Graduate students in public policy study public administration, policy analysis, and the political context for public policy. The degree leads to opportunities in political campaigns, legislative offices, federal government agencies, and local governments. Public policy graduates also work for nonprofit organizations as program managers or project managers, and many pursue careers in the private sector as government relations managers, policy analysers, or community relations managers.
During a public policy master's degree online, graduate students complete advanced coursework in policy analysis, law and public policy, and public management. Students learn about policy development, the implementation of new public policies, and how to research a policy's effectiveness. They also gain management skills, strengthen research and analytical abilities, and build a professional portfolio. Many programs incorporate a capstone project or internship to strengthen analytical skills and build professional experience. Online programs offer convenience and accessibility, helping professionals advance their careers through graduate training in public policy.
This page introduces the best online master's in public policy programs by exploring career paths and salary opportunities for public policy professionals, how to choose the right master's program in public policy, and professional associations related to public policy.
Online Master's in Public Policy Program Ranking Guidelines
We selected the programs based on the quality of the program, the types of courses offered, the faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation, including the school’s reputation for effectively providing online degree programs.
The Best Online Master's in Public Policy Programs
1. Liberty University
Lynchburg, Virginia, is home to Liberty University and their online master's of public policy. Liberty's program offers multiple specialty areas to prepare students for a range of policy-related careers: general public policy, campaign elections, international affairs, leadership, Middle East affairs, policy studies, and public administration. Core courses include speech composition and political communications, US governmental history and foreign policy, and state legislation and political philosophy.
The online public policy master's is composed of a series of 12 eight-week long courses, totalling 36 credit hours. Students often complete the program between two and two and a half years. Liberty offers this program asynchronously, without any set log-in times or on-campus components. Liberty allows students to transfer up to 50% of the credits required for the program. Significantly, Liberty also gives credit for previous work and military experience through a program entitled Experience Plus.
Beyond general and area-specific coursework, participants are encouraged to complete an optional thesis, where students hone and showcase independent research and compositional skills. Liberty prepares program graduates for various jobs in public policy, including positions in local, state, and national government, as well as political research and advocacy.
Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASC).
2. University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth
North Dartmouth, Massachusetts
The University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth master's in public policy online prepares students for careers in public policy, from state and federal government positions, to non-profit administration and advocacy, and trade and labor relations. This program offers three specializations: environmental policy, educational policy, and public management. Courses include the environmental consequences of globalization, organizational behavior in educational settings, and research methods for public policy.
Consisting of 36 credits, the online public policy master's program focuses predominantly on coursework; however, this program also requires an internship for students with less than two years of relevant work experience in a field related to public policy. To find an internship position, students collaborate with their academic advisor and the school's internship coordinator, often drawing from a list of pre-approved local and federal agencies or private institutions. Along with the internship, students enrol in a one-credit seminar to produce internship synopses relevant for each student's professional portfolio. In the final year of the degree, students present their professional portfolio to the UMass Dartmouth faculty for approval, compiling coursework and internship dossiers into a concise presentation that they can then use in the professional job market.
UMass Dartmouth online formats its programs to accommodate students working full-time or engaged in active military duty. Beyond formal coursework, all students have access to online and in-person assistance, including one-on-one advising to stay on track throughout one's degree program, as well as tutoring and writing support. UMass Dartmouth's master's in public policy online meets standards set by The Global Standard in Public Service Education, also known as NASPAA.
The University of Massachusetts is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE).
3. Regent University
Virginia Beach, Virginia
The master's in government with a concentration in law and public policy at the Christian-affiliated Regent University in Virginia offers a solid legal basis for aspiring government collaborators. Participants learn about ethical law practices in order to make a positive impact on local, state, and national government. Coursework covers Christian foundations of government and public policy initiatives, and the creation, control, and distribution of media content, and healthcare policy and ethics.
