For many of us, our interest in policy—wondering about the world and how to make it better—began at a young age. The most pronounced trigger for me occurred when I was eleven (being born in Washington, D.C., and raised in that area tends to accelerate expression of the political gene). My family spent that year in Sweden. Among the first things I noticed when we arrived from the United States was that we were automatically covered by a system of universal health care. Not long after, bicycling around the city with my new friends, they would point to some rather old and warn-looking buildings and declare, “These are our slums.” They sure did not look like slums to me, so distant were they from the markers of destitution all too common on our shores. In the midst of the Vietnam War it was also easy to see that Swedes had a profoundly different perspective on foreign policy and even international economic development. But flipping the coin, my brother and I witnessed that this Nordic country had an educational system that tracked students into vocational rather than university pathways earlier and more rigidly than in the U.S., and where our system of higher education was comparatively open (albeit far from equally accessible), theirs remained more of a gated community for the elite. I might not have used this vocabulary at the time, but in one form or another I asked myself how these two advanced industrial democracies could understand social problems and derive policy approaches so different from one another. And did we even know which system yielded better results, beyond one or the other simply comporting with one’s own individual prejudices? Go elsewhere in the world, of course, and the contrasts become even more stark and the inquiries more weighty.
These types of questions, and so many others, are what motivate the faculty, students, and staff of the Department of Public Policy. They drive faculty and student research, frame our courses, and provoke our engagement with the larger community through seminars, public lectures, and the media. As a close-knit community sharing and contributing to ideas and solutions far beyond the Department, we tackle tough issues and ask questions such as: Where is the science on climate change and what would be the best strategies for anticipating and addressing its myriad impacts in Los Angeles, the U.S., and abroad? What is working, what is failing in public education, and which policy options, by which decision makers, hold the promise of fulfilling the commitment to provide a high-quality education to all, regardless of a student’s background and zip code? What policy interventions would empower a more accessible and cost-effective health care system—the most expensive yet least inclusive in the world—while also promoting general population health and mitigating distressing disparities by race and ethnicity? How do incentives shape risk-taking behavior of families and individuals in a multitude of settings in developing countries and how can they be influenced to augment individual opportunities and social welfare? What social, economic, and political factors foster enduring poverty and growing inequality, and what kinds of policy shifts would be likely to reverse these dynamics? The list of pressing concerns and the supply of possible remedies are enormous, complex, and challenging. All call for detailed knowledge, sophisticated instruments of analysis, and innovative action.
That is how our faculty conduct their research and the basis for which they train our Master of Public Policy students, a group striking in their diversity, academic accomplishments, passion for justice, and dedication to employing knowledge, evidence, analysis, and leadership to transform the world. The Department of Public Policy offers a rigorous and challenging program that provides the analytical tools and strategic orientation that one needs to be a leader in identifying policy problems, designing new policies and organizations, advocating their adoption, managing their implementation, and evaluating their impact. Our Master of Public Policy program combines the best of traditional policy education with a flexibility and responsiveness that enables our graduates to remain relevant and influential in a rapidly changing world. A career in public service, with its commitment to the public interest, is no longer limited to working in government. Increasingly, policy making and implementation involve nonprofit and for-profit institutions, often working together and in conjunction with government agencies. By setting the highest standards of excellence and giving students a diversified tool kit of quantitative and analytical skills, and the flexibility to design a program of study that incorporates the vast intellectual resources of one of the nation’s top research universities, we produce graduates who are equipped to become real leaders in policy making, wherever that process takes place.
For those of you who are considering graduate education in public policy, I invite you to examine closely the exciting prospect of earning your degree at UCLA. Click on “Why Get Your MPP at UCLA?” and gain ready entrée to the collective attributes of our Department and program, the Luskin School of Public Affairs, the UCLA campus, and being situated in California and Los Angeles that make applied policy training here so enticing. You will see why so many community organizers, teachers, doctors, legislative aides, military veterans, television writers and producers, political activists, budding analysts, journalists, Japanese ministry officials, staff of nonprofit organizations, entrepreneurs, and professionals of all kinds—both those some years into their careers and others relatively fresh out of their undergraduate studies, and from the U.S. and nations around the world—have come to UCLA. Our students have undergraduate majors that cover the gamut of fields in the social sciences, such as anthropology, economics, history, political science, psychology, and sociology. Well beyond that, we have welcomed a wide range of Liberal Arts majors in areas like philosophy, English, comparative literature, foreign languages, and even the classics, as well as astrophysics, biology, chemistry, computer science, and statistics. Our graduates have gone on to appointments in about a dozen U.S. cabinet-level departments, OMB, many other agencies, and the Foreign Service; multiple California state departments and agencies; more than twenty counties and cities from California to Asia; nonprofits from community-based organizations to AARP, the Children’s Defense Fund, Consumers Union, the Sierra Club, and the United Way; major policy research institutions like RAND, Mathematica Policy Research, and the Urban Institute; and firms from Booze Allen Hamilton and Deloitte Consulting to Grupo Salinas and Fox Studios. They have even run for and held elective office. In short, at UCLA we prepare you to take on the world.
Mark A. Peterson
Professor of Public Policy, Political Science, and Law