Last February, the College of William and Mary announced the suspension of their Master of Public Policy and Accelerated Master of Public Policy programs with no final decision regarding the official termination of the programs. Despite the announced closure of the programs, six months later, the programs continue to be advertised on the College’s website as active programs offered on campus. In tandem with these advertising efforts, the College has hired external consultants to assess the programs’ long-term viability.
The BA/MPP program provided for an accelerated track where students can receive both their Bachelor of Arts and master’s degree in two years, with one year overlapping with their final undergraduate year.
According to Dean of Arts and Sciences Kate Conley, discussions about the future of the MPP and BA/MPP programs are currently being held following the appointment of Provost Peggy Agouris in July. Agouris is filling the position after outgoing Provost Michael Halleran announced he would be returning to the classroom last spring.
“Admission has been suspended, but the program has not been officially ended,” Conley said. “We still have students who are in the program, and we’re in conversation with the Provost, with the Vice Provost for International affairs for what we might do to reconfigure the Master in Public Policy. It’s not officially finished. That’s why it is still on the website.”
Conley explained that decisions regarding the future of the programs were delayed as Halleran did not want to make any definitive decision that would be placed in the hands of a new provost. According to Conley, he wanted to give the new provost the option to make their own informed decisions regarding the program. When Agouris filled the position as Provost in July, Conley sent her data regarding admissions and enrollment for the program. She has also requested meetings with the Provost to discuss the program’s future.
“What we should do in order to reboot the program, adapt it in some fashion — these are questions we are discussing right now,” Conley said. “And the ultimate decision to reconfigure the program or definitively close it, having suspended admissions for the moment, will be made by Provost Agouris. But as you know she has only been here a month, and she is listening to a lot of different perspectives and gathering data. I have sent her a lot of data about admissions and enrollment in the past three to five years.”
In addition to meetings, Conley gave approval to hire an expert in the field to review the programs’ long-term viability. The expert will be studying the program and interviewing people involved to provide suggestions on the ways the program can be reconstructed to compete in the competitive marketplace. According to Conley, the expert has been involved in public policy programs at both the University of Maryland and University of Texas in Austin. They are also looking at the potential of housing the programs at the College’s Washington D.C. offices.
Last fall, President of the MPP Alumni Association Devin Braun was informed by the College administration that discussions were being held on the sustainability of the program. At the time, Braun said the College felt that the program could survive for a couple more years as they were conducting a study looking into the program. However, as applications began to arrive for both the BA/MPP and MPP programs during late fall and early spring, the administration changed that stance believing the program was not sustainable.
Although Braun does not get to be involved in the decision-making process, he hopes to continue contributing alumni perspectives as the College potentially begins redesigning the programs.
“That is one role I really serve,” Braun said. “… I think its good to get that perspective because not all of the board members are necessarily alumni of the programs.”
“That is one role I really serve,” Braun said. “We like to kind of be a liaison almost between recent graduates and the board members. I think its good to get that perspective because not all of the board members are necessarily alumni of the programs.”
As the College considers redesigning the program perhaps in a competitive setting like D.C., Braun plans to speak with the board members and administration and remind them that the program has many alumni who have found success at different levels of government outside of the federal systems housed in D.C.
“In terms of my priorities for it, I think there’s an effort in getting a greater online presence…,” Braun said. “I think the program should recognize not just the federal programs. There is a lot of marketing opportunities relative to D.C. and I get that. We certainly have a lot of alumni that have done very well in D.C. But we also have a broad range of alumni who are big local presence across the country. So I think the recognition that public policy takes place at all levels of government should be a focus of the program.”
Braun stressed that these discussions are ongoing but that decisions are still in the early stages.
Conley explained that the College has decided to keep the programs offered on the website as students who enrolled in the BA/MPP and MPP programs before the suspension of applications are still completing their degrees. According to Conley, this makes the programs still active at the College.
