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Harvard Kennedy School Exploring Plans to Merge MPP, MPA Programs

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf announced in an email last month that the school is weighing a plan to combine the Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration programs into one degree program.
Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf announced in an email last month that the school is weighing a plan to combine the Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration programs into one degree program. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Kennedy School is in the “early stages of exploring” a plan to combine the Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration programs into an expanded degree program, HKS Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf announced in an email to students early last month.

The merged MPP program would consist of a required core curriculum along with a set of elective classes, Elmendorf wrote in the email, dated March 1.

“If such a merger could be achieved, all graduates of the expanded program would demonstrate their competency in key domains that are generally important for policymakers and public leaders and also could demonstrate their achievements in specific areas if they wanted to do so,” Elmendorf wrote.

The Kennedy School’s MPA program does not currently have a required core curriculum.

The announcement followed several meetings between HKS administrators — including Elmendorf, Academic Dean Suzanne J. Cooper, and MPA Program Emma Heffern — and Kennedy School Student Government representatives over the past few months regarding the merger, the first of which occurred in December 2022.

In January, KSSG representatives sent an email to MPA students, writing that Elmendorf said he made the “broad decision” to merge the programs during the December meeting.

KSSG representatives wrote Elmendorf said HKS administrators began considering the decision to merge the degree programs several years ago, but plans were interrupted by the pandemic. The email also stated Elmendorf cited the lack of a MPA core curriculum — as well as confusion regarding the difference between the degree programs — to justify the merger.

KSSG representatives have called for Elmendorf to be transparent about his decision to merge the programs and solicit student feedback. In the January email sent to MPA students, KSSG student representatives wrote that Elmendorf said, “high level decisions concerning program changes do not require student input,” during the December meeting.

“Students and alumni deserve more transparency, consideration, and a participatory voice in this decision which has a tremendous impact on anyone in the MPA community,” the email stated.

HKS spokesperson James F. Smith referred to Elmendorf’s emailed March announcement in response to a request for comment.

In their January email, KSSG representatives also defended the MPA program, arguing that its “flexibility and class variety” allows the Kennedy School to “attract a more diverse set of student profiles.”

In February, KKSG representatives sent a follow-up email to Kennedy School students describing their attempts to increase student input in the school’s decision-making process.

“Although no current student will be impacted directly, it obviously sucks to have your degree program discontinued or altered without transparency,” the email stated. “We have voiced our concerns to the administration that student engagement through this change process can be more effective.”

“We, along with other degree program reps, have been working for months to ensure student input and experiences regarding this are properly captured and represented,” KSSG second-year MPA representative Krizia R. Lopez wrote in an email to The Crimson.

On March 21 — nearly three weeks after Elmendorf’s email announcement — KSSG representatives wrote in another email to MPA students that Elmendorf agreed to run focus groups on the MPA student experience and learning outcomes, as well as hold a town hall addressing student concerns. The town hall is set to take place Friday afternoon.

“The programs and curricula offered by the Kennedy School today have been strengthened by changes that were implemented by our predecessors, and all of us here today have a responsibility to consider changes that could strengthen a Harvard Kennedy School education in the future,” Elmendorf wrote in his March email. “We look forward to collaborating with you on this work.”

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at asher.montgomery@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @asherjmont.

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