Graduate College

Report to the Graduate Council on the Graduate Program in Public Policy

December 8, 1994

Prepared by Professor R. Allen Hays, Director

In a memorandum dated June 14, 1994, I shared some thoughts with Dean Somervill and Dean Podolefsky about the future of the MPP program. This memo has served as a statement of my goals for the program as director, and the MPP Coordinating Committee has reviewed and supported these goals. Therefore, I will report to the Graduate Council on the current status of the program and on the actions taken to accomplish the goals set forth in this memo.

The Graduate Program in Public Policy is currently a very healthy graduate program, which, as shown in the attached enrollment chart, has maintained a steady enrollment. It officially began in the fall of 1991, but, because it is a two year program, it did not reach its full complement of students until the fall of 1992, when 18 were enrolled. Since then, it has maintained a steady enrollment of between 18 and 22 students. In addition to the 19 enrolled this fall, two more have been accepted and will begin coursework in the spring of 1995. Minority enrollment has been strong, but we need to increase the proportion of women enrolled in the program.

The second chart shows the number of graduates to date. A total of 12 students have received MPP degrees, and three more will receive them in December. Our dropout rate has been minimal, but we have some part time students who are taking longer than two years to finish.

Although the program is healthy, it clearly has much greater potential than has heretofore been realized, given the resources that have been committed to it. I view it as my responsibility as Director to move the program towards that potential, with the help of the Deans and the public policy faculty.

My training in public administration encourages me to think of program development as a process of speaking to, and meeting the needs of, several program constituencies. Among the constituencies most relevant to the success of the MPP program (not necessarily in order of importance) are:

  1. Potential students
  2. Current students.
  3. Public policy faculty at UNI.
  4. Administrators in the public and nonprofit sectors who are potential employers of students and utilizers of faculty expertise.
  5. Elected officials and other community leaders.
  6. The larger UNI university community, including the administration and the Regents.
  7. The larger national and international community of scholars investigating public policy issues.

We cannot address all of the needs of all of these groups at once, but we have set some goals and initiated some activities that will enhance the program's reputation with all of them.

Potential Students

Some recruitment was done during the first four years of the program, but a large commitment of time and resources to this activity was not made. We can consider ourselves fortunate that the program has "sold itself" to some very bright students, but we cannot count on this to continue. Therefore, I consider recruitment of quality students a top priority. I believe we should be able to expand our enrollment considerably through these efforts. To date, the following recruitment efforts have been undertaken:

  1. A general mailing to all colleges and universities in Iowa, and in adjacent areas of neighboring states was done in August. It included posters and brochures and was sent to professors in selected departments at each institution. So far, this mailing effort has produced from 2 -4 inquiries per week. It remains to be seen how many applications it will produce, since these are typically made in the spring. A similar mailing will be done each fall.
  2. In person recruitment efforts have been targeted at four year liberal arts colleges in Iowa and neighboring states. I attended several graduate recruitment fairs this fall. This was worthwhile in terms of making initial contacts, but I am not sure it is worthwhile repeating every year. With some careful cultivation, I believe we can begin to attract a steady (if not massive) stream of applicants from this source.
  3. Recruitment of UNI graduates was undertaken through a mailing to graduating seniors in appropriate majors. Informal contacts by public policy faculty are also an important recruiting source. A program dominated by UNI undergraduates is not desirable, but, realistically, they will remain a strong component of masters candidates.
  4. We continue to actively cooperate with the efforts of the Graduate College to recruit minority graduate students. In addition to the graduate assistantships which the Graduate College sets aside for this purpose, we have been given the resource of the Community Development Work Study grant, received from HUD by the Institute for Decision-Making. In this program, three qualified minority or low income students are given special work study allocations to work in a governmental or private organization involved in community or economic development.
  5. Recruitment of part time, returning students from community agencies has been undertaken through a mailing to all cities of over 1,000 within a 75 mile radius of Cedar Falls. Informal contacts in surrounding communities are also useful in this regard.

Recruitment efforts stress the interdisciplinary nature of the program, the flexibility which students have to design their focus areas, and the availability of assistantships to the best qualified applicants. It may take two or three years for the full effects of these recruitment efforts to be felt, but I am confident that it is the right approach.

Current Students

My impression in talking to current students is that the program's very strength, its interdisciplinary character, is also its weakness in terms of some student confusion. They are taking a variety of courses from a variety of disciplines, and they sometimes seem frustrated at having to meet a varied set of demands and at losing sight of the "big picture" of what it is they are studying when they study "public policy." Of course, a multiplicity of approaches is part of the reality of public policy studies, and they just have to get used to the fact that, intellectually, no one can tie it all up with a neat ribbon. However, there are some steps that have been taken to minimize their frustration:

  1. Continued monitoring of individual courses in the curriculum and of the curriculum as a whole to insure that the purposes of the program are being met. In particular, the Coordinating Committee will review the methods sequence and the focus areas to make sure they are accomplishing what they need to accomplish.
  2. Review of the comprehensive exam process, which has, at times, been a source of frustration to both students and faculty. The Coordinating Committee and the Comprehensive Exam Committee are currently revising some of the procedures.
  3. Careful attention to advising and to other modes of communication with the students.
  4. Reexamination of the purpose and design of the public policy seminars that are supposed to serve an integrative function.

