Best Online Master’s in Public Policy Programs 2021

by TBS Staff
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A master's degree in public policy trains students in policy analysis, public management, and project management, which can apply to many career paths.

Have you ever wanted to learn about how social services programs develop? Then you might want a career in public policy. Public policy encapsulates how government agencies and nonprofits solve real-world problems. If you want to pursue roles in public policy, you can start by earning an online master's in public policy (MPP).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that public policy and social services graduates earned a median salary of $45,000 in 2018. The COVID-19 crisis has created new obstacles for public policy professionals to solve, meaning that the field is expected to remain in demand.

The Best Online Master's in Public Policy Programs

Johns Hopkins University true View School Profile Baltimore, MD 93% 32% 43% Johns Hopkins University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Founded in 1876 and named after the man who contributed the largest philanthropic bequest in U.S. history at the time, Johns Hopkins stands as the nation's first research university.

The completely online master of arts in public management program, offered through the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, requires 12 courses for completion with a standard timeframe of 16 to 24 months. The program offers three areas of focus: public administration and leadership, public policy evaluation, and public financial management and budgeting.

The application process consists of an online application and submittal of resume, statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, writing sample, and official transcripts.

Penn State World Campus true View School Profile $$$$ University Park, PA 71% 48% 100% Pennsylvania State University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Penn State launched its online learning offerings in 1998 with the creation of World Campus. Today, online offerings exceed 150 programs.

The online master of professional studies in criminal justice policy and administration program requires 30 credits for completion at a cost of $920 per credit. The degree consists of 18 credits of core coursework, nine credits of electives, and culminates in a capstone project.

Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree with official transcripts, statement of purpose, resume, and three references.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley true View School Profile Edinburg, TX 46% 37% 50% The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Established in 2013, UTRGV currently offers more than 120 programs at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels.

The accelerated online master of public affairs program requires 36 credits for completion with a standard completion timeframe of 12 months. Cost per credit falls just under $450 per credit.

Prospective students must apply to the Graduate School and submit official transcripts proving minimum 3.0 GPA prior to applying to the program by submitting personal statement and three recommendations.

American University true View School Profile Washington, DC 80% 45% 7% American University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Chartered by Congress in 1893, the Methodist-affiliated university currently serves more than 14,000 students annually.

The School of Public Affairs offers a completely online master of public administration and policy program requiring 36 credits for completion, which students can typically finish in two years. Curriculum focuses on developing students' understanding of policy analysis and public administration.

Students will complete an online application and submit a statement of purpose, resume, official transcripts, and letters of recommendation as part of the application process.

University of Northern Iowa true View School Profile $$$ Cedar Falls, IA 65% 56% 25% The University of Northern Iowa is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

U.S. News & World Report ranked UNI as the second-best "top public schools regional university midwest." Students can choose from the more than 160 offered programs of study.

The fully online master of public policy program requires 37 credits for completion and culminates in a policy practicum capstone. Students will complete online asynchronous courses in addition to synchronous video conference learning sessions.

Admission requirements include online application, application statement consisting of professional background, motivation for applying, and professional goals, two letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.

George Washington University View School Profile Washington, DC 82% 36% 24% George Washington University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Chartered by an act of Congress in 1821, GW currently enrolls more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

The Elliott School of International Affairs offers a completely online and accelerated master of international policy and practice degree requiring 27 credits for completion. Full-time students can complete required coursework in one year while part-time students can expect to complete the program in 16-24 months.

Prospective students must carry minimum seven years of related professional experience or hold an advanced degree for program eligibility. To apply, students will submit resume, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and GRE/GMAT test scores (optional).

Oregon State University View School Profile $$$ Corvallis, OR 67% 43% 43% Oregon State University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).

Oregon State encompasses 11 colleges, 12 experimental stations, more than 200 academic programs, and two campuses plus online learning.

The College of Liberal Arts and the School of Public Policy offer an online master of public policy program consisting of 46 credits of core coursework and 16 credits of concentration coursework. Concentrations available include energy policy, environmental policy, rural policy, and social policy.

To apply, prospective students will complete and online application and submit official transcripts proving bachelor's degree with minimum 3.0 GPA, three letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose.

Liberty University View School Profile Lynchburg, VA 50% 60% 90% Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Liberty aims to train champions for Christ as evidenced by their motto "knowledge aflame." The institution currently serves more than 100,000 students annually.

The completely online master of arts in public policy program requires 36 credit hours for completion. Students can typically complete required coursework in 18 months and can choose amongst seven offered specializations: general, campaigns and elections, international affairs, leadership, middle east affairs, policy studies, and public administration.

Admission requirements include an online application, submittal of official transcripts showing bachelor's degree with minimum 3.0 GPA, and proof of English proficiency.

Regent University View School Profile Virginia Beach, VA 59% 80% 91% Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Regent derives its name from the meaning of the word "regent," or one who represents the King. For the students of Regent, that representation flows through Christ.

The online master of arts in government - law and public policy program requires 33 credit hours for completion and features courses in constitutional law and policy, healthcare policy and affairs, and U.S. foreign policy.

Prospective students must submit required documentation two weeks prior to any of the eight total start dates. Required documentation includes official transcripts showing bachelor's degree, admissions questionnaire, government-issued ID, and optional submission of resume and standardized test scores.

University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth View School Profile $$$ North Dartmouth, MA 56% 70% 17% The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

UMass Dartmouth currently serves over 8,500 students across 92 undergraduate programs, 34 master's degree programs, and 16 doctorate programs.

The fully online master of public policy program requires the completion of 34 to 36 credits consisting of 12 courses in core coursework and choice of concentration courses. Offered concentrations include educational policy, environmental policy, and public management.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and relevant work experience and submit official transcripts, GRE or GMAT scores, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and residency statement.

Best Online Programs

Online Online Master's 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 Master's in Public Policy Programs

What Is an Online Master's in Public Policy?

An online master's in public policy is a specialized degree that prepares you for leadership roles in public policy creation. People who complete this degree typically pursue management or urban and regional planning roles with government agencies, nonprofits, or other public service organizations. Other students pursue private sector global development jobs, which require in-depth knowledge of regional, national, and international policy.

This degree takes two years to complete and covers a more broad curriculum than related specialties, such as nonprofit management or public administration. Graduates typically leave online master's in public policy programs with strengthened skills in research and statistical analysis, along with an understanding of public policy's effect on economics, society, and law.

Choosing an Online Master's in Public Policy Program

To find the best online master's in public policy, you must consider several factors that influence the learning experience. Program cost is often a major sticking point; research whether in-state public schools offer discounted tuition, especially for online students. You should also consider program length and whether prospective programs fit into your career timeline.

Pay special attention to whether programs offer concentrations or dual-degrees relevant to your career plans. Also, consider whether prospective programs have practicum requirements or internships, and research whether you can meet those requirements locally.

Accreditation for Public Policy Programs

When researching online MPP programs, it's necessary to ensure both program and university accreditation. For graduate and academic degrees, you should only consider regionally accredited schools; national accreditation is best suited to vocational or career schools.

Programmatic accreditation demonstrates that a specific degree program meets the field's professional standards. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) accredits master's programs in public policy, public administration, public affairs, and nonprofit management. Attending a NASPAA-accredited public policy program ensures a quality education.

What Can I Expect When Pursuing an MPP Online?

Though schools vary in course and concentration offerings, public policy master's programs generally share courses in economics, law, management, and policy analysis. The following list includes some common course offerings in a typical online master's in public policy.

Common Courses in Public Policy Programs

  • 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. Coursework may also cover public management skills, policy implementation, and negotiating in the public sector.
  • Advanced Policy Analysis: Many courses incorporate policy analysis projects. Enrollees conduct research and create a detailed policy analysis from a case study as part of their training. Programs may connect students with real-world clients for their projects.
  • Law and Public Policy: Graduate learners study the laws and regulations that affect public policy, including court decisions, legislation, and administrative regulations. Coursework emphasizes legal research skills, the relationships between lawmaking agencies, and the connection between law and public policy. Enrollees may review case studies as part of their training.
  • Public Management: Degree-seekers learn to manage people and respond to crises. Enrollees apply data and evidence to public management problems at the local, national, and international levels.
  • Politics and Public Policy: Coursework examines the influence of politics on the development of new policies, including their acceptance and implementation. The course uses case studies and interpretative works.

Public Policy Concentrations

Education Policy

This concentration explores the intersection between public policy and educational policy, reviewing the history of education regulations and how they impact school operation today. Course topics include urban education, economics in higher education, and organizational analysis.

Health Policy

The health policy concentration prepares enrollees for careers in medical and health services management. Students graduate with a better understanding of how national and global healthcare public research can influence healthcare management policy. Common course topics include the economics of behavioral health and state health policy.

International Development

This concentration investigates policywork aimed at assisting developing or recovering nations. Topics include conflict and post-conflict recovery, political development, and economic planning. Graduates can effect positive change for struggling nations by working with NGOs and intergovernmental organizations, like the U.N.

