Faculty/Instructor Profiles

Faculty Profile: Professor Ronald Fisher – Expertise in Public Finance

fisherMaster of Public Policy faculty Professor Ronald Fisher has had a distinguished career during his time at Michigan State University. His professional highlights include serving as Dean of MSU’s Honors College, Chairperson of the Department of Economics, Deputy Treasurer for the State of Michigan, and as a Visiting Professor and Fellow at a number of universities and institutions in the United States and abroad. He has traveled extensively and given many presentations to share his expertise in economics, particularly government finance issues.

He has also received a number of awards, including the 2014 Stephen D. Gold Award from the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. This award recognizes outstanding achievements through contributions to “public financial management in the field of intergovernmental relations and state and local finance.”

Professor Fisher earned his Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry with high honors from Michigan State and his PhD in Economics from Brown University. His textbook State and Local Public Finance is highly regarded and used in universities across the country.

He has taught numerous courses at Michigan State. He notes, “Each class is unique because of the different set of students in that class. It is the students (rather than the course, location, time, [or] semester) that make it a favorite.”

His research has frequently focused on state and local government debt, government borrowing and infrastructure investment, and the effect of perceptions of government financial information on attitudes and behavior.

His recent article with Robert W. Wassmer, “Does Perception of Gas Tax Paid Influence Support for Funding Highway Improvements?” in Public Finance Review (2016) addressed these three issues. Fisher and Wassmer found that likely voters in both Michigan and California consistently overestimate the gasoline tax and that this affects their support for highway infrastructure investment. They recommended that proponents of investment proposals address voter misconceptions, which are a common problem for policymakers working in public finance.

Other major challenges he observes in public finance are determining suitable and effective funding systems for elementary and secondary education, achieving sufficient revenue generation at both the state and local level, and encouraging infrastructure investment. Last year, he highlighted the importance of appropriate infrastructure investment in a Detroit Free Press article addressing the role lack of such funding played in the Flint water crisis.

Professor Fisher advises public policy students to determine what their goals are and take the time to design an effective plan to reach these objectives.

MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: MSU Professor Dr. Amita Chudgar Shares Research on Education and Development

img_0616Dr. Amita Chudgar was the featured presenter at an engaging session of the MPP Speaker Series last Wednesday. Chudgar is an MSU specialist in education policy, particularly in the context of international development. Her open presentation style encouraged participation from our MPP students, who took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and comment on her ongoing research.

Dr. Chudgar’s work focuses on educational access and attainment in areas facing serious resource constraints. She utilizes both national and cross-national datasets to uncover how different environments and policy factors affect educational participation and achievement outcomes. Her academic training in economics and methods complement her knowledge of policy and social contexts.

Chudgar noted that, over the past two decades, primary school enrollment has risen dramatically around the world. Now that access has been improved, however, communities, teachers, and policymakers must face the challenge of ensuring that children receive quality instruction and attain learning goals. Keeping students enrolled in school as they move on to the secondary level is an additional difficulty.

Many countries lack a sufficient pipeline of students interested in becoming teachers. chudgar1Chudgar’s research has uncovered several reasons why this is the case. Attempts at solving any of these problems often affect other aspects of the educational environment. For this reason, education policy in the developing world is a complex and interesting field of research.

A recent project funded by UNICEF examined the demographics of those who teach the most marginalized students. As in other studies, Chudgar and her fellow researchers found that experience level among other factors is important in understanding teacher distribution.

In many countries, younger teachers are assigned to more rural or less desirable locations. As they gain experience and expertise, they transfer to more attractive positions. This leaves many marginalized students with the least experienced instructors. Many promising students are discouraged from becoming teachers and are instead pushed to enter other fields. Some countries, Chudgar explained, have reduced requirements for becoming a teacher in order to address shortages, but the tradeoff is that educational quality may suffer.

