The Harvard Kennedy School is Getting More International. Its Offerings Are Not Keeping Pace.


{shortcode-be29865d8a9c7908fa05930b7f2d42574eaa573c}n 2004, just more than one-third of the Harvard Kennedy School’s student body identified as international.

By 2023, that figure had skyrocketed to 56 percent.

At Harvard, the Kennedy School is an outlier. Only 27 percent of students come from abroad across the University, but HKS has more than double that amount — making the school the most international at Harvard.

With a student body that represents 84 foreign countries, it is a status that the school’s leadership likes to celebrate.


During a speech in 2022, outgoing HKS Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf called the “tremendous amount of international diversity” a “huge strength” of the school.

But in interviews with The Crimson, HKS affiliates raised concerns that the school’s curriculum, faculty, and financial aid programs have not kept pace with its growing international student population despite some efforts from leadership.

“We feel that more can be done, more resources can be put in,” said Edmond B. Kombat, a master’s in public administration student from Ghana.

That change might start with Jeremy M. Weinstein, who will succeed Elmendorf on July 1. Weinstein, a Stanford political scientist whose research focuses on Africa, will be the first HKS dean with an academic background in international relations since 2004, when just 36 percent of the student body was international.

Several HKS affiliates said increasing support for international students should be a key priority for Weinstein’s tenure.

“I do hope that with the new dean, they will have a different perspective,” said Alvaro A. Morales Montenegro, a MPA student from Colombia.

‘Very Much U.S.-Centric’

During her first semester at HKS, master’s in public policy student Daniela Campos enrolled in her program’s mandatory “Race and Racism” course. The class was divided into two segments: the first focused explicitly on the United States, while the second allowed students to choose from four tracks — only one of which explored race on an international scale.

Campos — a Colombian student — petitioned to take the international option and was admitted into the course.

But many of her fellow international students were not as lucky.

“I know many international students, they didn’t get the chance to get into that one,” Campos said.

Campos acknowledged that teaching race in a U.S. context was important and added that the Kennedy School’s curricular focus on the U.S. was “not bad,” given the school is located in the country.

HKS spokesperson James F. Smith wrote that the school is “pleased by the increasing number of our students who come from outside the United States.”

“This change has made the Kennedy School a more global community while also maintaining significant focus on U.S. policy challenges,” he added.

Still, several HKS affiliates said the Kennedy School should include more international perspectives in its curriculum.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” Morales said. “You can also have more international perspectives, without having to remove the U.S. perspective.”

Smith wrote that the school is working to “strengthen the international scope” of the curriculum with courses on Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and other regions.

The balance between U.S. and international perspectives varies widely across the four master’s programs at the school: the MPP, the MPA, the master’s in public administration and international development, and the mid-career MPA.

The MPP program — which requires students to take “Race and Racism” as part of its core curriculum — is considered to be more U.S. focused. On the other end, the MPA/ID program, which is nearly 90 percent international, has more courses focused on issues abroad.

Jeffrey A. Frankel — an HKS Economics professor who mostly teaches in the MPA/ID program — said he has long focused on including international perspectives.

“I have steered more and more over time to developing countries for my examples,” Frankel said.

Several students said offering more international perspectives in courses is critical to reflect the Kennedy School’s growing population of students from abroad.

Bintu Zahara Sakor, a Norwegian visiting scholar at HKS, said that since more than half the school’s student body is international, “there’s a need to also reflect that in the courses.

“It is very much U.S.-centric,” she said.


‘Not Representative At All’

As a second-year MPA/ID student, Ruben Anzures has taken nine courses at HKS, taught by a range of faculty members.

But throughout his time at the Kennedy School, Anzures said he has only had one professor with an international background.

“Most of my class is international,” said Anzures, who hails from Mexico. “Yet, I think, in my experience, only one professor was international.”

At the Kennedy School, faculty from abroad comprise only a fraction of the school’s teaching body. In 2023, only 14 percent of HKS faculty members were international — a five-year low.



Several students called for more professors from abroad to reflect the school’s student body. Boris Houenou, an MPA student in the Africa Caucus, said that for an institution that portrays itself as a global school, “that tiny, insignificant number of faculty members is not representative at all.”

Compared to many peer institutions, though, the Kennedy School has proportionally the same or more international faculty members.

At Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, the faculty is only 8 percent international. The faculty at Yale’s Jackson School of Public Affairs is 9 percent international.

HKS Academic Dean David J. Deming, who oversees faculty hiring in his role, wrote in a statement that the school hired 10 new faculty “with international experience” in the last three years.

“We know that making our distinguished faculty more internationally focused is important to meet the changing needs of our student body,” he wrote.

Still, many students expressed hope for more international faculty members, saying that professors from abroad could better teach about their countries’ issues.

Pragun Aggarwal, the Kennedy School Student Government’s vice president of international students, said that when American faculty lead discussions about international issues, the conversations can lack “regional and local nuance, which is so very important.”

Hong Qu, an HKS adjunct lecturer, also said in-person regional knowledge is critical.

“Just presenting material doesn’t really allow for a global or international perspective, especially since many of the students can have more first-hand knowledge of those other countries,” he said.

‘They Couldn’t Finance It’

For many at HKS, the challenge of being a student from abroad starts months before they first arrive on campus.

Morales said the school’s financial aid offerings are “really bad” for international students in particular.

“I have to work here at Harvard, and I’m also working but back home,” Morales said. “Two jobs just to pay rent here.”

An overwhelming majority of international students — 91 percent — said they applied for financial aid, according to a KSSG survey in January 2024. However, only 47 percent of those students ultimately received aid from HKS.

At the Kennedy School, only one-third of the funding for aid can consider a student’s financial need, with the rest distributed based on merit and donor terms.

While Smith wrote that HKS has “significantly increased” need-based aid, several international students said the process remains complicated and less generous than peer institutions.


Aishwarya Singh, a MPP student from India, said financial aid at HKS is particularly confusing for international students.

“Once you say fellowships, those concepts don’t exist if you’re in India,” she said.

Ahmad Mustafa, a MPA student from Pakistan, added that the school’s financial aid application — which is separate from the admission application — was more convoluted than at peer schools.

“You have to submit a bunch of other essays,” Mustafa said. “Students need to be more aware of how much time to allocate compared to other peers schools.”

Smith wrote that HKS is “currently working on simplifying the aid application process and communicating the options more clearly.”

Several international students at HKS said they obtained loans from the Harvard University Employee Credits Union to offset tuition fees. However, HUECU caps loans for international HKS students at $20,000 without a cosigner and $50,000 with one, compared to $65,000 for domestic students.

Ujjwal Kumar, a KSSG representative from India who has paid nearly $115,000 this year to attend HKS, said finding a co-signer is difficult for many international students.

Several students said the Kennedy School’s less generous financial aid offerings discouraged several fellow admits from enrolling in the school.

“I know about eight students also who couldn’t come because they couldn’t finance it,” Kombat, the MPA student from Ghana, said.

While many peer institutions also primarily offer merit-based aid, several students said friends attended other schools since they still offered more aid than HKS.

As Weinstein assumes the Kennedy School’s top post, HKS affiliates were hopeful that he can bring constructive change to better support the growing international student population.

“He will be well equipped, at least better equipped, than maybe the former administration to be able to deliver that,” Houenou said.

“I’m very hopeful that we’re getting someone who has that exposure — that global exposure,” he added. “Let’s hope that that also translates into more initiative.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.