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Harvard Kennedy School Introduces Online Public Leadership Credential Program

The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in 2017.
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in 2017. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Jania J. Tumey, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Kennedy School announced a new online public leadership credential program Thursday, joining the trend of Harvard schools expanding their online academic offerings.

Anyone with a bachelor’s degree, a minimum of five years of professional work experience, and proficiency in English is eligible to register for the certificate program. The flexible program is geared toward individuals with commitments that would prevent them from relocating to Cambridge for a traditional Kennedy School degree.

“Through the Public Leadership Credential, we will extend the benefits of Harvard Kennedy School knowledge and training to a wider group of individuals currently working to advance the public good,” Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said in a press release about the program. “The PLC program will provide participants with tools and insights to improve the lives of people in their communities, cities, and countries.”

The program offers six courses that are each six weeks in length. Students can choose to take any number of courses, but all six are required to earn the Public Leadership Credential.

Program co-leader Christopher Robichaud said the program offers people interested in intervening in the current state of world politics to do so without having to take time off their jobs to be trained in person.

“There’s kind of a crisis of leadership going on,” Robichaud said. “There’s a whole wide range of individuals out there who want to respond to this crisis of leadership, who want to genuinely engage in the world with a set of skills for public service, who can’t take a year off from their jobs or family commitments to come to Cambridge to study.”

“The idea is anyone can take any of these six courses and have a great learning experience. For the ambitious who want to take all six, there will then be an opportunity for a final capstone essay evaluation,” Robichaud added.

The courses are split into three branches that focus on different skill sets in public policy and leadership. Each branch was designed in collaboration with a Harvard Kennedy School faculty member. Robichaud said he has been personally involved in building courses on leadership and ethics.

“Course A is a six-week course, and it focuses mostly on the individual working their way in an organization, learning a little bit about their own values and principles, and how to engage in a kind of practice of effective leadership,” Robichaud said.

Course B, the second part of the leadership and ethics set, focuses on behavioral sciences and theory, according to Robichaud.

In addition to the leadership and ethics branch, courses will be offered in the subject of evidence for decisions, led by Lecturer in Public Policy Theodore Svoronos, and policy design and delivery, led by Senior Lecturer in Public Policy Michael Walton.

Robichaud said that he and the other faculty developing the program said they are still in the process of deciding what a capstone assessment might entail for those seeking a certificate.

The Kennedy School is not alone in developing its online options. Harvard Business School recently rebranded its online iteration — HBS Online — and has seen a spike in applications and website traffic. The Business School has also expanded the number of courses available to participants.

— Staff writer Jania J. Tumey can be reached at

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