Regent offers this 30-credit online master's of public policy program in both hybrid and entirely online formats. Courses are eight weeks long, and the program can be completed in 18 months. The program offers opportunities for students to pursue accreditation in multiple specialist areas, including international relations, law and public policy, Mid-East politics, political theory, public administration, and terrorism and homeland defense. Students are encouraged to take an elective internship to advance their academic progress and gain real-world experience prior to entering the job market. Students also have the option to complete a thesis. Students on the thesis track participate in a thesis preparation course, in which they compose a project proposal, and then expand that proposal through independent research into a final thesis to be submitted to the faculty for approval.
Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASC).
4. New England College
Henniker, New Hampshire
At New England College, located in Henniker, New Hampshire, students gain a particularly international view of government relations in their master's in public policy program. This program prioritizes critical analysis skills to foster ethical leadership and decision making.
In this 100% online program, NEC offers the ten courses required for graduation in seven-week periods. Students are encouraged to participate in two courses per term in order to complete the 36-credit degree in less than two years. Course material includes a focus on social class, poverty, and race in America, environmental politics and policy, and America and the world. Following a course on practical research methods, a final capstone course requires students to use their independent research skills, drafting problem statements, conducting individual explorations, and producing a report that will demonstrate to potential employers each student's personal strengths and competency in the field. The objective of this final hurdle is to demonstrate the knowledge base each student has acquired throughout the program, and showcase their active problem-solving acumen.
Students may transfer up to six credits of relevant coursework from other institutions. NEC grants transfer credits on a case-by-case basis. NEC does not accept work experience in place of course credit.
Graduates of the program go on to pursue master's in public policy jobs, such as non-profit policy advising, communications director, and public policy program director.
New England College is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE).
What is a Master's in Public Policy Degree?
Online master's in public policy degrees cover a variety of political contexts, such as economic analysis, ethical leadership, organizational dynamics, political philosophy, governance, international law, and foreign policy. Core classes include presidential leadership, legislative leadership, public policy analysis, project management, public managerial economics, human capital assets, and financial management.
Specializations in public policy vary from campaigns and elections, international affairs, public works and sustainability, crisis management, and policy analysis and analytics. Some students may choose to focus on speech writing or campaign tactics, while others may prefer an emphasis on media and political communications or statesmanship and governance.
Most online public policy master's programs include a final capstone project, such as a thesis or practicum. Students who opt for an internship or practicum will gain hands-on experience in institutional settings. For the final project, students construct a policy analysis or find solutions to an existing policy or administrative issue.
Online Master's in Public Policy Programs
During an online master's program, graduate students in public policy complete core classes, choose a concentration, and take elective courses. Master's students attend classes either at a set time or on their own schedule. The online coursework may incorporate discussion boards, homework, quizzes, tests, and papers, depending on the program.
After completing the curriculum, online public policy students write a master's thesis, conduct research for a final project, or arrange an internship in their local area. In these ways, online programs in public policy mirror on-campus programs, simply transferring the material into a virtual classroom format. At many institutions, online students complete the same curriculum as on-campus students, and they often earn identical degrees.
In some ways, online programs differ from on-campus programs. Online students benefit from flexibility when arranging coursework around their work responsibilities. The format appeals to driven and organized students who thrive in a self-directed environment. Unlike on-campus programs, students in an online program enroll from anywhere in the country without relocating. Programs may require on-campus residencies as part of the degree. Online students might attend an orientation on campus or spend one or more weekends in residency during the program.
The Advantages of a Master's Degree in Public Policy
A master's degree in public policy prepares graduates for advanced and management-level positions in government, the nonprofit sector, and the private sector. During a master's degree, graduate students study policy analysis, public management, and project management -- valuable skills for many career paths. A master's degree also provides specialized training within a concentration area.
While graduates with a bachelor's degree qualify for entry-level positions in politics, communications, public administration, and other fields, a master's degree leads to career opportunities with greater responsibility. With a master's degree, graduates work as government relations managers, nonprofit program managers, and budget managers. In these roles, professionals apply their graduate-level training to improve their organization.
