A graduate of UIC Honors College, Slaughter seeks to accelerate investment in higher education and student aid in Illinois
Marvin Slaughter, MPP Class of 2021

Marvin Slaughter is pursuing an MPP from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, but his professional journey was not always set in stone. 

It all started with Illinois’ years-long state budget impasse. Slaughter was a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in spring 2016. At the time, funding chaos reigned over the state’s public universities due to a budget impasse.

A UIC Honors College member on a full scholarship, Slaughter could have tuned out what was happening. He excelled as a both a scholar and a student leader among his elite peers at the Honors College, where students typically rank at or around the 95th percentile nationally on both standardized tests and high school GPAs. Slaughter was one of only 40 who received the highly competitive UIC President’s Award Program scholarship aimed at enhancing campus diversity. Forty percent of the College’s 1,900 students are Pell Grant recipients—among the highest level nationally for an honors population—and three-quarters are minorities or from immigrant families.

Slaughter persistently advocated for UIC during his time as an undergraduate.

But UIC, like all state universities, was facing significant hardship because of Illinois state government’s inability to pass a budget. Slaughter saw talented faculty, as well as close friends—many of whom grew up in the same predominantly African-American Chicago suburb of Markham as he did—leave the university because of delays in state funding. 

Watching and experiencing the results of the impasse inspired him to co-found the UIC Student Advocacy Coalition. The coalition mobilized other students to launch a targeted social media and letter-writing campaign to legislators advocating for university funding. Slaughter and his co-founders eventually headed to the Illinois state capitol in Springfield and made their case directly to legislators.

His efforts earned him a 2018 Newman Civic Fellowship from the nonprofit Campus Coalition. “At that moment, I was a public servant,” he says. “It made me want to become a public servant—for real.” 

After earning a BA from UIC with a double major in political science and economics in spring 2019, Slaughter joined the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy for the Master of Public Policy program in fall 2019.

“When we brought in local political figures to talk to students, Marvin was a highly energetic, articulate interlocutor. They all noticed and commented afterward,” says Ralph Keen, Dean of the UIC Honors College and a 1990 PhD graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School. “I was happy to be one of his recommenders: he’s super for the program.”

 “The UIC Honors College prepares students well for the demands of the MPP program at Harris,” Keen explains. “We select students with initiative and commitment and require seminar-style courses and supervised research projects connected to their majors.” 

Every year at least 60 percent of Honors College graduates go on to graduate or professional school.

Slaughter, who had briefly considered law school, zeroed in on public policy after discussing graduate schools with both Keen and his UIC Honors College mentor. 

Marvin and Sabrina Studying
Slaughter participates in Harris' collaborative culture in the Forum at the Keller Center.

Slaughter applied to several public policy programs, but had his heart set on Harris, especially after attending a diversity recruitment event Harris hosted at the UIC Honors College.  

Ranjan Daniels Headshot
Ranjan Daniels, senior associate dean of student recruitment and global outreach

“The Harris community is a place for students like Marvin – and so many of his fellow students at the UIC Honors College – who are remarkably talented, committed to making peoples’ lives better through policy, and who are inclined to do something about it,” said Ranjan Daniels, senior associate dean of student recruitment and global outreach at Harris.

“Hearing how the University of Chicago had changed several of the panelists’ lives, the skills they were learning, the quantitative background that they were getting—all of those things were icing on the cake,” Slaughter says.

After finishing his MPP degree, he wants to run for state office to help the state avoid another budget crisis and accelerate investment in higher education and student aid. 

But first, he says, he has to learn the tools of public finance.

The importance of crunching the numbers was underscored when the UIC Student Advocacy Coalition presented to legislators in Springfield, arguing that more investment in higher education translates into more local students graduating with higher, taxable earnings.

The talk of quantitative analysis intrigued Slaughter, who wants to augment his MPP studies with a certificate in municipal finance—particularly after spending much of his undergraduate life witnessing Illinois public institutions struggle under the state’s precarious finances.

“I’ve gotten an opportunity to look at a lot of current events through a more sociological lens,” he says. “I would like to pair that with the quantitative skills I’ll learn from Harris, and then be able to look at a policy issue and find out if the statistics back up what I believe I’m seeing.”