The Best Online Doctorate in Public Policy Programs 2021

by TBS Staff
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Students with strong analytical skills and the drive to create positive change through political action may benefit from an online doctorate in public policy.

Public policy has a significant impact on people's lives. With an online Ph.D. in public policy, professionals can shape regulatory policy, research public policy impact, and train the next generation of policy advocates.

An online format makes a doctorate more accessible for working professionals and busy students. During an online public policy doctoral program, graduate students complete coursework requirements using a virtual learning platform. Enrollees must also meet practicum requirements and conduct research in their local areas.

Our list ranks the best doctoral programs in public policy that offer online enrollment options. By reviewing the rankings, prospective doctoral students can identify the programs that best fit their unique needs. This article also introduces common courses and focus areas for Ph.D. students in public policy, along with career paths and tips for choosing the right program.

The Best Online Doctorate in Public Policy Programs

California Baptist University true View School Profile Riverside, CA 70% 54% California Baptist University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

A private Christian university founded in 1950, CBU offers an online doctor of public administration. Students take one course per eight-week term, and most participants finish the 56-credit program in just three years.

Required courses include public administration foundations and theory, leadership in the public sector, strategic planning and management, and collaboration and networked governance. Students must complete a dissertation through online guidance and defend it online.

Applicants need a master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 for unconditional admission. A 2.75 GPA qualifies students for conditional admission.

Liberty University true View School Profile Lynchburg, VA 60% 90% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A private Christian college with a large online component, Liberty offers an online doctor of public policy. Students complete 60 credits and can choose from five specializations, including national security policy, education policy, and foreign policy.

Students take required courses such as foundations of public policy, competing visions of statesmanship, federalism and intergovernmental relations, and founding era and the Constitution. In addition to a research sequence, students complete electives in their chosen concentration and a dissertation.

Applicants need a master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 to qualify for admission.

Old Dominion University true View School Profile Norfolk, VA 56% 51% Old Dominion University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A public university founded in 1930, ODU offers an online doctor of public administration and policy. Students complete 49 credits online, including a dissertation.

Required courses include multi-sector administration, introduction to applied statistics and data analysis, multivariate analysis in public administration, and policy theory. Students take research core courses and public policy electives to finish the program, along with presenting a dissertation.

Applicants need a master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.25 and GMAT or GRE scores in the 25th percentile to qualify for admission.

Valdosta State University true View School Profile Valdosta, GA 62% 51% West Chester University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

A public university founded in 1906, VSU offers an online doctor of public administration. Students complete 54 credits online with an on-campus residency required during the first weekend of the spring and fall semesters.

Required courses include financial management for public and non-governmental organizations, information and data management, the culture of formal work organizations, and logic of inquiry in administration. Students complete a capstone project at the end to complete the program.

Applicants must hold a master's degree to qualify for admission. Students must also possess a minimum GRE score of 153 verbal and 5.0 analytical, or a 295 combined score for verbal and quantitative.

West Chester University of Pennsylvania true View School Profile West Chester, PA 62% 19% Applicants need a master's degree in a related field, but applicants without this requirement may take additional coursework to prepare.

A public university founded in 1871, WCU offers a blended doctor of public administration. Students complete 45 credits online and on-campus with a dissertation and comprehensive exam.

Required courses include advanced practice and applied theories of public policy and administration, qualitative methods of program and policy evaluation, strategic public management and governance, and advocacy and leadership in public policy and administration. Learners also take concentration electives.

Best Online Doctorate

Online Doctorate in Public Policy Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, 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%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

Featured Online Doctorate in Public Policy Programs

What Is an Online Ph.D. in Public Policy?

A Ph.D. program in public policy trains graduates to analyze proposed policies and assess the impact of existing policies. This research-based degree prepares graduates for academic, governmental, or nonprofit roles that require analytical and research skills.

During an online Ph.D. in public policy, doctoral students build strong research skills. Programs incorporate courses on both quantitative and qualitative research methods to help students become versatile researchers. Students also gain a theoretical and practical perspective on public policy. Coursework emphasizes analytical and methodological skills.

Each doctoral student chooses a research area to focus their studies. Doctoral students may focus on regulatory policy, international economic policy, social policy, or environmental policy. Depending on the program, they may also choose secondary focus areas. Candidates also conduct original research and write dissertations.

Earning a doctorate in public policy typically takes several years. Before applying to doctoral programs, applicants should ensure that they meet admission requirements. For example, a candidate may need a master's degree. Many programs also require GRE scores, course prerequisites, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

Choosing an Online Doctoral Public Policy Program

An online Ph.D. in public policy is a major commitment of time, effort, and money. As a result, prospective applicants should carefully research programs before submitting their applications.

Several factors can help applicants find the best fit to reach their goals. For example, many applicants begin by looking at the total cost of a degree, the program length, and specialization options. At the doctoral level, graduate students should also research faculty mentors to find a good fit.

Some public policy doctoral programs emphasize research, while others focus on practice. Candidates should consider which of these best suits their professional goals when applying to programs.