Professionals with a master's degree increase their earning potential, as the following table demonstrates. A public policy master's degree online also prepares graduates for doctoral study in the field, which opens additional opportunities in academia and research.
|Degree Level||Average Salary|
|Bachelor's in Public Policy||$62,000|
|Master's in Public Policy||$67,000|
What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Public Policy?
Whether you want to work in public administration, social services, government relationships, public health management, or a nonprofit setting, earning a master's in public policy online helps you achieve your career goals. Graduates find work as political scientists, campaign managers, foreign affair specialists, policy advisers, or city managers.
- Government Relations Manager: Government relations managers act as a liaison between organizations and government agencies, including legislative bodies or regulatory agencies. They ensure their organization follows regulations, make recommendations on proposed legislative issues, and monitor pending and enacted legislation. Government relations managers also follow regulations and laws that shape their industry.
- Policy Analyst: Policy analysts measure the effect of public policies, regulations, and laws. They also propose changes to public policy and implement new policies. Policy analysts work for government agencies, legislative bodies, and nonprofit organizations. They may also work for private companies to influence public policy.
- Nonprofit Program Manager: Nonprofit program managers oversee an organization's programs and projects. They manage the budget, staff members, and volunteers, ensuring that the program meets the nonprofit organization's goals and mission statement. They also monitor programs to ensure they stay within budget and produce the desired outcome.
- Budget Manager: Budget managers oversee an organization's budget, monitor spending patterns, and look for ways to decrease costs. They also manage finances, provide payroll support, and ensure the organization pays required taxes. Budget managers work for private organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies.
- Community Relations Manager: Community relations managers act as a liaison between their company and the communities they serve. They work directly with communities to represent a business or organization and use media relations to reach people. Community relations managers establish partnerships with organizations, issue statements to the media, and coordinate events to build a strong relationship with the community.
|Job Title||Entry Level (0-5 Years)||Midcareer (5-10 Years)||Experienced (10-20 Years)||Late Career (20+ Years)|
|Government Relations Manager||$57,000||$65,000||$75,000||$80,000|
|Nonprofit Program Manager||$44,000||$51,000||$53,000||$55,000|
|Community Relations Manager||$45,000||$60,000||$67,000||$63,000a|
Choosing an Online Public Policy Graduate Degree Program
Choosing the right online public policy program may seem intimidating. With more options than ever before, prospective students need to take their time to find the best program for their career goals and interests. Students should research a program's total cost, degree completion time, and any on-campus requirements before submitting an application.
Other factors can influence the decision process. For example, some programs offer part-time or accelerated public policy and analytics master's online degrees. Students can also check the curriculum to learn about coursework requirements and research the best online colleges in each state before applying.
- Program Cost: The cost of a public policy master's degree varies depending on the institution, the required credits, and additional fees. Prospective students should research tuition rates and costs like technology fees or books. In general, in-state public institutions charge the lowest tuition rates, but public schools may offer in-state rates to fully online students.
- Transfer Policies: Transfer policies vary depending on the institution. Some programs accept 6-12 transfer credits earned from an accredited graduate institution, while other programs do not accept transfer credits. Prospective students with transfer credits should check transfer policies for potential programs or contact a transfer adviser.
- School Size and Type: Public and private institutions offer online public policy programs. The school size and type can affect the learning experience. Some students, for instance, prefer a smaller class size, while others prefer a larger cohort of fellow students. School type can also affect tuition costs.
- Program Length: Some online programs offer an accelerated option to earn a public policy master's degree in as little as one year, while other programs take as long as three years. Prospective students should choose a program length that fits their work requirements and timeline for career advancement.
- On-Campus Requirements: While some online programs offer fully online coursework, others require on-campus residencies, such as an orientation or weekend program. Students considering local online programs may prefer the option to meet with faculty members or other students in person. Checking for on-campus requirements can help students narrow their potential programs.
- Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements: Public policy programs often incorporate a master's thesis or internship requirement as part of the degree, which students may complete in the summer or after finishing their coursework. Prospective students can research capstone projects, thesis requirements, or internship options before applying to a program.
