The 5 Best Online Bachelor’s in Public Policy Programs

by TBS Staff
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Earning a public policy degree online allows you to understand the variables that affect governmental decision making, including political and economic factors. Public policy influences how society functions, and learning all you can about the field is essential. Your public policy degree prepares you to work as a policy analyst, political lobbyist, or public relations specialist. A 2015 National Association of Colleges and Employers survey reported that those who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in public policy earn an average annual salary of $47,089.

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Online Bachelor’s in Public Policy Degree Program Ranking Guidelines

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We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

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The Best Online Bachelor’s in Public Policy Degree Programs

Pennsylvania State University-World Campus View School Profile $$$$ University Park, PA 50% Pennsylvania State University - World Campus is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Pennsylvania State University is a publically funded university with campuses throughout the state. World Campus is their virtual hub that offers a selection of fully online programs, including 34 bachelor’s degrees, six associate degrees, 51 master’s degrees, one doctorate degree, and a variety of certificates. Among these is the online bachelor’s of science in health policy and administration which prepares students to improve the healthcare system through policy and administrative actions.

Pennsylvania State’s BS in health policy and administration online requires 120 credit hours of coursework and can be completed in four years. This online public policy degree provides students with foundational knowledge of the management and policy elements of healthcare. Courses cover topics, such as population health and healthcare, health systems management, and strategic planning and marketing for health services. The program requires students to participate in a field experience internship at a healthcare facility before the final semester of coursework. This internship can be completed in the student’s own community and does not require students to be near a Pennsylvania State campus.

Applicants to the program must have completed high school or have obtained their GED.

Arizona State University View School Profile $$ Tempe, AZ 58% Arizona State University - ASU Online is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Arizona State University is a public research university located in Tempe, Arizona, with other campuses across the Phoenix metropolitan area. The university provides several fully online degrees and certificates that include hybrid programs and individual online courses.

Their online BS in public service and public policy benefits students who wish to work within government or public service institutions dealing with policy development. Possible careers associated with this degree include city planner, community health worker, government programs specialist, or human resources manager. Students take 120 credit hours of coursework, which can usually be completed in four years. Participants of this public policy bachelor’s degree should maintain a minimum GPA of a 2.0 throughout the program.

Core courses feature topics like public policy and service in the 21st century, public service ethics, and contemporary policy challenges. The curriculum also offers three interdisciplinary tracks for students who wish to combine public policy knowledge with another area of study, such as criminal justice and criminology, social work, or tourism and leisure. Degree requirements include a capstone course where students apply the knowledge they learned in the classroom in a hands-on research project.

Wilmington University View School Profile $$$ New Castle, DE 34% Wilmington University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Wilmington University is a private university, with its main campus located in New Castle, Delaware and other campuses located throughout Delaware and New Jersey. In addition to their traditional on-campus undergraduate and graduate programs, they offer over 90 fully online degrees, certificates, and concentrations.

Their online BS in government and public policy degree prepares students for a career in government agencies or nonprofit organizations involved in shaping, developing, and implementing policies. This degree is offered in a traditional classroom setting, hybrid format, and fully online. Their online option takes place asynchronously through the learning management system Blackboard, where students can log in and complete assignments at their own pace. Degree requirements include 120 credit hours of coursework and can typically be completed in four years. Government and public policy courses cover topics, such as education policy, criminal justice policy, and international organization and politics.

If students have completed relevant coursework at another institution, they may transfer up to 90 credits toward their public policy degree online at Wilmington University. Wilmington also offers a degree completion option in government and public policy for those who already hold an associate degree in the same or related field from an accredited institution. Students who wish to transfer credits from an associate degree should consult an academic advisor to confirm eligibility.

Indian River State College View School Profile Fort Pierce, FL 36% Indian River State College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Indian River State College is a community college that serves the counties of Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, and St. Lucie. In addition to their main campus in Fort Pierce, Florida, Indian River offers numerous satellite campuses and facilities throughout these counties. IRSC offers 12 completely web-based bachelor’s and associate degrees online.

