Futuring Paper – Government, Public Affairs & Policy

Co-conveners: Kathryn Schiller (Educational Administration & Policy Studies) and Patricia Strach (Political Science)

We were tasked with writing a brief report about the future of public policy at the University at Albany, State University of New York. The university’s policy faculty is diverse, located in departments across the university (Rockefeller College, School of Education, College of Arts and Sciences, School of Social Welfare, and School of Public Health). This diversity reflects that public policy is a multi-disciplinary and multi-method field of study both at UAlbany and the research community more generally.

Students who study policy – and go on to work and research in this area – need both the capacity for critical thinking and concrete analytical skills. The specific capacities and skills, however, are changing. The assumption that students will take jobs in a traditional state bureaucracy does not reflect the changing nature of government work, which involves greater contracting of policy analysis and increased reliance of empirical evidence.

While the Department of Public Administration & Policy offers an undergraduate public policy major, the university offers no graduate degree in public policy to meet the above demand.

However, the Departments of Educational Administration & Policy, Public Administration & Policy, and Political Science all offer degrees that require public policy courses. The policy faculty who teach these courses and similar ones in other departments provide key links between scientific advancements in their fields and practical applications with implications for the public good and economic development.

The changing nature of government and decreased demand for law degrees offer the University the opportunity to re-tool the current curriculum to create a Master’s in Public Policy (MPP).

Capitalizing on faculty enthusiasm, this program would facilitate interdisciplinary and mixed- methods research on critical and complex issues in fields ranging from education and workforce development, environmental changes, international partnerships, and health disparities. Together, MPP graduates and faculty research will increase UAlbany’s visibility as a force improving our community for the benefit of all people.

Below is greater detail concerning these points structured by the questions posed in the futuring topics document.

  1. What forces are acting on this issue today, both those internal to the University, within the region, and nationally for higher education?

  2. First, government is changing. Government is collecting, analyzing, and overseeing more data concerning complex sets of issues. Further, government offices are increasingly “contracting out” to third parties data analysis for policy development and evaluation.

    • Governmental agencies and organizations at all levels – local, state, federal and international – are increasingly creating research departments tasked with policy analysis, evaluation, and strategic planning.
    • These agencies and organizations are increasingly asked to tackle cross-sectoral issues, creating demand for advanced knowledge in multiple disciplines.
    • These agencies and organizations are growing to rely on contractors for interdisciplinary expertise in data collection, management, and analysis.
    • Increasing emphasis on data and policy analysis in governmental activities is creating a need for greater competency in:
      • Designing and managing methodologically sound and policy relevant studies.
      • Potentially conducting and, at a minimum, utilizing the results of such studies in developing effective public policies.

    Second, these changes are creating a need for well-trained graduates:

    • With the competency to utilize information technology to conduct cross-sectoral analysis, whether within government agencies or with contractors doing work for government.
    • With the competency to manage and oversee the increasingly technically sophisticated workforce and their complex research, analysis, and evaluation projects.

    Third, at the same time, the students we serve are changing. They want not only a marketable set of knowledge and skills but also more attention to international issues and problems.

    • An increasing number of domestic students are interested in international issues. But we also have more international students.
    • Students want concrete, marketable skills at the same time that faculty also want to provide them with critical thinking ability.

    In sum, the policy environment is changing, and, along with it, the students that we serve. Rather than using models of policy education that were developed in the past, which relied on traditional models of command-and-control bureaucracy in the United States, today we can think about a new set of analytical and practical skills students need, such as overseeing contracting and the kind of work they may be asked for as contractors, and how best to provide it to them.

  3. In 10 years, what forces will further shape the issue? Which forces will accelerate change and which ones will slow down progress? How will teaching and learning, administration, and student service be affected?

  4. While changes over the next decade in the configuration of governmental agencies is difficult to predict, the trends we’ve observed so far are likely to remain consistent. In particular, there is a growing emphasis on skills-oriented degrees, a decrease in demand for law degrees, a move toward big data, and a changing media environment.