In addition to curricular matters, the internship is being looked at, after three years of experience in placing students. For reasons of logistics and contacts, most of the placements to date have been local, but we need to expand our range to include state and national placements. In the process, we need to look at the financial problems that some students experience in taking time off from summer work to do their internship.

Finally, a new effort at placement must be initiated. So far, the job placements of most MPP graduates have been good. Some graduates are pursuing PhD s, but others are working at, among other things, state health departments, the Iowa Department of Economic Development, the UNI Institute for Decision Making, and in other local government positions. However, they have been pretty much on their own as far as finding jobs is concerned. We have worked with Placement Services to improve the support we give to students in this area. Of course, as the program expands its community contacts and involvement, this should serve our placement goals as well.

Public Policy Faculty

At the inception of the program, a body of faculty was assembled that agreed to the designation of "public policy faculty." In addition, there were some positions added to departments with the specific rationale of assisting the public policy program. Because of the program's interdisciplinary nature, it is essential to maintain the support and enthusiasm of this group. A smaller subset of this faculty has given a lot of their time to sometimes thankless tasks such as serving on the Coordinating Committee, reviewing applicants, and administering comprehensive exams. We will need their continuing support, but we should also try to involve others who have been less active.

Efforts to stimulate faculty interest and support have included:

  1. Reactivating the Coordinating Committee, which is essential in providing assistance to the Director in running the program.
  2. Conducting a fall retreat in September to review the goals and design of the whole MPP program.
  3. Soliciting faculty input for distinguished public policy lectures and conferences, utilizing the speaker funding made available by Vice President Marlin.

Future plans include designing some kind of venue for sharing of research activities among public policy faculty. There are many lecture series on campus, so I would like to come up with some creative variation on this, such as, perhaps, panels on various public policy issues.

Agency Administrators and Community Leaders

The two best ways to make the larger local and state community aware of our program are: (1) to get faculty more involved in consulting and advising agencies, or performing community service; (2) to get our students out into the community with internship placements or other research opportunities. I will be working with the Center for Social and Behavioral Research and with the Center for the Study of Adolescence to expand our community contacts.

We can also expand awareness of our program by bringing various community representatives on campus. This year, the main venue for this has been the public policy speakers series. The first in that series was the appearance by Dr. Martha Burt, a national expert on homelessness. This appearance was cosponsored by two off campus organizations of housing advocates and professionals, one statewide and one local. The next in the series will be a conference entitled "Women, Work, and Welfare ," to be held on February 1, featuring Dr. Roberta Spalter-Roth from the Institute for Women's Policy Studies. This is being cosponsored by the Graduate Program in Women's Studies and by the Iowa chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and will offer Continuing Education credits to professional social workers. The MPP program is also co-hosting the annual meeting of the Iowa chapter of the American Planning Association. All of these efforts make the program more visible and credible with practitioners.

Our faculty has expertise on a number of important national, state, and local issues, but persuading busy professionals to spend time on campus to listen to us is often difficult. Perhaps we can stimulate a further dialogue by (1) talking to them about the issues they would find it useful to address in a workshop or symposium; (2) inviting them to talk to students or faculty about some of their activities

Contacts with the larger community generate a mutually reinforcing cycle, involving recruitment and placement of students. The more community people we know, the more students we place, the more we are visible and the more likely our graduates are to be looked upon favorably for jobs. Then, we have agency contacts for future placements and for future recruitment of returning students.

The Larger University Community

I believe if we are successful with all the activities just discussed, our program's visibility and reputation on campus will grow. We have to demonstrate that we are making the best use of the resources provided to us. We must also show that our academic standards are high, and that we are producing graduates of the highest quality. This requires ongoing evaluation of our curriculum and our evaluation standards.

The National and International Policy Community

Sometimes UNI faculty tend to "hide their light under a bushel" on campus when it comes to their involvement in the larger scholarly community. Many of us are active in state, national and international organizations and conferences, and we have publications that have received favorable national attention. We need to make certain that public policy faculty are aware of each others' activities, and that these activities are better known on campus.

There are also ways to increase the visibility of the MPP program. Bringing in national scholars to speak is one. Institutional memberships in relevant national policy organizations is another. In their outside contacts, faculty need to identify themselves as active in the public policy program, as well as their own disciplines. We also need to explore ways to get funding for more ambitious projects, such as support for special issues of journals or producing monographs. Finally, we need to encourage, in whatever way possible, faculty collaboration on external grants.


There is a lot of work to be done to make the MPP realize its full potential, but I am optimistic that it will happen. There is certainly a need for students with skills for in depth analysis of the increasingly complex policy issues facing our society, and with the ability to encourage the rational consideration of benefits and costs, rather than policies based on blind hunches, political advantage, or prejudice. I welcome any comments, questions or suggestions from the Graduate Council.