West Point, but for public service

Almost every year around the time that college graduates get ready to collect their diplomas, articles begin popping up in high-profile publications to lament the large percentage of graduates from elite schools that will enter finance or consulting. Beginning in the earlier part of this decade, the percentage of graduates from Ivy League schools has sat somewhere between one-third and one-half of all graduates entering one of those fields. The numbers have varied a bit over the decade as finance has fallen in and out of favor given the market collapse and other economic events. But the takeaway of these stories is always that too many of our best and brightest are going into fields that don’t really benefit the whole of society, but rather benefit the wealthy and the individual choosing that career path.

A corollary to this lamentation is that not enough of our star graduates are entering public service or other jobs that would advance the general welfare of the nation. A few ideas have been put forward to try and promote public service careers among our nation’s most promising leaders.

One of the more high profile solutions is the creation of a U.S. Public Service Academy. Based on the model of the military academies like West Point, the public service academy would accept high caliber high school graduates who have received the nomination of a member of Congress. Students would attend the four-year school for free in exchange for five years of public service, generally accepted to mean within the government bureaucracy. Other elements of the service academy considered are government internships, a second language requirement, and time studying abroad. The idea is that top candidates would get a free education and then slide into positions within the government. The school would become an incubator of change for the federal government both through its graduates but also through the scholarship dedicated to service. Most estimates put the cost of running such an academy for classes of 1,200 students at $200 million a year.

Another proposal, put forth by those critical of a US Public Service Academy, have taken the military comparison to heart but put a different spin on it. Leaders of institutions with degrees in public administration and other public service-related areas believe that an ROTC model would be a better fit.

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