs are in public finance, municipal bonds analysis and consulting, according to Henry Lee, executive director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Center. A few--but not many--go to work for law firms and major corporations, Lee says.