Director of the College’s Public Policy Program John Gilmour also explained that since students are still enrolled in the program and graduating in 2021, the program is considered active on the website. He also said the College wanted to keep the programs on the website to help any recent graduates searching for jobs and students completing the program.
“Even though we are not at this time admitting students it is important to keep the website active,” Gilmour said in a written statement. “The program is active in that it still has students and courses, but we are not recruiting new students. Current students are applying for jobs or internships, and it would hurt them if prospective employers could not fund the W&M MPP degree program on the W&M website. We are not promoting the program in the sense that we are trying to recruit students. But we do want the program to have a continuing web presence to benefit our current students.”
Although links to applications on the website are inactive, there is concern from students since there is no language on the College’s website that informs applying high school seniors that the programs are currently suspended.
Olivia Yang ’20 applied to the BA/MPP program last spring and afterwards was informed that the program was not accepting applicants for this school year. Yang felt that it was important for the program to be kept on the website for current or past BA/MPP students who are applying for jobs, as the website provides background for anyone reviewing the student’s application. However, she feels that language should be included in some way to inform that the program is suspended.
“I feel like high school seniors should be informed about the suspension,” Yang said in a written statement.
“I feel like high school seniors should be informed about the suspension,” Yang said in a written statement. “I don’t know if tour guides or other sources of information for prospective students are aware of the program’s suspension, and I would hate for any incoming freshman to be misinformed.”
Conley did not feel that the College can provide information to high school seniors at this time regarding the program.
“Right now it is on the website, which is an indication that it is still there, but admission is suspended because we don’t know what the future of the program is,” Conley said. “And right now until the Provost is able to take the time she needs and have the conversation that she needs in order to make a fully informed decision about what next steps should be, we can’t put more information on the website. I think that high school students who are interested in public policy would do well to come here for our undergraduate program because it is a terrific program.”
Gilmour explained that the lack of language regarding the suspension was due to the College not wanting to make a conclusive statement on programs that a final decision has not been made. However, Gilmour did acknowledge that potential students enrolling to the College could be misinformed about the programs’ future.
“I suppose that, given that no final decision has been made, we don’t want to send an overly definitive message about the future of the program,” Gilmour said in a written statement. “It might come back, after all. I understand the confusion the current website. I just met with freshmen during advising, and at least one was interested in the BA/MPP. We should make clear on the website that we are not recruiting for the 5-year program.”
Venu Katta ’17, MPP said that he understood why the College would keep the information up on the website and felt it is important that students reach out when making decisions about attending a College.
“It still is a program at the College even though admissions have been suspended,” Katta said. “I remember that when I was a freshman and the first time I heard about the program, my first step was to contact people in the public policy department for more information. I don’t really think that they are misleading people… I think if you are trying to base your decision on that, I think you most likely would reach out first for more information about that topic.”
For Yang, the College offering an accelerated track for their MPP program played a major role in her decision to attend the school.
“When I was comparing UVA and William & Mary back in 2016, both had BA/MPP programs,” Yang said in a written statement. “My decision would have been a lot harder if only UVA offered a BA/MPP, I might not have decided that William & Mary was the best choice for the academic plan I had when I was a high school senior.”
Conley said that in the time decisions are being made about the MPP and BA/MPP programs, the College has been given an opportunity to focus on undergraduate Public Policy initiatives and opportunities.
“Also, what we’ve been doing and want to do more is paying more attention to the undergraduate program, which is thriving,” Conley said.
“Also, what we’ve been doing and want to do more is paying more attention to the undergraduate program, which is thriving,” Conley said. “We have a lot of students, who are very good students. There is a board for the public policy program, and we are working with the board to try to create new opportunities for internships for undergraduate students in order to be able to have as many opportunities for the undergraduates as we have had in the past for graduates.”
More decisions regarding the MPP program plan to be made in the spring, according to Conley. However, the College has not currently set a timeline for any final decisions regarding the future of the BA/MPP and MPP programs.