December 05, 2011

Students to address current public policy issues

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- When students from Charles Leonard’s Public Policy Analysis class at Southern Illinois University Carbondale tackle the analysis project that makes up the bulk of their grade, they are working on more than just a grade point average.  At the end of the course, they have practical experience dealing with a real issue and presenting their analysis in a public forum.

The public is welcome and even encouraged to attend the student presentations during the student policy analysis seminar, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Paul Simon Public Institute on campus.

Media Advisory

Public policy analysis students invite members of the media, including camera crews, photographers and reporters, to participate in the education process by attending the student policy analysis seminar at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute lobby, beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 8.  Your presence alone will provide the students with needed experience in presenting their ideas in a public forum with the media present.  You will also have the opportunity to ask questions about the analyses they present.

Leonard, a lecturer at the institute and in the Department of Political Science, uses current public issues as a starting point for his students.  Working together, they analyze a topic and then offer an informed opinion, complete with a “white paper,” at a public forum -- much as they would as professionals in the “real” world.  Besides offering students realistic scenarios to analyze, Leonard said, using current topics often allows students to see how current experts solve the same issues they tackled for classes. For example, last year’s class analyzed the issue of extending Carbondale liquor licenses to Carbondale grocery stores -- an issue that has since been resolved.

Leonard also has real world proof that his public seminar construct works.  Beth Casagrand, a former student now employed by the public policy analysis group FOCUS St. Louis, credited Leonard’s class as the “best class (she) took in graduate school” for the simple reason that it applied academics to practical experience.

“One of the things that worked well was how our final presentations concentrated on local problems or challenges, rather than talking about policy on a larger macro-level,” she said.  “It takes a particular skill set to define the problem of a community, talk with multiple stakeholders and explore solutions.  This is the sort of project one must leave the library to do…”

The reports on Dec. 8 are meant to mirror professional public presentations.  Students will present their analyses, and at the end of all three presentations, will answer questions posed by members of the public much as they would be expected to do in a professional, civic setting.           

Here are the topics:

• Expansion of casino gambling: To what extent does gambling currently provide a reliable source of income to the state of Illinois?  Does the benefit to the state outweigh social problems that accompany gambling?  Will the gambling expansion proposal recently considered in Springfield have a positive impact on the state economy and the budget?

• Charter schools as a remedy for urban education: Problems in our big-city schools are well known.  Among the proposed remedies is the concept of charter schools, which are publicly funded but not subject to the same rules as traditional schools.  Are charter schools a viable option?  If not, why not?  If so, under what circumstances?

• Performance-based funding for higher education:  Illinois public colleges and universities will soon be funded in part by a formula that rates their performance in such areas as student retention and graduation rates.  How does performance-based funding work?  What are the experiences in other states?  How should a funding formula be written so it does not unfairly punish an accessible university such as SIU Carbondale?

Presentations will last about 15 minutes each.  A question and answer period follows the presentations.