Patterns in MPA Admission Decision-Making: An Application of Social Judgment Theory
Bowman, James S., Chen, Fiona F., Tinkersley, William B., Hilliard, Karen R., Public Administration Quarterly
What to teach and to whom are important issues in public administration. Indeed, after program accreditation became a reality in the 1980s, a task force questioned whether Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree requirements adequately served the needs of government (National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, 1987:13)
An essential part of this concern is the formulation of standards that relate to the abilities and accomplishments of program graduates. Several studies suggest that there is but a modest correlation between student selection criteria and academic, much less professional, success (Harnett and Willingham, 1979; Milner, McNeil, and King, 1984Q). Unless or until the outcome assessment movement (e.g., NASPAA, 1987; American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, 1987; Poister and Ingraham, 1991) can establish a credible linkage between entrance requirements and program goals--reliable knowledge on the predictive validities of selection criteria--admission decisions will become increasingly controversial.
Facing legal scrutiny, official procedures should, at a minimum, accurately reflect requirements needed to gain acceptance in order to dispel suspicions of capricious actions and veiled motives. This empirical investigation estimates the relative importance of the selection criteria employed by individual MPA programs across the country.
The study addresses four questions relevant to admission decision-making. First, which selection criteria are most important to persons charged with making judgments regarding prospective students? Second, what is the form of the utility function for individual decision-makers with respect to each admission decision criterion? Third, do different program officials fall into discrete subgroups according to dependence on certain admission factors? Fourth, do decision-makers use different criteria and utility functions when predicting success than when making admission decisions; if so, how do these differ?
Such knowledge, along with the practices used to integrate application data, should be valuable to students and faculty alike. After the Literature Review and Methods sections, findings from a national survey on admissions decision-making patterns will be presented. The analysis concludes with a discussion of the implications of the data for MPA program standards.
Information about program rules is currently collected (e.g., NASPAA self-studies) but is not easily aggregated to permit a comprehensive perspective on MPA admissions standards. There are several published reports of specific schools, but small sample sizes and differential requirements limit their scope and generality (Klitgaard, 1985:19-23; Guyot and Wiedmann, 1982; Thompson and Kobrak, 1983). One national survey examined attitudes toward admission procedures and selection standards, but the subtleties involved in decision-making were not explored (Bowman, 1988).
Another national study (Bowman and Mangelsdorf, 1989), however, examined how selection criteria are combined by program officials when rendering judgments on applicants. In searching for an overall universal model of admission policies(1), the analysis concluded that "[w]hile it may be that in individual departments vigorous affirmative action policies in graduate admissions are pursued, no such policy favoring women and minorities exists in MPA programs across the nation (Ibid., 156).
The present research examines the same data set to describe decision models used by individual MPA programs. The focus is not on the validity of and attitudes toward selection criteria, but rather on understanding how complex decisions are made. Following Bowman and Mangelsdorf (1989), analysis of hypothetical, skeletal cases illuminate the way that entrance requirements are combined by program officials when making judgments.
NASPAA principal representatives from 210 institutions throughout the United States were mailed a survey booklet, plus follow-ups, in 1988. …