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Remembrance of Things Past NASPAA and the Future of Undergraduate by liaoqinmei


									                            Remembrance of Things Past:
                              NASPAA and the Future of
                               Undergraduate Education

                                                            Eleanor V. Laudicina
                                                                 Kean University

In this article, the author looks back on the early years of the undergraduate
section and examines the formative influences that have defined the treatment of
undergraduate programs and undergraduate education within NASPAA.

     In every organization, to a greater or lesser extent, the past shapes the pres-
ent. The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration
(NASPAA) is no exception. To understand NASPAA’s stance toward undergraduate
programs in public administration, it is necessary first to understand the association’s
founding history and evolution, especially during its critical formative years.
     The first NASPAA conference I attended was in 1977, at the Broadmoor
Hotel in Colorado Springs. In many ways this was a historic meeting for NASPAA,
paving the way for initiation of a peer review process for Master of Public
Administration (MPA) programs and NASPAA’s eventual transition to full
accreditation of master’s-level programs. My memories of that meeting have less
to do with the extended and often acrimonious debates about the MPA standards
and the impact of peer review and far more to do with my introduction to what
was then the Undergraduate Section. The very fact that undergraduate education
had sufficient legitimacy within the association to merit designation as a section
is testimony to a degree of institutionalization and standing that would, in the
end, prove transitory.
     At the time, however, the Undergraduate Section had an impressive membership.
At least 75 to 100 people, representing a diverse array of programs, attended the
section’s business meeting. Representatives of associate and baccalaureate degree
programs at smaller 2- and 4-year schools as well as very large undergraduate
programs at major universities attended. Faculty members, program directors,
department chairs, and even a few deans took part in the discussion. The level
of energy and vitality in the deliberations was notable. In addition to its annual
business meeting, the section sponsored several panel sessions on undergraduate

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Remembrance of Things Past

issues, all well attended. The degree of interest in undergraduate education at
that conference was especially remarkable in that the real focus of the conference
was the issue of peer review and the impact it would have on the association and
on graduate education in public affairs, public policy, and public administration.
     Perhaps the very fact that NASPAA’s institutional energies were focused
elsewhere provided a permissive climate in which discussion and debate of
undergraduate issues could thrive. At that time—the mid- to late 1970s—NASPAA
was in a period of transition, still defining its role and function, its purpose, and
the parameters of its membership. An element of fluidity and openness, characteristic
of any young organization still feeling its way, allowed for consideration and
acceptance of a wide range of educational approaches. Within a few years, however,
as the institutional focus increasingly turned to refining the standards and formal
peer review of master’s-level programs, the circle would begin to close and NASPAA’s
current institutional configuration and core purpose would take shape.

     Much of NASPAA’s current mission and institutional purpose is rooted in
its history. In the mid-1950s, a group consisting primarily of deans from the
larger schools and graduate programs in public administration and public affairs
established the Committee on Graduate Education for Public Administration
(CGEPA) within the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) as a
forum for systematic attention to issues relevant to these schools. What was most
relevant, not surprisingly, was graduate, master’s-level education. Within the
next two decades, however, and under the impetus of rapidly expanding career
opportunities in government, the number and variety of programs offering
degrees in public administration and related areas experienced explosive growth.
Between 1970 and 1978, the number of master’s degrees tripled. Separate
departments of public administration or public affairs doubled. New schools of
public administration were established within the larger universities. The number
of bachelor’s degrees also increased at an even greater rate. As its membership
expanded and diversified, CGEPA broke away from its affiliation with ASPA
and in 1970 formed the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs
and Administration.
     The proliferation of new programs led to much greater diversity in mission
and approach to curriculum, teaching methods, and program governance. On
the downside, wide variations in the quality of offerings and capabilities of
graduates became increasingly evident. The emergence of programs of questionable
academic credibility aroused considerable alarm among the large, established
programs and schools—the venerable old deans from venerable old institutions—
who still played a commanding role in the new association. Consequently, in
1974 NASPAA formally adopted the first set of curricular standards for master’s
degree programs in public administration and public affairs. Interestingly enough,

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2 years later the association also approved a similar set of guidelines (not standards)
for undergraduate education.
     The fact that the executive council and membership of NASPAA approved the
undergraduate guidelines is indicative of the openness with which the association
at the time viewed multiple approaches to education for public service. Within a
short time, however, NASPAA began to refine and rethink its parameters. Faculty
members who were not also department chairs, program directors, or deans
were no longer welcome. Approval of guidelines for multiple iterations of public
service education gave way to a generalized agreement to allow master’s-level
programs to define concentrations in the context of their own missions while
NASPAA focused primarily on the common core curriculum components. The
undergraduate guidelines were all but forgotten.
     Three years after the agreement on the first set of standards for master’s
degree programs, the membership of the association, after several days of intense
debate, agreed to undertake a process of peer review followed by publication of a
roster of programs judged to be in “substantial conformity” with the standards.
To reassure those who feared that the standards and peer review process would
stifle innovation and creativity, the “Broadmoor Pledge” assured that diverse
approaches to meeting the educational needs of public service would be welcome.
     Acceptance of diversity, however, had its limits, as proponents of undergraduate
education soon discovered. The effort to “protect the brand” (i.e., the integrity
and credibility of the MPA degree) may have been successful, but the end result
was to marginalize programmatic or curricular forms not related to master’s-level
education or not consistent with the standards for master’s degree programs. The
underlying though never expressly articulated sentiment was that alternative
approaches to public service education were by definition second rate and a
potential threat to the legitimacy of the MPA degree. Programs structurally unable to
meet the standards, such as those offering distance education on multiple sites or
small programs unable to meet the standard of five full-time core faculty, found
themselves increasingly isolated.
     Yet, even as the currents of changed swirled around it, the Undergraduate
Section for a time maintained an ambitious agenda focused especially on
implementation and dissemination of the newly established guidelines for
baccalaureate programs in public administration and public affairs. There was
even some discussion of separate guidelines for 2-year programs. The section
worked on ways to employ the guidelines as a mechanism for strengthening
undergraduate programs, and section members briefly entertained the possibility
of some form of informal peer review sponsored by the section. Subsequent
discussions with the executive director and with NASPAA leadership made it very
clear, however, that in the face of the major challenges associated with implementing
MPA peer review, there was no way that the association would devote any time,
energy, or resources to the promotion of undergraduate education. Gradually,

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Remembrance of Things Past

over the years, as interest in undergraduate education within NASPAA waned,
membership in the section declined, and undergraduate programs not embedded
in a major school of public administration or associated with an MPA program
simply dropped their membership in NASPAA. Establishment of the Section
on Public Administration Education within ASPA provided a safe haven and a
forum for faculty members and programs that felt largely excluded and ignored
within NASPAA.
     Nevertheless, a small cadre of diehards persisted, at every opportunity trying
to have consideration of undergraduate issues included in the conference program,
in panel and plenary sessions, and on the agenda of the executive council. Despite
some successes and even a few converts among deans of some of the larger
programs, undergraduate issues remained marginal to the association’s primary
concerns and indifference, resistance, or outright hostility prevailed.

Opposition to Undergraduate Programs
   Arguments in opposition to undergraduate programs seemed rest on one or
more of the following issues.

Qualitative Concerns
    As noted previously, NASPAA’s core commitment to protecting the integrity,
reputation, and credibility of the MPA degree precluded acceptance of any
curricular or programmatic form that could be perceived as a weak imitation of
the “real thing.” In retrospect, it may have been a mistake to push for approval
of undergraduate guidelines that did, in fact, bear a strong resemblance to the
MPA standards. Despite oft-repeated protestations that undergraduate programs
had a wholly different emphasis, the impression remained that undergraduate
programs were taking a “mini-me” approach to subject matter best reserved for
graduate-level courses.

Competitive Concerns
    One dean of a major university admitted to me—over drinks in the conference
hotel bar—that for him, opposition to undergraduate degree programs was simply
a bread-and-butter issue. If prospective students could obtain undergraduate
degrees in public administration, they would be less inclined to enroll in an
MPA program. I heard similar arguments frequently, although usually coupled
with some qualitative concerns. The assumption that graduate courses could
only replicate the content of an undergraduate course—or vice versa—seems to
presume that our discipline has so little depth that the subject matter content
would be totally exhausted once presented at any level. The notion is obviously
absurd, but then so is the idea that students who have had undergraduate courses
would not feel a need to obtain an MPA, whether for professional development
or career advancement.

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                                                        Remembrance of Things Past

“Liberal Arts” Concerns
    Perhaps the most frequently heard objection to undergraduate education in
public administration is that it deprives students of the benefit of the well-rounded
liberal arts foundation. This foundation, the argument goes, provides the broad
perspective and intellectual capacity on which to build an applied, or competency-
based, graduate education. That argument ignores the fact that in the course of a
4-year degree program, students can have broad exposure to the liberal arts and
to such disciplines as history, economics, political science, sociology, and so forth
that support and enrich the study of public administration and public affairs.
The liberal arts argument also neglects the fact that few students today can afford
the luxury of a degree program that prepares them for nothing after graduation
or the fact that many already are employed in some form of public service and
benefit greatly from a greater understanding of the environment within which
they function.

In Support of Undergraduate Programs
     Since the early 1970s, NASPAA’s attitude toward undergraduate education
has ranged from benign neglect to overt hostility. If one accepts the premise that
the core function and primary raison d’être for NASPAA since the late 1970s has
been to protect and strengthen the MPA “brand,” then it is difficult to escape the
conclusion that undergraduate education always will remain marginal within the
association. Whatever the expressed arguments against undergraduate programs,
the real reasons are deeply rooted in the early history of the organization, in the
focus and values of its founders, and in the practical concerns of the majority of
its institutional members.
     Supporters of undergraduate education can soldier on within NASPAA,
knowing that they will remain forever on the periphery, or they can entertain some
alternative options. One might be to give up the ghost entirely, withdraw from
NASPAA, and seek a new and perhaps more hospitable climate elsewhere—perhaps
as a separate programmatic component within ASPA’s Section on Public
Administration Education, perhaps as a separate entity within the broader framework
of ASPA. Another option, however, would be to remain within NASPAA but
rethink the purpose and function of undergraduate studies, and in doing so address
the critics and criticisms described earlier. The challenge, then, for those within
NASPAA who still care about undergraduate education would be to seriously assess
the current state of undergraduate education and, most important, begin to
formulate one or several new and distinctive models.