Accreditation for Online Public Policy Degree Programs

A prospective doctoral student should always choose an accredited university for their online Ph.D. in public policy. Regionally accredited schools meet the highest standards for academic excellence. An accredited degree also fulfills the requirements for licenses and professional certifications.

In addition to choosing an accredited university, applicants should also research accreditation for public policy programs. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration grants accreditation to public policy programs.

What Else Can I Expect From a Ph.D. in Public Policy Program?

A doctorate in public policy builds strong research and analytical skills. During a Ph.D. in public policy, doctoral students focus their training by choosing concentrations or specific research areas. Doctoral candidates can focus on the financial side of public policy by taking courses in budgeting, economic regulations, and public administration.

In addition to coursework, doctoral students must pass comprehensive examinations and write dissertations to earn their degrees. The training prepares graduates to work in policy-making, research, or academia.

Common Courses for an Online Doctorate in Public Policy

  • Strategic Management and Planning: Coursework explores the processes and best practices involved in strategic planning, including collaboration, resource allocation, and coordination. Using real-life case studies, candidates develop strategic plans for nonprofit and public groups that align with their respective organizational missions. Lectures emphasize the importance of strong leadership skills in creating effective organizational change.
  • Public Sector Budgeting: This course addresses the unique economic challenges faced by public and nonprofit organizations and presents crucial financial concepts and skills, such as budgeting and tax auditing. Enrollees use specialized technologies and software to analyze financial documents, formulate reports, and develop budgets within an organization's financial constraints.
  • Ethics and Social Justice: In this course, candidates examine the relationships between leadership, power, and privilege, along with how these factors inform ethical decision-making and policy development. By examining social, economic, and demographic trends, students learn to create effective policies that meet the needs and enhance the lives of individuals in underserved communities.
  • Quantitative Methods: Lectures cultivate the integral skills needed to perform doctoral-level research. Topics include statistical testing and its accompanying ethical issues, data collection methods, and the logic of inference. Learners create their own model research studies to analyze data and present the results.
  • Qualitative Methods: This course introduces the qualitative research and analytical methods used in both the public sector and academic research. Exploring the theoretical and conceptual frameworks behind qualitative methodologies, each candidate creates research questions, designs and implements studies, and analyzes collected data to create a detailed analysis.

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

While a full-time student can typically 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 transfer credits all affect degree length, but program structure and format play the most significant role.

To provide maximum flexibility, many schools offer their online degrees in an asynchronous format. Featuring more relaxed deadlines and flexible coursework, asynchronous programs allow working professionals to review lectures and complete assignments at their convenience. 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. Courses may require students to be online at specified times to complete group discussions and collaborate with cohort members and faculty. While cohort learning can be more time-consuming, it also provides more academic support and accountability.

Public Policy Jobs

In addition to strengthening a range of broadly applicable skills, an online Ph.D. in public policy allows enrollees to specialize in particular areas of interest. Individuals with strong analytical skills and the drive to create positive changes through political action can pursue diverse roles in the field. Below are a few such roles.

$122,220 Political Scientist
Median BLS Salary (2020) $122,220
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029) 6%

Political scientists study the origins and development of 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 for political trends, new policies, and election outcomes.

$116,180 Public Relations and Fundraising Manager
Median BLS Salary (2020) $116,180
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029) 9%

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 find employment in government, nonprofit groups, or political organizations. They need excellent communication and analytical skills.

$79,540 Postsecondary Teacher
Median BLS Salary (2020) $79,540
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029) 9%

Some public policy doctoral students go on to pursue careers in 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.

$74,350 Urban and Regional Planner
Median BLS Salary (2020) $74,350
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029) 11%

Urban and regional planners design communities and create land-use plans. They help revitalize cities and implement community development plans. Urban and regional planners typically work for local governments, where they play a role in setting public policy agendas and making sure public works align with public policy.

$67,150 Social and Community Service Manager
Median BLS Salary (2020) $67,150
Projected Job Outlook (2019-2029) 17%

These managers coordinate social service programs for government, private, and nonprofit agencies. They assess challenges and issues faced by particular communities or demographics to develop outreach programs, policies, and initiatives as needed. They commonly must prove the efficacy of their work by collecting statistical data from the surrounding community and presenting their findings.

Popular Questions About Public Policy Degrees

true What Can You Do With a Public Policy Ph.D.?

Doctoral degrees in public policy prepare graduates for academic roles as professors and researchers. Professionals with doctorates in public policy may also work for nonprofit think tanks, government agencies, or other non-academic research institutions.

How Much Does a Ph.D. in Public Policy Make?

According to PayScale, professionals with a doctorate in public policy analysis earn an average salary of over $84,000 per year.

Is Public Policy a Good Career?

Public policy specialists work for legislative bodies, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Public policy professionals with doctorates can also pursue academic careers. These careers tend to be prestigious, though actual experience varies by professional.

Why Should Someone Study Public Policy?

Public policy has a significant impact on the way people live. The study of public policy trains thinkers to identify successful public policies and develop strategies for improving public life.

Header Image Credit: mavo | Shutterstock

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