Rant: Harvard Kennedy School's MPA is Broken
75% of the class of 2020 from HKS' MPA program went into the private sector (mostly consulting, a few to banks though), with only 6% in federal agencies, and 0% in state or local government. This used to be where statesmen went to prepare for government service, now its where want-to-be consultants and bankers go if they can't get into HBS. If you want to go into consulting or banking that is lovely, go to a business school. Kennedy should be about government service, which was its purpose since its founding. Family member was a professor at HKS after decades of federal and regulator work, and seeing the perversion of what HKS stands for sucks since it was so noble at one point in time.
TL:DR HKS' MPA is broken.
So what would you do about it?
FWIW there were a fair number of joint mba/mpa students at my school. Down the road after graduation many of these students do end up in the public sector, after a few years of consulting
Double Harvard alum here (College and B-school), and I couldn't help but chuckle at this post (ignore the title in my profile - I'm an old geezer now)
I recall all the Kennedy-HBS joint degree candidates in my HBS section sucking really bad (100% female and all except one were card-carrying woke social justice warriors)
It's funny, I remember hearing once (most likely apocryphal) that consulting was a "top-5" post-graduation destination for people graduating from the Harvard Divinity School - a school whose main purpose, ostensibly, is to train the future leaders in the field of religion.
It's no secret. The Harvard brand is arguably the most valuable in all of higher education, and serves as a filtering mechanism for those "prestige" jobs. Harvard is nothing more than a luxury product underneath a thin veneer of higher education. Harvard could easily expand enrollment of all its classes across undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs many times over without sacrificing quality, but it won't because its value is derived in large part to its exclusivity.
you could say the same exact thing about any top school but i get ur point
FWIW, I work with a ton of Kennedy-HBS/ Kennedy-Wharton grads, most of whom are military vets that are definitely not your woke types.
Most will tell you that there was basically 0 tangible value they got out of the Kennedy program. Some of the others get tied to the story they told in their b-school apps about how they'll do private sector for a few years and then take those skills to public service. In reality, most never do that.
Gimme the loot
Don't a significant amount of politicians have MBB experience? I feel like politics may be the end-goal for those graduates but they recognize MBB is a great platform to begin at.
Yeah, Pete Buttigieg comes to mind.. he sets the bar high
If you prefer conservatives, Glenn Youngkin, Tom Cotton, and Bobby Jindal all started at the same firm.
Well, if you're like Mitt Romney, it is a great place to accumulate cash before politics.
"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee
Would have to imagine this is driven in part by the exorbitant cost of attending HKS? According to the website, the all-in one year cost of the program is ~$90k. So you are out of pocket ~$180k over two years. With government salaries averaging $50-$70k, it doesn't really make much financial sense to immediately go right into government work. Additionally, given the limited opportunities for fast promotions in government jobs, it may make sense to work in the private sector and then go into the government a bit later in your career?
I think it would be interesting to see how many of these graduates ultimately end up in government service say 10-20 years down the line.
Unfortunately a lifelong and very successful/impactful career in politics/government service has been, and always will be a privilege primarily reserved for those that come from means. For example, Robert Moses, one of the most prolific city planners and politicians in NYC history, had all his bills paid by his wealthy mother for years and years.
Not to say there are exceptions to this, but often those that are willing to dedicate their lives to public service w/o much regard for their financial situation are also unlikely to be the type of person to be attracted to a degree program at Harvard.
All of these factors, too, are compounded by the nature of an HKS degree. An MPP or MPA doesn't provide you as many hard skills or marketable skills as say, a JD does. It is more of a "luxury" degree than a neccessity to really make an impact in public service. I think you will find that there are many more individuals at HLS that are willing to stomach the hefty tuition fees and then go into a government jobs right away, because they are getting jobs doing some of the most impactful work (also higher paid). Working in government jobs such as being a public defender, federal prosecutor, or a judge are very visible jobs that puts people in direct interaction with their communities and are seen (rightly or wrongly) as some of the most important and attractive jobs for a life of public service.
That's exactly it. IMO, as someone who once received admissions to many of these programs only to turn them down when I realized their ROIs didn't really make sense, there is little this program actually teaches in the way of government service. I suppose you could very well say that about MBAs, but at least there is a very set pipeline coming out of those programs where MPAs have nowhere close to the same unless you jointly combine it with a JD or MBA.
I also tend to notice those with top government jobs go to people with top law school backgrounds such as Yale Law School (as a lot of policy work involves understanding the laws) so very much agree that these are much more luxury degrees and would highly recommend against people going into any debt for them.
Good and accurate comment.
