K-State's regional and community planning program for students who want to help communities, governments shape a better future
By Beth Bohn
Help a community plan its future growth, have a hand in shaping public policy or help find ways for a town to develop its economic potential.
These are just some of the career opportunities possible with a graduate degree in regional and community planning from Kansas State University, according to Al Keithley, associate head of K-State's department of landscape architecture and regional and community planning. Keithley also is director of the department's master's program in regional and community planning.
K-State's regional and community planning program is a multidisciplinary graduate program specializing in the study of community and neighborhood planning, community economic development and policy analysis at a community/regional scale. The professional master's degree program offers a course of study that prepares a student for a specific career at the local, metropolitan, regional or state level. The 48 credit-hour program is offered through the department of landscape architecture and regional and community planning and the K-State Graduate School.
"The job positions that our planning alumni have taken tend to cover a wide range of opportunities and interests," Keithley said. "The majority of the graduates in the last decade have taken positions typically with a city planning department or a community development department some in 'current' planning and others in 'long-range' planning. These types of opportunities are well suited to students with either an arts and sciences undergraduate background or a design background."
Students who have a design or engineering background in their undergraduate studies tend to explore more job opportunities in professional planning and architectural consulting practice within the private sector, as opposed to the public sector, he said.
Since planning is a "management" type of degree, its options are diverse and numerous, Keithley said.
"We have transportation planners, design-oriented planners, historical preservation planners, city administrators and city planners, developers, community development planners both in the public and private sectors, environmental planners, social planners and people who work with Native American communities on tribal lands.
"Some students use our program as a springboard to becoming an attorney by going to law school to specialize in land use law after they receive their regional and community planning degree," Keithley said. "Others seek the next level of credentialization by pursuing a Ph.D. program, after which they seek positions in academia. Planning jobs also exist at the state and federal levels and in the international marketplace with such agencies as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the United Nations. Several of our alumni have pursued these options."
Keithley said K-State's master of regional and community planning program provides the necessary skills and tools graduates need to open a variety of doors, based on their individual interests and desires for professional practice.
"There will always be a need for 'planners' who have the ability to think critically, analyze the alternative options and recommend viable solutions to planning commissions, city commissions and public administrators concerning the future of their communities," Keithley said. "Planning becomes a link between the citizens of the community and governmental entity and provides the vehicle for determining a common community vision. Citizen participation is the key, and the planner is in a position to engage the public in defining that vision."
A bachelor's degree from an accredited institution is currently required to enter the K-State graduate program. However, some curriculum changes being proposed will let undergraduates apply for a five-year program to obtain the master of regional and community planning degree, skipping the bachelor's degree process. If approved by the Kansas Board of Regents, the five-year program could be available as early as fall 2006, Keithley said.
According to Keithley, 75 percent of students entering the planning profession today come from the disciplines of sociology, geography, economics, political science, natural resource management and business administration. The other 25 percent come from architecture, landscape architecture and engineering.
"When they emerge from the planning program, they all speak the same 'planning' language and can communicate with each other, as well as the general public," he said. "That's why we seek students who have an interest in participating in the future, helping to ensure that a desirable quality of life exists in the future, and who want to become a 'change' element in preserving our resources, our way of life and our ideals for future generations."
Written and oral communication skills are the top skills mentioned in nearly all planning job announcements, Keithley said.
"Planners are managers of the social networks in the city, economic expansions, environmental quality and the design environment through regulation and enforcement procedures," Keithley said. "To become a planner requires only a strong interest and belief that a you can make a difference in preserving and enhancing the future.
"What is done today will have an impact on what the future holds for our society tomorrow," he said. "If this generation does not make a conscious effort to preserve our natural resources or change our pattern of resource use, there will be no guarantee that those resources will exist for the next generation to enjoy. Planning for tomorrow requires action today. The thrust of the regional and community planning program is geared to presenting the big picture and getting students to think about the problems of today in a much broader context in order to seek solutions that can be implemented today which will have a positive impact on tomorrow."
on the master of regional and community planning program is available