MPP students added to this discussion by sharing their own experiences with teaching and learning in North America, Europe, and Africa. Questions were raised about the role of technology in improving educational outcomes. This is connected to tendencies to package education in a uniform manner in hopes of more efficient delivery. Chudgar noted that this may raise ethical and pedagogical issues.

chudgar2One research note that students can take away from Chudgar’s presentation is the availability of large-scale databases that can be used to examine interesting policy questions. Making good use of existing data, often in the public domain, has been an important component of several of her recent projects.

Chudgar’s research brings to mind the fundamental policy question of balancing cost efficiency, equity, and quality. She believes that research can inform policy and that research on educational policy should also be responsive to ongoing policy debates and questions.

Dr. Chudgar is currently teaching a course on Economics of Education. This course focuses on American domestic issues and shows how economic tools can inform education. She encouraged first-year MPP students to consider taking this class next spring and to explore other special topics courses in MSU’s renowned Education Policy PhD program.


Hire An MPP

Hire An MPP: Alexa Malesky

Many of Michigan State University’s second-year Master of Public Policy students will be graduating this May. They have a wealth of experience, knowledge, and passion that will allow them to put the skills they’ve acquired to good use. We’re posting profiles of all our soon-to-be graduates so you can get to know them—and maybe find the next addition to your firm or organization!

alexaName: Alexa Malesky

Ideal Job Location: United States

Ideal Job: “I’d love to work in a policy think-tank focusing on education policy,” Alexa says. She has long been interested in politics and education policy is particularly compelling to her. Coming from a family of many teachers, she has a personal connection to this field in addition to the interest inspired by her own education and experiences.

Alexa is also interested in governmental relations roles at large corporations. Eventually, she would like to be in an executive position, such as director, at an education policy think tank.

Work Experience: Last summer, Alexa had first-hand experience with think tank policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. She shares, “I gained a greater understanding of the education policy sector and further developed my passion in advocating for school choice policies and more options for students everywhere to succeed.”

Currently, Alexa is working at the Lansing lobbying firm MGS Consultants.

“This position allows me to keep in contact with a wide range of clients and updating them with various policy topics such as energy and technology, health, higher education, and transportation. Through this position, I’m able to fine tune my communication skills and get experience in developing professional relationships.”

Skills and Academic Training: The MPP program has allowed Alexa to enjoy courses well-suited to her strong analytical skills, like economics and statistics. These courses provide excellent training in how to analyze information, create and interpret statistical models, and understand important economic principles. Alexa plans to combine this knowledge with her experience and understanding of educational policy.

Alexa aspires to make a positive impact on citizens’ lives through policy work. “I would love the opportunity to collect research, analyze the best pathway, and craft policy to help students reach their full potential.”


MPP Alumni Use Their Skills in China

The Master of Public Policy Program teaches students the skills they need to succeed in the U.S. and abroad. Many of international students who have returned to their home countries have applied what they have learned to a diverse range of careers. Here we catch up with two MPP alumni currently working in China:

keranKeran Zhu

2015 graduate Keran is currently working at the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation. COFCO Group, based in Beijing, owns many different companies but is particularly focused on the food processing and manufacturing industry. On a daily basis, Keran assists in completing administrative tasks, writes reports and articles, and provides additional support for the company.

In the future, Keran would like to use the knowledge he has developed to become an entrepreneur. He says that he will continue to accumulate valuable skills and experience through this work at COFCO Group to help prepare for his own business.

Reflecting on his time in the MPP program, Keran thinks that problem-solving skills and a methodological approach to thinking have been the most valuable lessons for him.

Keran urges MPP students to take advantage of internship opportunities. A good balance between work experiences and their studies can benefit their future career as well as teach them important concepts.

For international students, he says that these experiences can help understand the United States, its government, and social practices.

xiaoyuXiaoyu Chen

2014 graduate Xiaoyu Chen currently works at Ocean University of China. She serves as a teaching assistant in the School of Literature. Xiaoyu also helps students who participate in a cooperative summer program with Ohio State University. She introduces exchange students to Chinese culture and helps them integrate into their host families. Xiaoyu has also given lectures about international relations between China and the U.S.