Reminds of when I lived in DC a few years ago. I met a lot of lawyers in both professional and social circles, and had briefly been an M&A lawyer myself. Never met any Yale law grads in all my years of working with lawyers and meeting them around town. But then I sort of fell into a "policy" social circle bc I dated a girl who worked at a DC think tank. And suddenly I started meeting Yale law grads. None would describe their everyday work as being a lawyer . . it's all like, "senior policy advisor" and shit like that. It's almost like graduating from that school and taking an everyday biglaw job is failure for them.
This checks out. I met a few YLS students during a law school fair last summer, and they visibly cringed when I explained my interests at the intersection of corporate and environmental law. It reminds me of how finance was spoken of pejoratively in environmental circles at my undergrad.
I've since lost interest in YLS and policy careers.
The MPA is <15% total enrollment for HKS and in the remaining 85% program share the private sector share ranges from 18-39%. Can't be bothered to calculate a weighted version but i'm guessing for the school overall you end up with low 30's private sector high 60s government/international organization/NGOs... which doesn't seem broken to me? Instead seems like program designations have shifted.
There are a lot of other valid points in this thread on 1.) Harvard brand, 2.) service bein an easier choice if wealthy, and 3.) policy schools mostly being a waste of money. While you are technically correct on the MPA 75% share I don't think it is as reflective of an overall trend given the numbers I noted above.
As an aside in a program like MPA-ID you get a much different quantitative preparation than an MBA (and more rigorous I might add) so I have seen these students end up with buy side jobs that they likely could not get out of an MBA program. Again this isnt an option open to many bc depends on your pre grad school education/experience but for these folks it is a great option in lieu of a PHD.
What type of buy-side jobs are MPA-ID candidates getting that HBS students can't get?
Gimme the loot
Macro related strategies. To be clear some HBS students with STEM backgrounds could get them with self study, but not the majority. Similarly most HKS students probably couldn't but those with the right background + MPA-ID coursework (i.e. those in the MPA-ID program) probably could. Not knocking anyone, just different skill sets.
Just being honest . . my understanding of the Kennedy school was that it's a glorified finishing school. Basically people who want prestige attached the their name, but don't really want to work hard or compete, and maybe have no need for money, get this fancy-sounding degree because what really matters to them is sounding impressive at a cocktail party.
I realize, of course, that this is not what the Kennedy school claims its purpose to be. But all snobby bullshit needs a purported functional use . . dive watches actually do work under water, boat shoes are probably convenient on boats, ticket pockets on custom suits are in fact sized appropriately for 19th century train tickets.
But the functionality exists to distract from the reality that these things are purchased for snob appeal. And I don't think a Kennedy school degree is too different.
So if the primary reason for existence is a branding exercise, I don't think we should expect people to only use it for government jobs.
This is an excellent post. MBA programs arguably fall in the same bucket (for a certain segment)
I guess that's what happens when education is for-profit, especially Mater's. If the MPA admission committee accepted only those who had gov't and public services experience they wouldn't even fill half of the class, leaving a lot of money on the table.
Also, where did you get your stats from? I've seen plenty of foreigners do the MPA and then go to their countries to continue in politics. It seems that using the MPA for consulting or IB is mainly done by US locals.
You do know that a huge percentage of government advisory is done by consulting firms and banks right? Or is the OP just this dense?
In fact it even the school notes 50% of the cited MPA program are MBA/MPA dual degrees, but yes the "consulting = sellout" is kinda off considering the important point you make about public sector consulting
side topic, but I know someone who fraudulently represented his firm, raise 100M+ in financing, bankrupt the company, and then end up going to HKS MPA after. So much for their admissions process. You'd assume someone like that wouldn't show his face ever again.
HKS is only a ~half-rung above HES on the respectability ladder of Harvard schools. Ostensibly some degree of social purpose, but ultimately a cash grab by the university, leveraging the brand equity of the far-more-worthwhile programs.
Has it occurred to you that maybe it's politics and government that are broken, and what you're seeing at HKS and other top MPAs is just a symptom-and-response?
Dolorem repudiandae odit est aperiam. Dolor voluptate porro quod enim unde iure possimus. Occaecati mollitia blanditiis quae eius dolorum. Deserunt dolor corporis reprehenderit cumque. Reiciendis veritatis voluptatem id fuga beatae asperiores aut. Eveniet sint voluptas facere optio tempora magnam qui.
Ullam inventore non voluptas neque ut a vel. Deserunt veniam corporis cum. Voluptas voluptates ut voluptas quaerat. Sed officia omnis natus sapiente.
See All Comments - 100% Free
WSO depends on everyone being able to pitch in when they know something. Unlock with your email and get bonus: 6 financial modeling lessons free ($199 value)
or Unlock with your social account...
Expedita sit dolorem vero sunt. Inventore alias iste esse iste est quidem. Ex doloribus molestiae quisquam.