Among their fully online offerings, IRSC provides a bachelor of science degree in public administration with a concentration in public policy and leadership. This is a 60-credit hour program that can typically be completed in five semesters. Courses feature topics, such as public relations for public managers, ethics and conflict resolution, and program evaluation in public management. Degree requirements include a capstone course to be completed in the student’s final semester.

Scholarships are available to students through the Indian River State College Foundation. Scholarships can be applied to online programs and receive funding from individual departments within the school. IRSC also offers a transfer scholarship for students who have graduated, or are nearing graduating, with an associate degree at Indian River State and wish to continue to a bachelor’s degree within the college or at a different institution.

Utica College View School Profile $$$$ Utica, NY 47% Utica College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Located in Utica, New York, Utica College is a private university founded in the 1930s when Syracuse University started offering extension courses. Utica is now a completely independent institution that provides a selection of online programs. Utica College offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate online degrees and certificates in five areas: cybersecurity, healthcare, nursing, physical therapy, and economic crime and fraud. Within their online criminal justice bachelor’s program, Utica offers a specialization in public policy and leadership.

Utica College’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice with a specialization in public policy in leadership emphasizes policy concerning the criminal justice system. This 120-credit hour program prepares students for careers, such as correctional officers, victim advocates, and juvenile probation officers.

Courses within the public policy and leadership concentration cover topics like civil rights and social change, political ethics, and administrative issues in criminal justice. Core courses across all specializations within the major include courts theory and practice, criminal justice communications, and introduction to intelligence studies. Students complete a senior project where they conduct research on a policy issue and analyze implications of policy development or change.

Students who already hold an associate degree in public policy or a related field, or at least 57 credits from an accredited university, may enroll in the online bachelor of science criminal justice program.

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Choosing a Program

The public policy degree online curriculum mirrors that of a traditional classroom. Courses cover business, communication, and ethics in addition to public relations, public health, and fiscal management. Moreover, you can expect to strengthen your public speaking and research skills to communicate effectively and gather, analyze, and articulate data. Some public policy degree programs offer concentrations designed to fit your specific area of interest. Common specializations include disaster preparedness and healthcare administration.

The program and school you select will determine your degree requirements, and students should carefully evaluate each school under their purview. For example, some programs may be offered fully online and allow you to attend class at your convenience, while others may require you to attend campus occasionally. Certain programs also require internships, thesis papers, or capstone projects as part of the curriculum. Additionally, be aware of specific start dates for your program, as some schools only allow enrollment at certain times of the year. Regardless of the program you select, a public policy degree will prepare you to manage an organization’s strategies and develop plans in abidance with laws and regulations.

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Online Bachelor’s in Public Policy Careers

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Your public policy degree affords you the opportunity to select a career that touches lives in a meaningful way. Your degree equips you with the management skills necessary for key roles within several types of organizations, three of which we’ve covered below.

Urban and Regional Planner
These professionals help develop communities by carefully examining population shifts and establishing which facilities are necessary to accommodate them. The profession entails frequent collaboration with government officials and citizens to ensure consensus for the use of public land and resources. Earning a graduate degree in public policy can further hone your problem-solving skills and position you for senior planning roles.
  • Median Annual Salary: $70,020
  • Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Public Relations Specialist
An expert in public relations helps organizations maintain a positive image for the public and media through press releases, client coaching, and speech writing. A master's degree in public policy can help you further sharpen the writing capabilities required in this profession.
  • Median Annual Salary: $58,020
  • Projected Growth Rate: 9%
Social and Community Service Manager
These managers design, coordinate, and implement all aspects of programming, giving community residents access to needed services. In addition to carefully monitoring and assessing programming to ensure its quality, service managers collaborate with internal and external partners. An advanced public policy degree can further help you develop skills in strategic planning, people management, and fundraising.
  • Median Annual Salary: $38,040
  • Projected Growth Rate: 13%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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