Politics and Governance

Students interested in working in local and regional government can pursue a politics and governance concentration, exploring the impact of government policies in regional, national, and international contexts. Course topics include politics of public affairs, economics for policy analysis, and economics of development.

Public and Nonprofit Management

Students interested in a management career spent helping public and nonprofit agencies with fundraising, self-advocacy, and program development should consider this concentration. Coursework explores econometrics, stakeholder communication, and how to evaluate programs and policies.

Science and Technology Policy

This concentration explores how policy influences the pace of scientific research. Course topics include economics of innovation, design thinking for public policy innovators, and ending poverty with technology.

Social Policy

The social policy concentration investigates the design and analysis of social policy. Topics in this track include child welfare, community organization, and the role of courts in public policy. Students receive a broad view of how social policy affects society at all levels.

Urban Policy

Students interested in working in urban or regional planning should consider this concentration. Coursework focuses on policy issues faced by local and regional governing bodies and agencies, exploring topics like global urban culture and sustainable transportation planning.

Public Policy Joint and Dual Degrees

Many public policy master's programs offer joint or dual-degree options. A joint or dual-degree program can increase chances of employment, especially in niche careers. For example, a management/public policy dual master's degree can help you secure a job in nonprofit or public management. Urban and regional planning jobs might also call for a public policy dual degree in urban planning.

Below, you will find some common programs available for public policy joint or dual degrees.

  • Business
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Government
  • International policy
  • Law
  • Management science
  • Medicine
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Public Policy Careers

An online master's in public policy provides a solid foundation for careers in the private and public sectors. Public policy majors typically work within three main areas: management, urban and regional planning, and political science. Keep in mind that some public policy careers require additional education or credentialing for entry-level roles.

true Political Scientist $122,220 6%

Political scientists conduct research on political systems and collect data about policy impact, usually for government agencies, nonprofits, or news publications. They then gather their findings to present in papers or to stakeholders. They often weigh in on policy decisions and forecast projections for social, political, or economic trends.

A political scientist needs a master's in political science or a related field, like public policy, to practice. Currently, no state has licensure requirements for political science. Working in this field requires a passion for politics and political theory, along with strong writing skills.

true Medical and Health Services Managers

Medical and health services managers manage the business activities of healthcare providers, such as hospitals, group practices, and nursing homes. Their duties include managing healthcare facility staff, maintaining patient databases, and developing new programs.

Working as a medical and health services manager requires at least a bachelor's in a management-related major. A public policy major may need to first earn a bachelor's in management or include a management concentration in their public policy master's degree to qualify. Currently, no state has licensure requirements for this career. This field typically appeals to people with strong interpersonal, communication, and problem-solving skills.

true Urban and Regional Planners $4,350 11%

Urban and regional planners decide how local government managed and develops property. They help create communities, accommodate population growth, plan public transit, and implement sustainable city practices.

Working as an urban or regional planner requires a master's in urban and regional planning from a program accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board. A public policy student may consider earning their master's as a dual degree with a planning master's. Only a few states require licensure for this profession. Urban and regional planning usually appeals to people with strong skills in project evaluation and management, along with a curiosity for how cities and communities function.

true Social and Community Service Managers $67,150 17%

Social and community service managers oversee social and community welfare programs and organizations. They often work with organizations that serve specific populations, such as children, veterans, or unhoused people, or they tackle specific societal problems, such as substance abuse or hunger.

Social and community service managers typically need a bachelor's in a management-related major. A public policy graduate needs to hold a management degree or relevant previous experience to enter the field. Currently, no states have licensure requirements for these managers. Social and community service managers need strong interpersonal skills and a deep interest in supporting social welfare to succeed.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Difference Between Public Policy and Public Administration

Public policy creates laws and frameworks for society with the help of statistics and research, while public administration implements those rules.

What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Public Policy?

A master's degree in public policy prepares you for planning, management, and political science roles in the private and public sectors.

What Is the Difference Between a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and an MPP?

An MPP focuses on public policy alone, whereas the less-specialized MPA takes a broader focus, preparing graduates for public service careers in administration.

Does Public Policy Pay Well?

A public policy career can pay well. PayScale reports that the 90th percentile of political scientists — a common career in this field — earn over $99,000 annually.

What Does MPP Degree Mean?

A master's in public policy curriculum focuses on policy analysis, economics, and law. It prepares graduates for a highly specialized career influencing policy creation.

Public Policy Professional Organizations

ASPA represents professionals working in public and nonprofit administration. This organization offers networking events and professional development opportunities through its local chapters and sections. ASPA also publishes research and maintains a job board. 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 encourages student participation in its offerings. Members have access to the association's career advice and job listings.

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