Envisioned and launched before the coronavirus pandemic swept through the world, Harvard Kennedy School’s flagship online non-degree program, the Public Leadership Credential (PLC), is filling an unanticipated gap in the educational landscape, straddling the space between bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

This month, the first cohort of 35 participants completed the program of six courses followed by a capstone project to receive the Public Leadership Credential. This milestone event for the new program was recognized with an online celebration of the students who completed the final project.

Dan Levy.The learners covered a range of topics in their capstone projects—from supporting youth in crisis in the U.S. state of Maine to improving air quality in Romania to boosting the manufacturing industry in Rwanda. At the capstone celebration event, Dan Levy, senior lecturer in public policy and faculty director of the PLC, noted that “the range of projects and policy areas represented is astounding!”

The PLC program was designed to reach busy professionals with several years of work experience who could benefit from the practical teaching the Kennedy School offers. “We did this so that people across the globe could help improve their communities and the world around them,” Levy says. Kristin Sullivan, the staff director of the Public Leadership Credential, adds, “A key priority for us was to reach as many learners as possible, people who for professional, personal, or financial reasons, couldn’t come to the Kennedy School.” 

“We did this so that people across the globe could help improve their communities and the world around them.”

Dan Levy

With COVID-19 keeping people home, the PLC has seen a boost in enrollment numbers. Roughly 1,350 learners from 100 countries have enrolled in PLC courses. Participants hold a wide range of job titles: academic, CEO, diplomat, city manager, finance director, active duty military officer, chief of police, data analyst, nurse practitioner, teacher, attorney, and even violist. 

One great advantage of the PLC is its flexibility, Sullivan and Levy explain. For example, some participants take a course or two in an area of interest, while others pursue the full credential, which can be completed in as little as a year or stretched out over a longer period of time, depending on how students pace their online learning. Additionally, learners who complete the credential and decide to enroll and are accepted in the Kennedy School’s MC/MPA program can complete the master’s degree in a shorter time than traditional students because the credential counts as three MC/MPA courses. 

learners enrolled in PLC courses (past, present, and future).
countries represented from around the world among our PLC student community

The PLC is also designed to provide flexibility in completing the weekly work. Learners do most of their coursework asynchronously, enabling them to feather assignments in with their busy schedules, while a small portion of their weekly work is done with a group of fellow learners synchronously via Zoom.

PLC courses cover three interdisciplinary topics: policy design and delivery, leadership and ethics, and evidence for decisions, with curriculums designed by Kennedy School faculty members with the support of digital learning designers from SLATE. The capstone experience allows learners to synthesize all that they have learned over the six courses and apply this knowledge to a project of their choice. 

In addition to readings, high-quality videos, and regular self-checks to assess learning—components found in many online courses—the PLC uses the Kennedy School’s signature teaching methods, such as small-group learning, case studies, and simulations. It differs from other online educational programs in its personalized interactivity, including groupwork, office hours with teaching assistants, and live sessions with faculty.

Teddy Svoronos.Besides using signature Kennedy School pedagogies, the PLC—like the School’s degree programs and executive-education offerings—is academically rigorous and relevant to professionals dealing with real-world problems. “We emulate the kinds of learning that happen in our classrooms,” explains Teddy Svoronos, the faculty lead for the evidence for decisions courses and a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School. “Whatever we do, we want to make an impact.” 

Svoronos’ colleague Christopher Robichaud, who leads the leadership and ethics courses and is a senior lecturer in ethics and public policy, notes that the curriculum is distinguished by how practical it is, as well as the way it crosses academic boundaries and is “not siloed into disciplines.” Robichaud says that with the PLC, “we’ve showed just what online learning can accomplish.”

Participants bring a range of experiences to the program. Current student Toni Kim, who lives in Virginia and has a background in pastoral ministry and educational equity, is taking PLC courses to learn to design and implement policies more effectively. “I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectually stimulating content and the highly effective pedagogy, and I have gained very practical tools applicable in many arenas,” she says. “The real highlight of the program has been learning alongside such dynamic and like-minded students who are doing meaningful work all around the world.”

Marcelle Momha who is originally from Cameroon and who works as a nonprofit project coordinator in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, finds the PLC “a unique and powerful learning experience, with an excellent teaching team and an outstanding set of learners from all over the world.” Momha, who is interested in better understanding the ethical aspects of technology and public policy, adds, “It’s really like having Harvard (with all that it means) at home!” 

If you think that PLC might be right for you, check out the website and register for a course. The next registration deadline is January 7, 2021. 

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