    • Students will continue to want practical degrees, like a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) or MPP. Today there are twice as many MPA degrees awarded as social science and history master’s degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of master’s degrees in public administration and social services (the closest category to the MPP) have risen by 570% since 1970. By comparison, master’s degrees in the social sciences and history have risen by only 30%.1
    • Big-data analytics will continue to increase as an essential tool in government and policy. As more government agencies and corporations collect ever greater amounts of information, the kinds of skills that will be required to analyze it will become increasingly sophisticated and essential. In addition, policy students will need to both know how to oversee such analyses and how to analyze these types of data for themselves.
    • The media environment will continue to change.
      • We have already seen more news sources with the rise of social media.
      • The continued challenge for policy faculty and students at UAlbany will be how to get their work disseminated and read by a broader audience.
    • New organizations and individuals will increasingly serve as intermediaries between academic researchers and policymakers. These intermediaries compile fragmented sources of complex information into easily digestible reports and briefs. Going forward, we will need to be able to:
      • Target our research to these venues.
      • Act as a “policy clearinghouse” for important, informed guidance on key policy issues of the day.

    In sum, the changing policy environment will continue to create great demand for interdisciplinary research on critical public issues and individuals with the ability to communicate and apply that knowledge in practice.

  5. What are the implications for the institution, and students, staff and faculty? Specifically, what new opportunities may be created in the future?

  6. The changes today and likely in the future suggest a very different environment for public policy than we’ve had in the past. UAlbany has the opportunity to meet this challenge by reforming existing curriculum, and moreover, providing a new, recognized, and desirable degree. Located in the capitol city of a key state, UAlbany is uniquely positioned to leverage the growing need for cross-disciplinary research and training for addressing the complex policy issues that government is facing locally, nationally, and globally.

    Policy faculty strongly believe in the need for a Master’s of Public Policy (MPP) program that provides students with a broader array of skillsets and orientation to fit into this changing environment. The University, and affiliated departments, can prepare students to meet these new challenges by:

    • Creating a curriculum to prepare graduates to be both managers in this environment as well as providers of services. These changes will include training in:
      • Data analytics.
      • Media relations and communication.
      • Contract negotiation and management.
    • Ensuring that the curriculum includes learning experiences promoting development of critical thinking and collaborative skills by including:
      • Cross-disciplinary coursework.
      • Opportunities for international study.
      • Internships, mentoring, or other practical job experiences.
    • Ensuring the new curriculum is accessible to diverse populations through web-based and other instructional platforms.
    • Re-orienting our job placement services to take into account the more diverse employment destinations – government agencies, contractors, and intermediaries – for our graduates.
    • Building on the strengths of our alumni who are active in and contributing to the changing policy environment.

    In conjunction with an MPP, the policy faculty identified potential for providing continuing education for professionals through graduate certificate programs enhancing skills such as policy analysis, data analytics, and project management.

    In sum, we can better leverage faculty resources and specializations already at UAlbany to address the growing demand for flexible but highly skilled policy analysts. In doing so, the University will not only maintain its leadership as a key provider of actionable policy-relevant research but also become a key provider of public policy leaders putting the newly generated knowledge into practice.

  7. How will the future developments and opportunities affect the university—impacted departments of units? How might UAlbany respond to these within the strategic planning process?

  8. By leveraging existing faculty capacity, the recommended MPP would be a strategic investment in building a vibrant community of policy experts spanning the entire university. In particular, the policy faculty noted:

    • We have a real opportunity to create a Master’s in Public Policy that would leverage existing departments and faculty.
    • We have a growing number of students interested in BA/MPP programs. We would be able to provide critical thinking skills at the same time we can offer concrete skills that students find so valuable (e.g. policy analysis, data analytics).
    • We could draw from different parts of the university, to recruit students:
      • Undergraduates to emphasize the BA/MPP
      • Certificate students who might need additional training and potentially transfer into the MPP.
      • Professional development for MPP graduates and other practitioners who seek to update or expand their knowledge and skills.
      • Students and faculty located across many different departments
    • We need an administrative infrastructure to support and coordinate MPP faculty collaboration in teaching, advising, and research.
    • We need effective marketing of the new and refined programs to not only potential students but also their current and future employers. In particular, efforts to better highlight connections with and benefits to not only the local community but also globally.

In sum, although government, our students, and society is changing, we can meet these challenges and excel. The public policy faculty members recommend creating a new MPP program that recognizes government’s role in contracting with third-parties, the increased international interests of our students, new sources of larger data, new media sources, and cross- disciplinary approaches to solving problems.

1 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Degrees and Other Formal Awards Conferred" surveys, 1970-71 through 1985-86; Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Completions Survey" (IPEDS-C:91-99); and IPEDS Fall 2000 through Fall 2014, Completions component. (This table was prepared September 2015.) Table 323.10.