Enrollment up at schools that train workers for government, nonprofits

By Lynn Franey Knight Ridder Newspapers (KRT) Feeling patriotic after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, University of Kansas student Nels Lindahl tried joining the Army, only to be rejected because of his migraine headaches. But Lindahl, 22, soon found another way to serve the public _ he decided to study for a master’s degree in public administration at KU and then become a government worker. Leaders of some colleges’ public administration departments say more students are entering once-overlooked public service careers. Enrollment of new master’s students at the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri-Columbia, for example, nearly doubled between spring 2001 and spring 2002, to about 40 students. Overall school enrollment is 120 students. Many Truman School applicants cited Sept. 11, 2001, and its aftermath, said Associate Dean Guy Adams. Nationally, more than three dozen public affairs schools reported enrollment applications increases from 2001 to 2002. A handful saw increases of 60 percent or more, said Ken Tolo, executive director of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. “Students today are going to follow the work where they can make a difference,” Adams said. “They don’t care what sector it’s in, public or private. They want to make a difference.” Adams said some Truman School applicants wrote essays “about seeing what people in public service, especially firefighters and the Port Authority people, did (on Sept. 11) as impacting their choice and basically saying, `That’s the kind of career I want.’ ” The jump in enrollments can also partly be attributed to the recession, Adams and Tolo said. Whenever unemployment rises, graduate school applications go up as new college graduates seek refuge from the weak job market and the recently unemployed return to school for advanced degrees or new career training. Also contributing to the rise in public affairs enrollments is changes such programs have made to embrace nonprofit leadership and volunteerism, which surveys have shown are popular. Schools of public affairs _ which have suffered a reputation as boring schools that train policy wonks _ are increasingly preparing students for leadership in community groups, health-care agencies and other nonprofits. Graduates of public affairs schools enter different careers, such as city manager, urban planner, lobbyist, development director or budget consultant. Salaries for public affairs graduates vary widely, depending on what level of government service _ city, county, state or federal _ or whether they work for a large or small nonprofit group. Top leaders of nonprofit agencies can earn up to a national average of $60,000 to $80,000, while lower-level nonprofit grant writers and marketing managers earn $45,000 to $50,000 on average across the country, the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration reports. City and county government jobs can vary in salary from a $45,000-a-year clerk to a $70,000-a-year chief administrative officer. Although the job market for public affairs graduates is tight right now, because of the sour economy, Adams said virtually all Truman School grads were employed six months to a year after graduation, the vast majority in their job of choice. “Students talk more about an awareness of opportunities for careers in public service,” Tolo said. “Awareness is reinforced by the role that not only the public sector, but the nonprofit sector as well, can play in helping the society be a better place to live and work.” The Truman School, for example, revamped its courses in fall 2001 to give students more training in “new governance,” or how leaders in government, business and nonprofit agencies can work together, Adams said. Sarah Smith, 26, a master’s student in public policy at the Truman School, said many of her classmates were studying nonprofit management. “I think sometimes we have a negative view of public service,” said Smith, who plans to work in county or regional government. “I don’t know if anyone woke up on Sept. 12 and said, `I’m going to be a public servant,’ but I think it changed people’s mind about how important government is and how the tools at the Truman School can assist us in that future.” Lindahl was a junior in spring 2001 when he enrolled in a new KU minor: public service and community leadership. Through research on community needs and helping a Kansas City, Kan., church win grants, Lindahl has found public service compelling and satisfying. Now the Overland Park, Kan., native knows he wants to be a city manager someday. “I always wanted to be a lawyer, doing business law, but after learning about how people interact, I wanted to do something where I could deal with people,” Lindahl said. “City management is a pretty good way of getting involved with people, especially people who are doing stuff with the community.” ___ On the Web For more information about schools of public affairs, go to naspaa.org, the Web site for the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. ___ ‘copy 2003, The Kansas City Star. Visit The Star Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.kcstar.com/ Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.