Young professionals across the private, public and non-profit sectors are finding versatility in a policy degree; Harris students and alumni weigh in on how their decision to pursue the MPP impacted their careers - and their ability to change the world.

Working for Goldman Sachs in New York, Margaret Decker found herself thinking about the power of communities to make a change. Though her undergraduate major in engineering took her to Wall Street, she also had learned a lot about questions of social justice through her studies in community action and social change and wanted to find a way to use her analytical skills to make a difference in urban and social policy.   

“When I started working, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I just wanted good experience and to build up my resume. I’m not necessarily passionate about finance or the private sector at all, so I was working and learning a lot, but I was missing the social aspect and community involvement of where my passions are,” says Decker.

Decker’s search led her to explore a master’s degree in public policy. Decker is not alone. The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy - a graduate school that believes there is a science to social impact and where Decker enrolled this fall - has seen applications and enrollment increase more than 40% from last year. Enrollment in Master of Public Policy/Master of Public Administration (MPP/MPA) programs in the United States has also grown steadily over the last decade.

This growth is spurred in part by the a shift in attitudes. The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that while 76% of Millennials say businesses are having a positive impact on society, fewer (59%) believe that multinationals are not fully realizing their potential to alleviate society’s biggest challenges.

Students like Decker view public policy and its focus on using data and evidence to create social change as a way to affect change. They’re eager to find solutions to the complex challenges that affect society today.  “Right now, it’s definitely a very tense political environment, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s up in the air about human rights and civil rights for communities of color. That’s something I want to work on,” adds Decker.

Indeed, there’s probably never been a more interesting time to be in public policy. Technology and an increasing amount of data provide opportunities to bring analytical thinking to bear to address any number of policy issues affecting public life today.

This shift shows up in employment trends. According to a recent employment report from Harris Public Policy, the 2016 Career Outcomes Report, Harris graduates are using their degrees to make an impact across a variety of sectors and in different roles. The report found strong employment outcomes across the public, private and nonprofit sectors, underscoring the versatility and adaptability of a public policy degree. In fact, 41 percent of Harris graduates reported taking a private sector position, 36 percent went on to work for nonprofits and 23 percent accepted public sector positions.

Graduates reported their top five job functions were in research, consulting, management, policy design and analysis, most commonly working in the fields of economic policy, urban and health policy, child and family policy, education policy, and international development and policy.

“Policy graduates, particularly Harris graduates, are thriving across sectors and roles,” said Jeremy Edwards, Senior Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at Harris. “Our alumni bring to their jobs talents in data analytics, rigorous reasoning and the formal investigation of questions that are applicable everywhere. The Harris toolkit prepares our graduates to create a positive social impact in whatever career they choose to pursue.”

Given the complexity of problems facing business and society, the ability to engage and collaborate across business, government, and civil society gives graduates a unique perspective and skillset to create meaningful change.  

“The MPP from Harris has provided me the analytical foundation to address challenges in an effective and efficient way. The tools and frameworks that I acquired at Harris continue to prove their value as I build my career in investment management."

Eric Tawney (MPP '14), investment associate at BlackRock

For Andi Widianto (MPP '15), Harris grad and economic analyst at The Central Bank of Indonesia, his degree allowed him to think about and approach challenges differently. "My Harris education helps me connect the dots and construct a more comprehensive view of how the Central Bank should produce its policy, including how to maintain low inflation and a stable exchange rate on a national scale. I am ultimately impacting my country’s economic policy by bridging the gap between academic research and policy practice."

Harris’ flagship Master of Public Policy equips the next generation of policy leaders with the analytical skills needed to make an impact on a range of policy issues. The core curriculum draws on a variety of disciplines and fields, including economics, sociology, political science, statistics, econometrics, political economy, organizational theory, and program evaluation. Through applied experiences in Chicago and beyond, MPP students learn to tackle society’s greatest challenges using the best science and technology of the day.

And as interest continues to grow for the public policy degree, Harris now also offers an evening program for mid-career professionals looking to hone their analytical toolkit and gain a perspective on policy as they take on more leadership responsibilities. Students will receive a Master of Arts in public policy and gain a solid foundation in the fundamentals of data analytics, economic analysis, leadership, and the strategic foundations of public policy.

The Harris Public Policy Evening Master’s Program is meant to be as relevant to business professionals as those in the public or nonprofit sectors. Business leaders increasingly have to address the impact of public policy on their businesses. The analytical skillset is the same, viewed through a different lens that can achieve a broader social impact. “Because I have an analytical background and took a problem-solving approach to things, I think policy is the best way to get there,” notes Decker.  And it’s that social impact that is the driver. “That’s something that really motivates me,” says Decker.

You can view this and other related Harris sponsored articles on chicagotribune.com.

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