Heidi Hartmann (right), director of the Institute.

(WOMENSENEWS)–The acceptance letters to graduate schools just finished rolling out this spring and, if the past few years are any guide, the majority of the jubilant recipients will be female.

Though women reached parity with men in many public-affairs graduate schools in the early 1990s, the balance has more recently tipped in women’s favor. Eric Devereaux, spokesperson for the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Washington, D.C., said the data about the student composition of the largest, nationally competitive schools in 2002–such as those associated with Harvard University, Princeton University and the University of Minnesota–suggest that half are more than 60 percent female.

Although complete data for this year’s acceptances are not available, admissions officers at two of the country’s most selective programs–the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, Minn., and Princeton University’s Master’s in Public Policy program in Princeton, N.J.–say that once again they are accepting more women than men.

The trend has the potential to begin dramatically alter the landscape of politics, according to some observers. “Policy schools are giving women more opportunities to be engaged in public life,” said Victoria Budson, executive director of the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard, in a telephone interview. “I don’t think women are so uneasy about making the statement that they want to run for office anymore. What we do find at the Kennedy School is that women tend to want to have a greater amount of specific training before they choose to run for public office.”

Not All Paths Lead to Capitol Hill

A policy degree does not necessarily mean a woman will charge for Capitol Hill. After studying subjects such as economics, statistics, organizational dynamics, politics and law, many public-policy graduates enter nonprofit organizations, government agencies or private businesses. However, an increasing number of female office-holders are boasting public-policy degrees.

Julie Harrold, director of admissions at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said women have made up 69 percent to 78 percent of enrolled policy students in the past three years. She said that with the exception of a few targeted initiatives by Humphrey’s Center on Women and Public Policy, the increase has been achieved with few specific efforts to reach out to women. Instead, she attributes the trend to a strong pool of female candidates. “In fact,” she said, “we have so many women candidates–more than men–that we are almost to the point of having to more actively recruit more strong men candidates.”

John Templeton, director of graduate admissions at Princeton, said the university’s Master’s in Public Policy program has had more women than men for the past six years. Templeton said the trend could not be attributed to any conscious efforts to recruit more women. “If the sum total of our deliberations means that we have more of one gender than another, then those applicants are deserving of that outcome,” said Templeton. “We are certainly aware of the demographic trends in our applications and enrollment, but we don’t think about gender very often in our deliberations.”

Faculty, Curriculum Lag Behind

Sally Kenney, professor of law and public affairs and director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, said the influx of women into policy schools is wonderful–but does not solve other gender inequities within the schools. Some of Kenney’s research has demonstrated that less than 1 percent of all public-policy case studies–in a universe of 12,000–have gender issues or women’s organizations represented. More often, the decisions of male politicians, decision-makers and male-dominated institutions are scrutinized for case studies used in the classroom.

“While the balance has shifted and women are now the majority rather than the minority in classes, the composition of the faculty and the content of the curriculum has not kept pace,” said Kenney. “Women students still confront a male faculty with little knowledge, training or interest in women’s issues and a curriculum that erases women, women’s interests and the women’s movement from the world of social change.”

The Humphrey Institute, Harvard University and the State University of New York have made commitments to having gender-issue courses within the public affairs and policy curriculum. Some women can work toward a women-and-policy concentration. The Humphrey Institute, for example, pioneered a feminist-economics course funded by the New York-based Ford Foundation and offers courses on issues such as violence against women, feminist organizations and legal issues affecting women. This year Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University New York, Albany, has a course on feminism and public policy and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., is offering a course on gender and power.

Jessica Webster is a freelance writer in Chicago. She has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance journalist in Honolulu, Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis.

For more information:

Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s
John F. Kennedy School of Government:

Center on Women and Public Policy, at the Hubert H. Humphrey
Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota :

Nelson A. Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at
the State University New York, Albany: