The Best Online Doctorate in Public Policy Programs

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As the nation undergoes rapid demographic, political, and social changes, public policy experts have become increasingly important in assessing the needs of a growing and diverse population. From social services administrators to urban planners, these professionals employ statistical analysis to enact positive changes, both locally and nationally. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that some public policy occupations will grow as much as 18% by 2026, indicating that the demand for qualified professionals is rising.

Salisbury University - Salisbury, Maryland

For many with a background in public policy, earning a doctoral degree opens the door to a variety of rewarding occupations. According to the BLS, many policy analyst positions require a Ph.D. A doctorate demonstrates mastery of the skills, concepts, and leadership principles needed to excel in public policy-related roles. In this guide, we'll examine everything you need to know about pursuing a public policy Ph.D. online, from choosing the right program to funding your education.

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The Best Online Doctorate in Public Policy Degree Programs

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West Chester University of Pennsylvania
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What Else can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Public Policy Program?

Every program is different, and course offerings, completion times, and other details tend to vary from school to school. Some fundamental concepts and topics, however, are included in most curricula. If you pursue a public policy Ph.D. online, you're likely to encounter one or more of the following courses.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Public Policy

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Public Policy?

While most full-time students complete their online Ph.D in public policy in 2-4 years, the length of an online degree depends on several factors. Residency requirements, dissertation procedures, and transferred credits all impact degree length, but few variables are as influential as program structure and format.

To provide maximum flexibility, many schools offer their online degrees in an asynchronous format. Featuring fewer and more relaxed deadlines and self-paced coursework, asynchronous programs allow working professionals to review lectures and complete assignments when and where they choose. While this format allows candidates to complete their studies quickly, it also requires strong organizational skills and personal dedication.

By comparison, cohort-based programs are highly structured, with stricter deadlines and scheduling requirements. Emphasizing group discussions and collaboration between cohort members and faculty, courses may require students to be online at specified times. While cohort learning can be more time-consuming, it also provides a greater amount of academic support and accountability.

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Accreditation for Online Public Policy Doctorate Degrees

Accreditation might not be on your mind as you explore schools and program options, but it should be. A school's accreditation has the potential to impact your education, finances, and even your employment prospects. Awarded by organizations known as accrediting bodies, accreditation is a process used to ensure that institutions maintain high academic and ethical standards. Depending on the organization assessing it, a school may receive national or regional accreditation. Most nationally accredited institutions are for-profit, vocational, or religious schools, while public, nonprofit colleges and universities usually receive regional accreditation.

Most students prefer schools with regional accreditation for several reasons. Viewed as being more prestigious than nationally accredited schools, regionally accredited colleges also feature better credit transfer options. Credits earned at regionally accredited schools easily transfer to other institutions, while the opposite is rarely true. In addition, some employers prefer to hire graduates of regionally accredited schools.

Accreditation also helps the U.S. Department of Education (ED) decide which schools should receive federal funding. Using the information provided by accrediting bodies, the ED distributes financial aid to institutions that maintain government standards. Organizations like the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) also play a part in the process. An association of around 3,000 colleges and universities, CHEA monitors accrediting bodies and ensures that they adhere to federal policies and procedures. CHEA also provides the public with valuable data regarding accreditation and degree mills, and maintains a database of accredited schools and programs on its website.

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Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Public Policy Graduates

Doctorate in Public Policy Careers

In addition to strengthening a range of broadly applicable skills, an online Ph.D. in public policy presents students with a chance to specialize in a particular field of interest. While many graduates go on to become public policy analysts, others take on a variety of related positions. For individuals with strong analytical skills and the drive to create positive changes through political action, an online Ph.D in public policy is the key to landing roles like the examples below.

  1. Political scientist: Political scientists study the origins and development of government, political systems, and policies. Most specialize in a particular area, such as geopolitics, political theory, or public policy. Using qualitative research methods, they collect and analyze data to develop theories and predictions related to political trends, new policies, and election outcomes.
    • Median Annual Salary: $115,110
    • Projected Growth Rate: 3%
  2. Social and community service manager: These managers coordinate social service programs for government, private, and nonprofit agencies. They assess challenges and issues faced by particular communities or demographics, and develop outreach programs, policies, and initiatives as needed. Frequently, they are required to prove the efficacy of their work by collecting statistical data from the surrounding community and presenting their findings.
    • Median Annual Salary: $64,100
    • Projected Growth Rate: 18%
  3. Public relations and fundraising manager: Charged with positively enhancing their client's image, public relations managers develop effective media strategies by examining social and political trends, target demographics, and public opinion. While some work for private corporations, many are employed in government, nonprofit groups, or political organizations. They must have excellent communication and analytical skills.
    • Median Annual Salary: $111,280
    • Projected Growth Rate: 10%
  4. Postsecondary teacher: Some public policy doctoral students can go on to pursue postsecondary teaching at colleges and universities. Aside from planning lessons, grading papers, and staying informed about their field, these teachers may advise students about how to achieve their goals in public policy.
    • Median Annual Salary: $76,000
    • Projected Growth Rate: 15%

Doctorate in Public Policy Salary

Although public policy careers can pay well, many different factors affect your earning power in the field, including individual workplace policies, geographic location, and industry. Few variables, however, are as influential as education and experience. As a doctor of public policy, you'll have a strong advantage over job candidates with less education, and individuals with greater professional experience generally out-earn entry-level employees. As the table below demonstrates, this phenomenon is consistent across occupations, with some established professionals bringing in nearly double the salary of entry-level workers. Pay differences are sharpest between public policy directors and professors, as both roles generally require significant work experience.

Median Annual Salaries
Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Public Policy Director $77,930 $62,583 $79,649 $128,722
Public Policy Analyst $53,641 $50,682 $70,791 $71,148
Postsecondary Professor $87,546 $60,185 $71,115 $100,505
Public Relations Director $82,780 $52,584 $79,906 $89,193

Professional Organizations in Public Policy

Professional public policy organizations offer a variety of resources and opportunities for individuals at every career and academic level. Along with discounts, continuing education, certification programs, and private job boards, members can develop local and national networks in the industry. Many associations provide exclusive fellowship and grant opportunities for student members, along with useful digital publications. Below, we've listed just a few prominent public policy professional organizations that you may wish to consider joining.

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Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Public Policy

Most students seek some form of financial aid to help pay for their online Ph.D. in public policy. Fortunately, they can choose from many available funding opportunities, including private scholarships and tuition reimbursement programs. Most students begin exploring these options by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA contains a series of questions regarding your household income, and helps the government determine what kinds of federal financial aid you are eligible to receive. You may qualify for grants, federal student loans, scholarships, or work-study programs. While some students choose to fund their studies through private loans, federal student loans typically offer better repayment options and lower interest rates, making them a more economical option.

You may also wish to apply for one or more scholarships. Typically awarded on the basis of income or academic merit, scholarships can cover up to the full cost of tuition. Unlike loans, they don't need to be paid back, and you can apply for as many as you like. While most colleges host scholarships exclusively for their students, students can also find scholarship opportunities through corporations, nonprofit groups, and professional organizations. Some employers also offer scholarships or tuition reimbursement programs for employees pursuing work-related studies.

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