When George Washington died in 1799, his will directed that a national university be founded in Washington, D.C. He bequeathed 50 shares in the Potomac Company, a shipping and transit endeavor, to be used to support a school for all Americans.
More than 100 years later, Columbian University became The George Washington University, fulfilling the founding father’s wishes.
Today, the university serves more than 26,000 students from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and 130 countries. It has 10 schools, including the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM).
“Today, politics has become more complex than ever,” says Dr. Lara Brown, Director of the GSPM.
“The rules of engagement are different, fundraising is different,” she says. “It’s complicated to get in the game and, once in the game, governing involves so many more pieces of a global, interconnected world.”
Still, not all of those students are able to attend classes in person in our nation’s capital.
“Plus,” Lara says, “politics happen everywhere; not just in D.C.”
That’s why the school offers its Political Management and Strategic Public Relations master’s degree program fully online, truly making it available to all Americans as Washington envisioned.
Lara Brown explains why it’s vital for her passionate and dedicated students to learn the political process as professionals:
A Commitment to Staying Local
Roughly 200 students take advantage of the online political degree program each year.
“A large number of these students are mid-career professionals who develop an intense interest in getting involved,” Lara says.
“They’re also very committed to staying local,” she says.
Former Illinois State Senator Dan Duffy is an online program alumnus.
He left the Illinois state legislature last year to lead the non-profit Prevent Child Abuse America in Chicago.
Dan ran an independent business prior to serving in the Illinois statehouse.
In a school profile, he said: “Between the Senate and my small business, I couldn’t have pursued this degree if I had to travel to school. The only option was to do it online when I could fit it into my schedule.”
“What I wanted to do was to learn the science behind the processes that I was doing,” Dan said. “I wanted to learn how to be more efficient and effective at what I was doing.”
Another alum, Selby Bush, is now an adjunct professor in the program. She works full time as the Government Affairs Manager at global resources company BHP.
And, as graduate Zechery Fountain explains in this video, the online program helped him pursue politics and work in Utah at the same time.
Why Get Involved?
Lara Brown says the school’s online student cohort often has a broader range of conversations because they’re coming from so many different places and careers. The program has admitted practicing physicians and local politicians and everything in between.
What they all have in common is a desire to accomplish a goal.
“Our online students and graduates typically see more tangible results from their work,” Lara says. “They’re filling potholes or earmarking funding for important projects.”
“Still, there’s really no rational reason to get involved in politics,” she says.
“To be a political professional,” she says, “you have to be committed to the process, not results—because sometimes it takes an entire career to push a piece of legislation or champion a cause.”
“Our students really have to fall in love with the system,” Lara says, “and make it their career.”
Lara Brown explains what’s often missing in politics: an explanation of how the process works … and why that process is so important:
A Like-Minded Community
When a new cohort of students begin classes this fall, it will be the 30th year the university has offered classes online to the next generation of political professionals — Pearson has been helping put those classes online since 2007.
“This is such an important moment in time for them and for our country,” Lara says. “More and more incoming students want to participate in and engage with politics.”
New students are following in the footsteps of some graduates who’ve become quite successful.
“Alums are in state legislatures, others are lobbyists in Albany, N.Y. and Sacramento, C.A.—we have an alum who holds a position in Japan’s prime minister’s cabinet,” Lara says.
“Wherever our graduates land, their experience taking our classes is often the first time they realize there are other people as infatuated with politics as they are,” she says.
“It’s such a gratifying realization to know that you’re not alone in this crazy business,” Lara says, “no matter which side of the aisle you’re on.”
Lara Brown says professional politicians—not amateurs—have formed the foundation of our political system since the Revolution: