Need for Proposed U.S. Public Service Academy Debated

By Scott J. Cech — January 11, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

George Washington couldn’t make it happen. Nor could Thomas Jefferson. But a self-described “nobody” named Chris Myers Asch is giving the idea of a national public-service university another shot.

As envisioned by Mr. Asch, a Teach For America veteran who’s leading the effort to finance and build what he’s calling the U.S. Public Service Academy, it would be patterned after the nation’s military academies, offering a free, four-year degree to students in exchange for five years of postgraduate work in the public sector.

Graduates could work in local, state, or federal government, in public schools or police departments, or in other nonprofit, public-service-oriented organizations.

“This is a national need,” Mr. Asch said in an interview, citing a 2001 Congressional Budget Office report warning of potential personnel shortages stemming from “the aging of the federal workforce.” A dramatic rise in the amount of debt with which college students now graduate is making government service an increasingly unattractive career option, he added.

“We need the best and brightest,” Mr. Asch said.“We need a new generation of young people to commit themselves to public service.”

The proposal calls for a college of about 5,100 students—most nominated by lawmakers, as is the case with the military-service academies—who would major in liberal arts fields, with a focus on public service and leadership.

Students would be required to spend summers working as interns with emergency-response teams, the military, and charitable nonprofit organizations. Foreign-languange fluency and a minimum eight-week term of study abroad would also be mandatory.

School Called ‘Redundant’

As yet, the academy exists only on paper, and that’s the only place it might ever exist, to judge by the firing-squad reception the idea got from a panel of experts convened to discuss it this week at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

“This is a bad idea, terribly well advocated,” was the assessment of Stephen J. Trachtenberg, a president emeritus and professor of public service at George Washington University, who called the idea “an answer in search of a problem” and “redundant.”

“Harvard’s got the Kennedy School, Syracuse’s got the Maxwell School … and GW, bless it, has the Trachtenberg School,” said Mr. Trachtenberg, referring to Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass.; Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse, N.Y.; and his namesake Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University here.

“The fact of the matter is, we can buy people with training” from existing schools, he argued.

Seconding that view, Philip I. Levy, an AEI resident scholar, cited the academy’s proposed $205 million annual price tag, 80 percent of which would be taxpayer-funded. “One could do something like a scholarship program that would meet many of these needs and be much less expensive,” he said.

Still, the idea may stand a better chance than it has in centuries past. Bills have been introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, where it is sponsored by Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Mr. Asch said 16 senators and 93 House members have signed on as co-sponsors, and that Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also has endorsed the idea.

“In the midst of a campaign season, we think that there’s ample room for the candidates to embrace this idea in a new administration,” Mr. Asch said.

Panelist John Bridgeland, the chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises, a Washington-based firm that advises on public policy, called Mr. Asch “a modern George Washington,” for his idea. Even Mr. Bridgeland, though, suggested that the idea of a brick-and-mortar academy be scrapped in favor of a consortium of existing public-service programs.

But Mr. Asch, who was also on the panel, said a stand-alone academy was necessary to inspire esprit de corps among its students, and “to make public service cool again.”

“When you set foot at West Point or Annapolis, you know you’re somewhere different,” he said, referring to the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. “We want to do the same thing for public service.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 16, 2008 edition of Education Week


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal AFT's Randi Weingarten on Kamala Harris: 'She Has a Record of Fighting for Us'
The union head's call to support Kamala Harris is one sign of Democratic support coalescing around the vice president.
5 min read
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks at the organization's annual conference in Houston on July 22, 2024.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks at the organization's biennial conference in Houston on July 22, 2024. She called on union members to support Vice President Kamala Harris the day after President Joe Biden ended his reelection campaign.
via AFT Livestream
Federal Biden Drops Out of Race and Endorses Kamala Harris to Lead the Democratic Ticket
The president's endorsement of Harris makes the vice president the most likely nominee for the Democrats.
3 min read
President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, on the final day of the NATO summit in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, on the final day of the NATO summit in Washington. He announced Sunday that he was dropping out of the 2024 presidential race and endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris as his replacement for the Democratic nomination.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Opinion The Great Project 2025 Freakout
There's nothing especially scary in the Heritage Foundation's education agenda—nor is it a reliable gauge of another Trump administration.
6 min read
Man lurking behind the American flag, suspicion concept.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Data Is the Federal Agency That Tracks School Data Losing Steam?
A new study of U.S. data agencies finds serious capacity problems at the National Center for Education Statistics.
3 min read
Illustration of data bar charts and line graphs superimposed over a school crossing sign.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty images