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Unformatted text preview: 660 Public Administration Review • November/December 2003, Vol. 63, No. 6 Carol Chetkovich Harvard University What’s in a Sector? The Shifting Career Plans of Public Policy Students Recent decades have seen a trend in which public policy graduates shun government and enter private-sector employment. In part, the shift reflects changing sectoral opportunities, but its magni- tude and consistency are puzzling—even troubling—in light of the need for public-sector talent. Data from a two-year series of surveys and interviews with policy students reveal that many begin their training with uncertain career goals and ambivalence about public-sector work. Interest in government declines from entry to graduation, and it appears that the policy curriculum—heavy on analytic methods and conveying cautions about policy making—does little to promote a public- sector orientation. Those planning to enter government are strongly motivated by a desire to have an impact, whereas those drawn to the private sector seek financial resources and professional development. Many anticipate fluid careers and choose positions expected to offer growth, a feature more commonly associated with private than public jobs. Government’s increasing difficulty with attracting and retaining qualified personnel is well documented (GAO 1994, 2000; Garland et al. 1989; National Commission on the Public Service 1990; Conant 1989). College-student interest in government careers rose in the 1970s but de- clined steeply in the early 1980s (Conant 1989), and col- lege graduates of the 1990s have been found to hold nega- tive views of federal government employment (GAO 1994; Adams et al. 2000). Although graduate enrollment and degrees in public administration—after declining in the 1980s—regained lost ground in the 1990s, 1 even students from these programs have been moving away from gov- ernment employment: Smaller proportions are entering the public sector at graduation, and, among those who do, in- creasing numbers leave eventually for other sectors. In some cases, the shift reflects a choice to work in the nonprofit world, but the proportion entering the private (for-profit) sector is also growing. A recent survey of graduates from several public policy and administration programs found that 76 percent of those in the class of 1974 entered the public sector at graduation and 11 per- cent entered the private sector, but among the class of 1993, the proportions were 49 percent and 23 percent, respectively. In addition, at the time of the survey (1998), only 50 percent of the earlier group and 41 percent of the latter one were still working in government (Light 1999), and the proportions of those in the private sector had risen....
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