On top of these activities, Xiaoyu is currently helping a friend who owns a venture capital company. She uses her skills to assist with business plans, public relations, and creating data reports.

Like Keran, Xiaoyu feels that the MPP program’s training in analytical thinking was the most important part of her education. She can easily deal with concepts in international relations and understand how different interest groups may interact.

Xiaoyu plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the U.S. or Hong Kong. She would like to do research that would support better U.S.-Chinese relations and design policies to help everyone in society take part in its benefits.

She recommends that MPP students take an active approach to participating in and learning about the organizations they’re interested in.



MPP Alumnus Profile: Cameron Mock

mockcAs Director of Fiscal Policy & Analysis for Chicago Public Schools, Cameron Mock is in a position to influence many of the District’s most important decisions. He never loses sight of the fact that his work can affect policies that shape the educational experience of hundreds of thousands of students.

His work requires him to engage with public officials at multiple levels of government. During the Chicago Public Schools’ contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union, Mock was a member of the CPS bargaining team. His analyses were important for their assessment of contract proposals. Similarly, he has testified before the state’s General Assembly committees and the Chicago Board of Education about the impact of various spending and policy proposals.

Mock says that as a Masters of Public Policy student education finance “wasn’t really on [his] radar.” He was most interested in tax policy. But when he did work with education budgets, he realized how closely related education and taxes were, as well as how important education is to economic health.

Mock recalls, “Furthermore, I knew I wanted to do something where I could make the greatest difference on the most lives. It finally occurred to me that nearly everyone is invested in educational outcomes— whether someone has a child, pays taxes, or simply wants to live in a country or region with robust economic growth, it all generally comes back to how we invest resources in our education system.”

Prior to entering the MPP program, Mock completed an undergraduate degree in Political Science at Michigan State University. During this time, he interned with a state representative and later worked on the same individual’s successful campaign for the Michigan Senate.

It was during the Masters of Public Policy program that Mock developed a real passion for finance. This translated into a job as a Fiscal Analyst at the Senate Fiscal Agency, and it was there that he became involved in education finance. He credits the expertise and concern for the public good among the staff at the Fiscal Agency with giving him a strong foundation for his future career.

After moving to Chicago, Mock became Budget Manager at Illinois Governor’s Office of Management & Budget.

He explains, “In this role, I managed the Governor’s education budgets and conducted tax and fiscal analyses for him and members of his senior staff. As I grew more familiar with the intricacies of the education funding system in Illinois, I set my sights on the financial challenges that face Chicago Public Schools.”

In his previous position as Budget Manager for CPS, and now as a Director, Mock oversees the forecasting and budgeting of over $6 billion in revenues, money that Chicago’s students and schools depend on. He sees it has his duty to care for the District’s finances to ensure that students receive a sound education that will help them learn and put them on the path to future success.

Mock’s advice to policy students is to always persevere in the face of setbacks or self-doubt. As he’s illustrated, being ready to take advantage of opportunities and learning from each experience can lead to new and rewarding work.

Internships, Student Profiles

MPP In the Summer, The Places They Go: Alexa Malesky

Alexa Malesky

Alexa Malesky is a linked-student in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) program who will complete her degree in 2017. Being a linked student, Alexa graduated in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science Pre-Law while concurrently working on her master’s degree.  This summer, Alexa has been interning with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy as an education policy intern, and has had many opportunities to utilize what she has learned in the classroom in her internship.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy seeks to improve the quality of life for Michiganders by developing research and promoting these findings in the policy area. The organization focuses on enhancing individual citizen’s liberty and independence, a stance that Alexa fully supports.