Clearly Define the Undergraduate Degree
    First, it seems to me that the undergraduate curriculum needs to clearly,
completely, and concretely move away from the mini-me model—or the conception
of the undergraduate degree as a shadow MPA complete with the same Planning,

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Remembrance of Things Past

Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting, and Budgeting (POS-
DCORB) framework. In content, nomenclature, course definition and curricular
framework, undergraduate programs should not have the same appearance as the
MPA. Even in the titling of the degree program itself, some alternatives should
be considered for both symbolic and substantive reasons. The Bachelor of Public
Administration (BPA) degree, for example, virtually screams, “imitation,” waving
a red flag in the face of those who see undergraduate programs as undermining the
credibility of the MPA. Perhaps—radical thought though it may be—some
consideration should be given to completely removing the term public administration
from the baccalaureate degree description. A more appropriate designation, and
one potentially more descriptive of the real mission and purpose of the undergraduate
curriculum, might be “Citizenship and Public Service.”
     If the MPA is considered to be application and skill based, the undergraduate
program should be based in the liberal arts, broadly conceived. In addition to a
comprehensive exposure to the traditional liberal arts disciplines, the humanities,
arts, and social sciences, public administration courses can and should instill the
primary aims of the liberal arts—the capacity to think critically, to explore ideas
and concepts, to understand the world and the environment in which we live, to
communicate clearly and effectively. There is nothing necessarily incompatible
between the traditional content of the curriculum and development of these
skills within a public affairs/public administration curriculum, but the approach
and delivery need to be taken consciously and demonstrably. If the primary focus
of the MPA degree is on the preparation of successful managers and administrative
professionals, the primary focus of the undergraduate degree should be on the
preparation of thoughtful, informed citizens and capable public servants. If MPA
courses focus on the “micro” level of skills, techniques and applied competencies,
then undergraduate-level courses should focus on the “macro” level of understanding,
awareness, and knowledge of governmental processes as well as the interface of
social, economic, and political variables.

Strengthen the Interface Between Graduate and Undergraduate
     A second and equally important task would be to develop a stronger and
clearer interface between graduate and undergraduate education. At best, the
MPA curriculum encompasses 48 credits, or 2 years of full-time study. Students
who enter an MPA program with a strong background in government, public
administration, or public affairs need fewer basic foundation courses and can
move more quickly into skill and competency-based, applied courses. While
MPA programs always will attract students from multiple disciplines, those with
prior preparation in the field can fast-track into advanced courses more easily and
emerge from the program with a higher level of proficiency and more marketable
skills. Everyone benefits—the students in their job and career prospects, the program
in its reputation and job placement success, and the public service in its access

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to skilled and capable managers with an understanding of the unique challenges
and rewards of public service. NASPAA’s move toward the development of
competency-based accreditation criteria presents an exciting and unprecedented
opportunity to think through a set of competencies for baccalaureate-level students
that are both different from and yet compatible with the skills and competencies
appropriate to MPA programs.

Develop an Undergraduate Policy Within NASPAA
    Finally, I think it is time for a showdown within NASPAA. Whatever the
views of its individual member institutions or their representatives, the association
needs, at long last, to go on record regarding its stance toward undergraduate
education. Ideally, I would like to see the undergraduate committee (or a separate
group established for the purpose) develop a policy statement, set of principles,
model curricula, or some combination of all three for presentation to the executive
council and the general membership. Hopefully, this would move the entire issue
into a larger arena and force deliberation and debate on the appropriate purpose
of undergraduate education.

     In its indifference to undergraduate education, NASPAA is neglecting a crucial
opportunity to strengthen both graduate and undergraduate education and to
improve the quality of public service. For years from within the professional public
service community, and from ASPA as well as NASPAA, we have heard laments
about the lack of public spirit in young people, complaints about the difficulty
of recruiting the best and brightest college graduates into public service, and
fears that an understanding of the fundamental principles that support democratic
governance are eroding. Yet we also know that the values and principles, the ethical
foundations that undergird a commitment to public service, do not emerge
full-blown in adulthood. Instead, they emerge as a result of inspirational teaching
and exposure to ideas, experiences, theories, and values in adolescence and early
adulthood—primarily the college years. How can we decry the lack of interest in
public service among talented and promising young people when we do so little
to nurture it? In a time of dramatically declining resources, the future of graduate
education in public administration is increasingly dependent on the ability of
undergraduate programs to inculcate the level of awareness, interest, and
commitment necessary to sustain the future generation of public servants
and public managers.

Eleanor Laudicina served as chair of NASPAA’s Undergraduate Section between
1979 and 1981 and as president of NASPAA from 1990 to 1991. She is currently
professor of Public Administration at Kean University.

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