K Street is getting an education.
Lobbyists and advocates who want to change the common misconceptions that the profession is a distasteful and unethical racket will have a new tool for respectability — a university degree.
Two recently announced educational programs would give both K Street newcomers and veterans a chance to learn skills and bolster their resume.
George Washington University revealed a new master’s degree program last month, with educational tracks focusing on global advocacy and lobbying.
Mid-career professionals will also get a chance to develop their skillset and management skills with a new certificate program through the Public Affairs Council professional organization.
These two courses join established programs such as the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute at American University and the Association of Government Relations Professionals’ Lobbying Certificate Program
“These programs can help combat the negative connotations around the L word — the scarlet letter,” veteran K Street recruiter Julian Ha tells Byron Tau of Politico. “These certifications can impart justified legitimacy to this space.”
Ha is with Heidrick & Struggles, a board member of the Public Affairs Council.
Educational programs come at a time when the public opinion of K Street has is at record lows.
A dismal 6 percent of Americans rank lobbyists as “high or very high” in honesty and ethical standards according to a Gallup poll released last year— ranked last in the list of 22 professions.
“I hope the syllabus includes strategies for dodging phone calls from members of Congress asking for money,” joked Adam Smith, communications director for the Public Campaign election watchdog group.
GWU developed the program to respond to a move by many K Street shops to open outposts in Asia, Brussels and other global spots.
Housed in the Graduate School of Political Management, the university will accept a small introductory class—less than 20 students – with plans to add more in the future.
The goal is to train prospective industry experts, including lobbyists, trade association staffers, strategic consultants and NGO staffers looking to work in the U.S. or abroad.
GWU’s hands-on training, with a faculty of working professionals, is appealing to students, according to adjunct professor David Rehr, a former CEO and trade association president, who pressed for the program.
“Our students are drawn to that applied methodology,” he told Politico. “They’re just not opening books and reading the great thoughts.”
Rehr expects a mix of career-switchers, recent college graduates and working professionals; they will all be seeking promotions or to develop their expertise.
Since 1987, GWU has offered a master’s degree in legislative affairs— degree programs with adjunct faculty that included former or sitting members of Congress such as Reps. Adrian Smith, Bob Carr, Jason Altmire and Mark Kennedy.
The new programs have a direct precedent in political training programs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, which offer lobbying and advocacy classes as part of a master’s degree in public policy. American University also has a Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute providing symposiums, courses and workshops on lobbying.