America faces a looming crisis in public service leadership. National disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, along with our struggle against international terrorism, have highlighted the importance of public service and exposed our civic vulnerability. As the baby boomers retire, the statistics will only get worse:

  • 44% of all federal workers will become eligible to retire over the next five years, creating a “federal brain drain” that “threatens to dramatically diminish the federal government’s effectiveness in meeting urgent public needs” (Partnership for Public Service)
  • More than 2 million teachers will be needed in this decade because of teacher attrition and retirement and increased student enrollment (National Center for Education Statistics)
  • More than 80% of the nation’s 17,000 law enforcement agencies report that they cannot fill needed positions due to a lack of qualified candidates (Washington Post, July 2006)
  • The Border Patrol has struggled to recruit and retain college-educated agents who can speak Spanish (New York Times, June 2006)
  • At colleges such as Columbia University’s School of Public Affairs, the percentage of graduates going into public service has dropped by half in the past 25 years (Financial Times, February 2007)

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The challenges of the early twenty-first century underscore how much American democracy depends upon strong public institutions and competent civilian leadership at all levels of society. Given the current crisis in public leadership, there has never been a more auspicious time to pursue George Washington’s dream of a national university:

1) Our nation needs to attract our best and brightest young people into civilian public service careers.

To have a strong, healthy democracy, the United States must continually engage our best and brightest young people in civilian public service. In the past generation, however, top young people have grown increasingly less likely to pursue public service careers, creating a growing shortage of public servants at all levels of society.
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Despite these needs, America has no public undergraduate institution devoted to developing civilian leaders. The Academy will be an inspiring symbol of our government’s commitment to service and will send a clear message to our young people about the importance of serving our nation in a civilian capacity. It will attract top students from across the country and provide a steady stream of well-trained, highly-qualified young people to serve in public institutions around the country.

2) Young people interested in public service need an affordable opportunity to become public leaders.

America has witnessed a renewed sense of patriotism and civic obligation among young people, particularly since 9/11.

  • According to the Higher Education Research Institute, more than two-thirds of the 2005 freshman class expressed a desire to serve others, the highest rate in a generation
  • Applications to programs such as Teach For America, the Peace Corps, and the North American Mission Board have soared.

But the reality is that many young people, particularly those from low-income, minority, and other traditionally underrepresented student groups, are forced to abandon their dreams of giving back to their country because their college loan burdens price them out of public service careers. The cost of pursuing public service careers (as opposed to just one or two years) after graduation can be prohibitive because college tuition has increased dramatically in the past decade – according to the Project on Student Debt, the average college graduate owes about $20,000, an increase of more than 50% in the past decade. With so much debt, students often must give up their dreams of public service careers in favor of more lucrative fields. The Academy will provide students of all economic backgrounds an equal opportunity to serve our country in realms outside the military.