Connecting Fellowship and Public Service

Originally published by the Harvard Kennedy School Communication's Office

November 7, 2011
Doug Gavel (HKS Communication's Office)

Graduate students with aspirations for public service are more inclined to follow their dreams when they have opportunities to connect their coursework with the world of practice. That is the takeaway from a new analysis of the Rappaport Public Policy Fellows Program carried out by Professor Edward Glaeser, who directs HKS’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, and others affiliated with the Institute.
Titled "The Impact of the Rappaport Public Policy Fellows Program on Career Trajectories," the analysis compared career paths taken by more than 100 former Boston-area graduate students who received the Rappaport Public Policy Fellowship with the career trajectories of almost 100 applicants who made it to the final selection round but did not receive the fellowship (or were offered one and did not accept it).
Now in its twelfth year, the fellowship each year gives about a dozen graduate students in policy-related programs from throughout greater Boston, the opportunity to work full time for a public-sector entity in the region. Throughout the summer, Institute staff and outside mentors work with the students throughout the summer to ensure that their experience is going well. Each week the students meet as a group to discuss their work, hear from outside speakers, or go on field visits to a variety of sites in the region.
The comparative analysis found that "across all sectors, 47.1 percent of fellowship winners have remained in the Boston area, while 37.4 percent of finalists who didn’t receive fellowship remain in greater Boston. Perhaps the most striking difference is that nearly 20 percent of Rappaport fellows now serve in the public sector in greater Boston. In contrast, less than five percent of finalists who didn’t earn fellowship are in the public sector in Boston."
"Our results also belie the view that the fellowship program subsidizes people who typically later work in high-paying for-profit jobs afterwards. Only three-in-ten of our fellowship winners work in the private sector and many of these people work in firms that work closely with public-sector entities," the authors conclude.
The lesson for college administrators and policymakers is quite clear, according to the researchers.
While cautioning that they did not conduct a cost-benefit analysis or comparison with other programs designed to encourage public service, David Luberoff, executive director of the Rappaport Institute who also one of the authors of the new analysis, added “getting an opportunity like the Rappaport Fellowship seems to change the trajectories of people’s lives. The lesson seems to be that well-designed, relatively modest early investments both can convince more students to spend some of their careers in public service and may also be able to encourage them to do so in a particular place as well.”
The full analysis is available on the Rappaport Institute’s website.