Accreditation for Online Public Policy Master's Degrees
Prospective students should always research accreditation status before applying to a master public policy online program. Accreditation ensures that colleges, universities, and programs follow the best practices for educating students. Colleges and universities undergo regional or national accreditation reviews, which measure their graduation requirements, faculty qualifications, and student learning outcomes. Regional accreditation remains the highest standard for institutions.
In addition, programmatic accrediting agencies review programs, such as a business school or social work program. In public policy, the National Association of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) offers programmatic accreditation. NASPAA sets benchmarks and standards for public policy departments, which programs must meet to qualify for accreditation.
Accreditation benefits graduate students in public policy. An accredited degree meets more licensure and certification requirements, and some employers prefer candidates with an accredited degree. Prospective students should look for regionally accredited institutions and programs with NASPAA accreditation.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Master in Public Policy Degree Program?
Earning a public policy master's degree online typically takes two years. During a master's in public policy, graduate students meet the coursework requirements, which often range from 30-36 credits. Students may also choose a concentration area within the program. Many public policy programs incorporate an internship or project to gain hands-on experience. These program characteristics affect the length of time to complete an online master's public policy degree.
Public policy students can affect the length of their program by choosing a full-time, part-time, or accelerated option. Some programs offer part-time options, which increase the degree completion time, for students balancing school with work or family obligations. Prospective students can also choose an accelerated program to earn their degree in less time. Students with transfer credits can shorten the program by applying graduate credits earned at other institutions.
Courses in an Online Master's in Public Policy Program
Introduction to Public Policy
In introductory courses, graduate students learn about policy analysis, the economics of public policy, and the political context for public policy. The class may also cover public management skills, policy implementation, and negotiating in the public sector. The class prepares graduate students for advanced courses in public policy.
Advanced Policy Analysis
Graduate students train in policy analysis, with an emphasis on significant policy issues. Many courses incorporate a policy analysis project where students conduct an analysis on a specific topic. Students conduct research and create a detailed policy analysis as part of their training. Programs may connect students with real-world clients for their project.
Law and Public Policy
Graduate students study the laws and regulations that affect public policy, including court decisions, legislation, and administrative regulations. The course emphasizes legal research skills, the relationship between law-making agencies, and the connection between law and public policy. Students may conduct case studies as part of their training.
In public management courses, students learn how to manage and implement programs. The course also covers managing people and responding to crises. Students learn to apply data and evidence to public management problems, including at the national, international, or local level.
Politics and Public Policy
Courses on politics and public policy examine the influence of politics on the development of new policies. Graduate students look at policy development, the acceptance of policies, and their implementation. The course uses case studies and interpretative works.
Public Policy Professional Associations
- American Society for Public Administration: ASPA represents professionals working in public and nonprofit administration. The society offers networking events, provides professional development opportunities, and hosts local chapters and sections. ASPA also publishes research and runs a student and young professionals section with a job board for job seekers.
- Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management: APPAM promotes excellence in public policy research, analysis, and education. The association hosts an annual research conference, publishes a peer-reviewed journal on public policy and management, and promotes student participation in the APPAM. Students benefit from the association's career advice and job listings.
- American Association for Budget and Program Analysis: Dating to the mid-1970s, AABPA represents federal, state, and local government managers and analysts. AABPA provides current resources on the field, hosts symposia with networking opportunities, and creates publications and resources for budget and program analysis professionals. The association also hosts a student research competition.
- International City/Council Management Association: A professional organization for city and county managers, ICMA offers career resources, financial management tools, and information on building sustainable communities. The association provides educational tools, credentialing, and a job center to identify local government management opportunities. ICMA also publishes research.
- Emerging Local Government Leaders: ELGL supports local government professionals through local events and an annual conference with networking opportunities. The organization also offers awards to recognize excellence in local government. Students receive a membership discount, which offers access to the ELGL job board, vendor directory, and webinar library.