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The Citizen

Higher Education and Careers with Impact

By Tommy Tobin

Many of us are here at the Kennedy School because we want to make a difference to better society. Our version of asking “what you can do” often incorporates public service as a pathway to social change. But what about our time before HKS? How might have our college experiences shaped our desire to pursue the public good?

The Aspen Institute’s Impact Careers Initiative—co-founded by Jonny Dorsey (MPA ’14), Peter Brooks (MPA ’13), James Dyett (MPP ’14), and Fagan Harris, and started with the support of HKS’s own Center for Public Leadership –has been systematically examining these questions as well as the career drivers for the top talent of our generation. “We are trying to build a national conversation about how to ask and empower our generation to tackle the world’s most urgent challenges,” said Dorsey.

Higher education institutions can develop leaders and imbue students with the tools and the mentality to lead change-making careers.  Service is one way to cultivate impactful careers. The Impact Career Initiative recently released rankings of the top schools that are developing the next generation of leaders for the non-profit and government sectors.

As reported earlier this year in Washington Monthly, the Impact Careers Initiative team looked at the top 50 institutions on the U.S. News and World Report rankings and assessed each on their ability to create cultures of service on campus. According to the researchers, these institutions actively “built the financial and programmatic infrastructure to aid students’ public service trajectories after graduation.” To conduct their analysis, the Aspen Institute researchers used data from 2000 to 2010 and examined the first and second jobs graduates from each ranked school listed on the social media site LinkedIn. The researchers found that when an institution builds a career pipeline for students to pursue social impact, the pipeline helped students find and maintain jobs that had an impact upon the public good.

In some ways, the research results were predictable. For example, the United States Naval Academy and the United States Military Academy at West Point topped the list with over 87% of each school’s graduates in service to their country and communities. In other ways, the Aspen Institute rankings were surprising. Namely, the researchers found that the traditional college rankings did not match up with their new impact career ranking. Schools like Brandeis, George Washington, and William & Mary were edging out the traditionally top-ranked institutions such as Harvard, Brown, and Yale. How?

The Aspen Institute team distilled three lessons from their research to answer that question. First, they created cultures and traditions of service at their institutions. Second, they provided opportunities to undertake service at school, often incorporating service programs into the curriculum. Third, the highly ranked institutions tended to bankroll service, putting some of their money towards an investment in their lofty rhetoric about promoting the public good.

The Initiative’s current rankings followed “Winning the Talent War, For Good,” a paper that profiled top recruiting tactics for engaging millennials in impactful organizations. Such works serve as a foundation for further study on this topic. The Impact Careers Initiative is continuing its research into drivers of impactful career decisions and how colleges and universities play a role in career decisions. New data, new methods, and new conversations are certain to come up as the team’s work continues to grow.

For us as students, the Aspen rankings give us an opportunity to reflect on our college experiences and examine what about our undergraduate years determined our job choices and our decision to enroll here at HKS. Similarly, as we embark upon our own careers in leadership, we should bear in mind what these ranking tell us about how our own organizations can foster a climate in which we inspire our junior staff or partners to seek out and sustain careers oriented towards the public good.career1