It’s back-to-school season, and Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) graduate Solomiya Shpak is packing her bulky suitcases and relocating to Virginia to start her PhD. At George Mason University, Shpak will join her husband, Vitaliy, who is also completing his graduate studies in the United States.

“I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to pursue public policy in a serious way without KSE,” said Solomiya.

Initially a project of Eurasia Foundation’s Economics Education and Research Consortium, KSE has been an independent institution since 2003. The school offers master’s degrees in financial economics, economic analysis, and business economics and positions its graduates for success in business and academia.

Before she was a PhD student, Solomiya was a research assistant and master’s candidate at KSE. Like Solomiya, many KSE graduates go on to competitive international PhD programs and 90 alumni have completed their PhDs. Recent graduates have earned PhDs from the University of Michigan and New York University and landed tenure-track positions at Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley. Ten percent of graduates continue their education in PhD programs abroad.

“KSE is an intellectual and educational jewel in Eastern Europe,” enthused KSE President Pavlo Sheremeta. Others agree.

“KSE offers by far the best economics education in Ukraine,” said Dr. Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics and senior advisor to KSE’s Board of Trustees. “KSE has both set a high standard for others to follow and opened a wide door to the best Western universities. It has built up a critical mass of dozens of Ukrainians with good Western PhDs in economics.”

Of the school’s 516 graduates, 300 remain in Ukraine. Solomiya is among the majority who plan to return to Ukraine upon completion of their advanced degrees. “KSE encourages its students to think about career opportunities in Ukraine,” she said.

KSE’s graduates include Olena Bilan, chief economist at Dragon Capital, Ukraine, Vyacheslav Honchar, Vice President of ING Bank, Ukraine, and Yegor Grygorenko, a manager at Bain & Company, Ukraine, among many others.

Why is KSE doing so well?

“From the outset, our goal was not only to produce graduates with master’s degrees, but also to provide viable career paths in Ukraine for our graduates. The fact that today the faculty of KSE is almost exclusively Ukrainian is one measure of the program’s impact and a key to the school’s success,” noted Horton Beebe-Center, president of Eurasia Foundation.

When it was launched in 1995, critics questioned whether the US government should spend its resources bringing North American and European faculty to Kyiv when students could receive the same education in London, Chicago, or Toronto for less. Over time, KSE has undergone a remarkable change: it gradually replaced foreign professors with Western-trained Ukrainian faculty, and in doing so, the school once criticized for being too foreign has become a fully Ukrainian institution operating at an international standard. Of its current full-time faculty, only one professor is not of Ukrainian origin.

Ukraine lags behind on corruption indices, and the university system is no exception. But KSE is different. According to Åslund, “KSE has introduced a high standard of honesty in an otherwise profoundly corrupt education system.”

In addition, KSE has switched to a model where students pay for part of their education, which is uncommon in the former Soviet Union. Typically university education is free or heavily subsidized by the state. In spite of the tuition, KSE has no shortage of applicants.

Even KSE’s alumni giving rate is remarkable. Despite being a relatively small, young school in a country where alumni giving is a foreign concept, nearly 20 percent of KSE alumni give back to the school. In the US, where alumni giving is expected, on average only 13.5 percent of graduates donate.

“KSE has a remarkable network among its graduates. I can’t recall a conference or a business meeting where I did not see a former classmate or a professor,” said Yuriy Gorodnichenko, a KSE alumnus and assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I am proud to be a part of this network,” added Gorodnichenko.