Last year, ex-Dodgers owner and real estate developer Frank H. McCourt Jr. gave $100 million to his alma mater, Georgetown, to establish the McCourt School of Public Policy. To be sure, that was an unusually big gift for policy, but otherwise reflects a trend.
Public policy is a field that continues to grow on campuses, with policy schools at 285 institutions nationwide, as of 2013. Move over, JFK School: Public policy schools can now be found in places as far-flung as the University of New Hampshire and the University of Arizona.
These programs can be cash cows for universities, with master's students paying full freight for a credential that can be used in different employment settings, with consulting firms in particular hiring out of these schools.
But another reason for the proliferation of public policy programs is genuine concern about the grim state of politics and policy, and that's a concern that can stoke the interest of donors looking to give to their alma mater in a way that will make a difference in the broader world.
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Georgetown started with a small public policy program in the 1980s and started awarding master's degrees in public policy in early 2001. McCourt's gift to Georgetown has completely revamped its public policy program and the school currently offers three master’s degree programs and eight dual-degree programs according to its website.
Now the McCourt school is being bolstered further by a recent $10 million gift from another Georgetown alumnus. Jon M. Baker Sr. (Georgetown Class of 1964) and his wife Patricia. The gift will establish the Baker Center for Leadership and Governance within the McCourt School of Public Policy.
Baker is the founder and CEO of International Planning Group, a global life insurance broker focused on wealth planning. Baker is a former member of Georgetown's Board of Regents, as well as the recipient of the John Carroll Award, a prestigious Georgetown award. He's been funding Georgetown for years.
An alum giving back to his school isn't all that surprising, but what's Baker's connection to public policy?
Well, Baker's business is located in the Boston area, where he's involved in civic life in the city. He serves as a trustee of Newton Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, the Rivers School, and the Wang Center for the Performing Arts. What's more, Baker chairs the Leadership Council of the Center for Business and Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
It's unclear if Baker has given money to the Kennedy School. But it certainly makes sense that he'd want to contribute to the emerging McCourt school at his alma mater. Moreover, Baker has specifically said that he was inspired by McCourt's $100 million gift. Yes, it appears that one Georgetown alumnus inspired another, which is an important lesson. Once one monied alum gives big to an emerging cause at his school, in this case public policy, others might follow suit.
As Baker puts it, “Georgetown is uniquely positioned to leverage its brand, values, principles and successes to transform how policy issues are debated." Or to put Baker's words another way, donors like him and McCourt have found a great place to put their money, which is what alumni donors so often are looking for: an investment that can take a school to the next level in some key area.
Baker and Patricia also have three children who graduated from Georgetown, and we can't say enough about how much that multi-generation attachment to a school makes a difference with donors.
A centerpiece of the new Baker Center will be the annual Baker Forum, a gathering of government, business, nonprofit and academic leaders to talk all things public policy.