University at Albany
 
A number of Rockefeller College's public finance faculty gather for a meeting at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany. (From left) Jim Fossett, Stephen Weinberg, Pete Finn, David Matkin, Gang Chen, and Kevin Bronner — Photography by Paul Miller/UAlbany Digital Media.

Budgeting and Beyond

Rockefeller's skills-based public finance curriculum pays dividends for students.

Doing more with less is the new normal for governments and nonprofits today. Despite escalating service demands and increasingly scarce resources, public service professionals are still expected to operate programs efficiently and effectively. It isn't easy. In times of fiscal austerity, the list of pressing concerns is long and daunting — spiraling pension, benefit, and healthcare costs; growing entitlement expenses; deficits and mounting debt; staffing versus outsourcing; and political conflict, to name a few. Michael Massiah, MPA '81, Chief of Capital Planning, Execution and Asset Management at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, experiences the challenges every day. "Governments are under intense pressure to do more with fewer resources to support the regions in which they exist," says Massiah. "Even with our very real limitations, there is pressure to support regional vibrancy and competitiveness as well. We have to optimally utilize the resources we have, and develop additional resources to get more done." As the economy continues to recover from the recession, public financial managers and the public administration and policy schools that train them must chart a better course toward sound fiscal stewardship and responsible decision making regarding public resources. Successful managers need to be able to call upon a tool kit of practical skills that enables them to put theory into action and navigate through the complexities of operating a public entity — budgeting, contracting, negotiating, consensus building, planning, issuing debt, managing risk, and maintaining accountability.

The Rockefeller Response

Rockefeller College is committed to providing a skills-based public financial management education that prepares its graduates for the realities and rigors of the public and nonprofit sectors. The College boasts six full-time and two part-time faculty members specializing in public finance who teach a wide array of graduate course offerings — from the core finance course required of all MPA students to more specialized courses in budgeting, governmental and cost accounting, contracts and procurement, debt and capital financing, financial management, health care finance, and internal control. "Very few schools of public administration are able to offer the variety and depth of public financial management courses that Rockefeller does," says Assistant Professor David Matkin. "Our public finance faculty has a very high level of experience and expertise. Students in the public finance concentration can go deep into the field while those in other concentrations are able to go just deep enough to develop a sound set of financial management skills that they can carry anywhere."

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Economist and Rockefeller Assistant Professor Kathleen
Deloughery (center) shares a light-hearted moment with
her students.

For Rockefeller students beginning the Master of Public Administration program, the value of learning and applying the practical skills required in public financial management is lesson number one. During Welcome Week, Rockefeller's innovative orientation to the MPA program, students participate in a group case study that involves making critical budget decisions for a department within a fictitious local government. This exercise illustrates for students the realities that public administrators face and the hard choices they routinely have to make. From the very outset of their graduate studies, MPA students are developing the analytic skills they'll need to make similar real-world decisions as public service professionals.

"It's no accident that the Welcome Week activity is a budget case," notes Rockefeller Interim Dean Karl Rethemeyer. "Whether our graduate students are going into concentrations in homeland security, policy analytical methods, public or nonprofit management, or public finance, they need to develop and internalize what budgets are, how they work and how finances affect the choices available." Rockefeller Advisory Board Member John Cape, a former New York State budget director and currently managing director at Public Financial Management, Inc., agrees. "Any government's budget is the place where politics, policy and public management come together," says Cape. "To be effective in any of those realms, you have to understand public budgeting and finance."

In their article, "Beyond Budgeting: Public-Service Financial Education in the 21st Century," Rockefeller Public Administration Professors Robert M. Purtell, now retired, and James W. Fossett observed that in addition to escalating demands and limited resources, today's public and nonprofit organizations face business problems of increasing complexity, especially in the public finance arena. In a climate characterized by shrinking resources, rebellious taxpayers, increased market exposure, and the use of complicated financial instruments, Purtell and Fossett argue that program and financial managers must be able to apply the full array of financial knowledge, skills and tools to address society's needs — and do so effectively, efficiently, ethically, and equitably. Professor Fossett hasn't wavered on that position. "Public service financial education needs to recognize the wide array of positions that program graduates will serve in their careers. We have to provide students with the real-world business skills required to efficiently manage programs and effectively perform their public service missions," urges Fossett. This is the conviction of Rockefeller College as well — teach students to be job-ready through skills-based training provided in the classroom and through experiential learning and internship opportunities with leaders in their fields.

Given the wide-ranging expertise and considerable experience of Rockefeller's public finance faculty and the depth and breadth of the courses they teach, it is not surprising that over one-third of Rockefeller College MPA students choose to pursue a concentration in public finance. In addition, many students in other concentrations, especially public management, nonprofit management, local government, government information strategy and management, and policy analysis, opt to take elective courses in the public finance area. A solid understanding of public finance and its importance to public policy, politics and administration enables Rockefeller College MPA graduates to obtain employment — often before they complete their degree — and have successful public service careers. As John Cape proudly states, "Rockefeller graduates really are able to hit the ground running."

The Rockefeller Team

Kevin Bronner
Kevin Bronner

Kevin Bronner (PhD, University at Albany, 1991) Public Service Professor Kevin Bronner, a trained accountant, has a long and distinguished career in public service. A member of the UAlbany faculty since 1997, he currently teaches Cost Management for Government & Nonprofit Organizations, Basic Governmental Accounting and Regulatory Administration.

 

Gang Chen
Gang Chen

Gang Chen (PhD, University of Nebraska, Omaha, 2013) Assistant Professor Gang Chen's area of expertise is public pension management. His other research interests include state and local budgeting and finance, fiscal stress management and comparative public administration. He teaches Public and Nonprofit Financial Management and Public Budgeting at Rockefeller.


Kathleen Deloughery
Kathleen Deloughery

Kathleen Deloughery (PhD, The Ohio State University, 2009) Assistant Professor Kathleen Deloughery, whose research centers on terrorism, labor economics and econometrics, teaches Principles of Public Economics and State and Local Fiscal Systems.

 

 

Peter Finn
Peter Finn

Peter Finn (MPA, University at Albany, 1977) Public Service Professor Peter Finn joined Rockefeller College in 2012 following a 35-year career in New York State government financial management. His courses include Managing Public Service Organization Finances and Performance Measurement and Contracting in Government.

 

James Fossett
James Fossett

James Fossett (PhD, University of Michigan, 1984) Associate Professor James Fossett's research focuses on health policy and state and federal budgeting. Health Care Finance and Health Care Financial Analysis are among the courses he teaches.

 

 

David Matkin
David Matkin

David Matkin (PhD, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 2007) Assistant Professor David Matkin teaches the core financial management course Public and Nonprofit Financial Management, as well as specialization courses in nonprofit financial management and auditing, and oversight and control in government and nonprofit organizations. Professor Matkin's research examines state and local retirement systems, internal control and accountability, debt management and interlocal cooperation.

Elizabeth Searing
Elizabeth Searing

Elizabeth Searing (PhD, Georgia State University, 2015) Assistant Professor Elizabeth Searing, the newest member of the Rockefeller College faculty, specializes in nonprofit finance and social enterprise, in particular the challenges facing young and small organizations. Professor Searing has previously taught nonprofit financial management, economics and program evaluation. At Rockefeller College, she will teach Issues in Nonprofit Management.

Stephen Weinberg
Stephen Weinberg

Stephen Weinberg (PhD, Harvard University, 2007) Assistant Professor Stephen Weinberg, director of Rockefeller's MPA program, conducts economic research on program evaluation, especially with respect to Medicaid in New York State. He teaches Economics of Government Programs, Psychological Economics and Principles of Public Economics.

 

A Balanced Public Finance Portfolio

Public finance courses available for Rockefeller graduate students in the 2014-15 academic year:

  • Cost Management for Government and Nonprofit Organizations
  • Nonprofit Financial Management
  • Basic Governmental Accounting
  • Capital Markets,Risk and Governments
  • Risk Management and Internal Controls
  • Public and Nonprofit Financial Management
  • Principles of Public Economics
  • Performance Measurement and Contracting in Government
  • Public Budgeting
  • Economics of Government Programs Health Care Finance
  • Economics of Government Revenues
  • Managing Public Service Organization Finances
  • Health Care Financial Analysis
  • Economics of Health Policy

Positive Returns on Investment

Every day, alumni are applying the skills they acquired during their graduate studies at Rockefeller College in a variety of leadership positions in public service.

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Robin Prunty, MPA'87
Managing Director, Standard & Poor's

"The coursework at Rockefeller College was detailed and hands-on as it relates to governmental accounting, budgeting and tax policy. This gave me a tremendous advantage during the training process at S&P. The internship opportunity at the Division of Budget was most valuable because it established the connection to the municipal bond market and S&P."

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Anthony Scardino, MPA '90
Chief Financial Officer
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

"Public sector financial management challenges have been facing a paradigm shift over the last two decades. As the explosion of data has involved all government programs, it's incumbent upon financial managers to turn this data into usable information for decision makers and leaders, whether they be elected or appointed officials. The skill sets required of financial management professionals have shifted from the traditional responsibilities of strictly governance and execution to more organization-wide roles like facilitation, advisory and performance improvement. Rockefeller College helped prepare me for public service by instilling in me a sense of giving back to society. By understanding how the public sector operated at the federal, state and local levels, I have been able to build upon the platform and seeds planted during my time at Rockefeller to lead financial management programs for several federal agencies over the past few decades."

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Margaret Becker, BA'80, MPA'82
Deputy Comptroller, Division of Contracts
Office of the NYS Comptroller

"Public service organizations continue to be challenged by limited resources. This makes it all the more imperative that creative and talented students are attracted to the profession of public service and given the tools to perform in this difficult environment. Rockefeller provides a sound foundation across the board in financial management, analysis and organizational problem solving — a winning combination."

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Sally Frank, BA '09, MPA '10
Policy Analyst, Office of the
New York City Comptroller

"Public service organizations face dwindling funding sources and a growing need for their services. Rockefeller College taught me how to navigate the systems of government and nonprofit organizations. As a policy analyst in the New York City Comptroller's office, I look at issues that affect the city's economy and the lives of its citizens, including job access, wages and educational equity. Rockefeller gave me the tools to do this research and make proposals that change the conversation and help those that need it."

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Tolulope Bamwo, BA '12, MPA '14
Presidential Management Fellow
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

"One of the most valuable aspects of the curriculum at Rockefeller College was its practical application to real-world situations. We were looking at actual organizations' experience with financial issues. This forced me to adopt skills that will be needed to excel in my field of work."


This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 Rockefeller College News Magazine.