Through her internship, Alexa has been tasked with collecting demographic, financial, and academic data to enhance research tools. She has also had the opportunity to write for the weekly publication, the Michigan Education Digest. Most recently, she has been updating the superintendent contract database and researching Detroit charter school transportation practices. These experiences have allowed her to get an inside look at the workings of a think tank and expand her knowledge of education policy. She has also been exposed to fiscal, labor, and economic policy through the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Intern University, which holds a weekly speaker series that provides interns the opportunity to listen to and network with prominent speakers in various areas of policy.

Alexa has been enjoying her internship and is very grateful for the experience she has received this summer. Her career goal has been to work in a state policy think-tank, and her internship has helped confirm this goal. Her internship has helped her grow as a professional while also solidifying her passion for education policy. She looks forward to the rest of the summer and is excited to see what other experiences she can gain from her internship.

MPP Speaker Series

MDE Official Tells MPP Students about Challenges and Rewards of Policymaking


Venessa Keesler, Deputy Superintendent for Accountability Services at the Michigan Department of Education, spoke with MSU MPP students on January 19.

Last week students in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy program had the privilege of talking with Venessa Keesler, the Deputy Superintendent for Accountability Services at the Michigan Department of Education, about the challenges and rewards of creating and implementing policies that affect children and families across the state.

“I come from a working class family,” said Keesler, who grew up in Michigan. “My parents sent me to public school, and expected public school to do its job—and it did.” Keesler went on to get her Bachelor’s degree in sociology from Harvard University, and then, wanting to “make a difference” for people in need, she took a job as a seventh-grade social studies teacher in a low-income suburb of Boston.

keesler_2-001While she enjoyed teaching, she came to feel that the extent of influence she, or any teacher, could have was limited by the systems in which they worked. So Keesler set out to learn how to improve school systems, getting a Ph.D. in Measurement and Quantitative Methods from MSU’s College of Education. From there she started working with the Michigan Department of Education, ascending through the ranks to her current position.

As Deputy Superintendent for Accountability Services, Keesler is in charge of standardized testing for Michigan students as well as educator evaluations, teacher evaluations, school district accountability, and more. While she acknowledges that many of the areas she works on are contentious, Keesler says she continues to be very excited about the potential that assessment and accountability measures have to help improve education for children throughout the state.

Policy in the Real World

Keesler gave MPP students a fascinating glimpse at what awaits many of them in the real world of creating and implementing policies. While most public servants would like to make their decisions as evidence-based as possible, she said, the desire to be methodical must be balanced against the need to respond in a timely fashion to demands from elected officials and the public. Policymakers are also constrained by budgets and by political dynamics. For example, while Keesler emphasized that the MDE is a nonpartisan entity, she noted that some interesting dynamics arise in the current situation in which Democrats hold a majority of seats on Michigan’s Board of Education, while the State’s Executive and Legislature are Republican-controlled.

Keesler also emphasized the importance of the people-skills needed for “making bureaucracy work and actually getting a policy implemented.”

“I would love to have a cadre of people doing research on all of these areas”

MPP students who came to the talk looking for ideas for research projects were not disappointed. Keesler encouraged students to learn more about MDE’s “Top 10 in 10” initiative, which aims to put Michigan into the top 10 states in educational performance within the next decade. She said research regarding all seven of the initiative’s strategic goals would be valuable to MDE and the state.

“I would love to have a cadre of people doing research on all of these areas” to inform policy decisions, said Keesler.

Keesler said research in the following policy areas, among others, would be helpful to the state:

  • Supply-demand mismatch: Keesler noted that while in the aggregate Michigan has an abundant supply of teachers (each year the number of teachers Michigan produces is higher than the number of open teaching jobs), there are communities that cannot get enough teachers. Cities such as Pontiac, Flint, and Detroit deal with shortages as high as 50% of their ideal levels of full-time teachers. “What policies could Michigan implement to correct this?” asked Keesler.
  • Accountability systems: Keesler said that research on best practices for evaluating schools and districts in a way that recognizes needs and problems, but that results in support instead of punishment for those districts, would be valuable.
  • Educator evaluations: Keesler said research on best practices on methods of evaluating educators would also be helpful to the MDE.