Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance (JRCPPF)

Graduate Students Immerse Themselves in Financial Markets

Sep 8, 2014
Eric Wilkens
Woodrow Wilson School
A group of 33 students at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs spent the final days of summer immersing themselves in the ins and outs of the financial market.
Now in its fifth year, the intensive three-day “Short-Course: Financial Markets for Public Policy Professionals” provides a framework for second-year Master in Public Affairs (MPA) and Master in Public Policy (MPP) students to understand the operations of financial institutions, the economic purposes they serve and the markets in which they deal. 
The course began in response to the financial crisis and economic recovery. It is an important part of the Wilson School’s curriculum and provides students with an introduction to critical concepts in finance, said Wilson School Dean Cecilia Rouse.
“The most recent economic downturn highlighted how financial instruments and financial policy touch every section of our economy. A public policy education is not complete these days without it,” Rouse said. “Students emerge with an understanding of basic concepts in accounting and other key elements of modern financial markets such as derivatives, mortgages and municipal bond markets as well as financial market regulations.” 
Organized and coordinated by the Wilson School’s Julis-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy and Finance (JRCPPF), the course is taught by faculty from Columbia Business School (CBS) and Princeton, government officials and financial industry executives. The program includes seminars on “Understanding the Language of Finance” and “Framework for Understanding Financial Markets” with topics that include private equity, domestic and international trading and investing.
Charles Jones, a professor of finance and economics at CBS, has taught in the program since its inception. This year, he ran an all-day session on treasury securities and credit markets. He said many policy issues are connected to the financial markets.
“We just went through a major financial crisis not too long ago which took a lot of people by surprise. It was very difficult to understand it if you didn’t have some background in the markets,” Jones said. “So in order to help make sensible policy related to crises or if you are working in any sort of public policy area, you’re going to access these financial markets in some way. So you need to have some passing familiarity with it.”
That knowledge of basic concepts is incredibly valuable, according to the students who completed the course. Even though Laura Zachary, MPA ’15, is interested in environmental policy, she said having a general understanding of the financial landscape is essential to any sort of policy work going forward. 
“Everything is so interconnected and I think the course is a great opportunity to understand the economic climate,” Zachary said. “I think a lot of students at the School feel this pressure to sort of pretend we understand financial markets in general, and I think the vast majority of us really don’t. So this is a very valuable experience.”
Samuel DuPont, MPA ’15, added that even though he does not have experience in financial markets, he was hoping to gain a better understanding of how financial markets work and how forces underlying the U.S. economy shape public policy and people’s lives. He anticipates the course will make students better policy makers after they graduate. 
In addition to Jones, speakers for the course this year included Richard Rampell, CEO of Rampell & Rampell; Michael Johannes, professor of finance and economics at CBS; David Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group; R.J. Gallo, senior portfolio manager, senior vice president and head of municipal bond investment group at Federated Investors; Noah Gottdiener, CEO, president and chairman of the board of Duff & Phelps; Aaron Klein, director of the Financial Regulatory Reform Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center; Eliot Spitzer ‘81, former governor of New York; Donald S. Bernstein ’75, head of insolvency and restructuring practice group at Davis, Polk & Wardwell, LLP; and James Leitner, president of Falcon Management Corporation.