Best Online Master’s in Public Policy Programs 2021
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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
Online Online Master's in Public Policy Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- International policy
- Management science
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Public policy creates laws and frameworks for society with the help of statistics and research, while public administration implements those rules.
A master's degree in public policy prepares you for planning, management, and political science roles in the private and public sectors.
An MPP focuses on public policy alone, whereas the less-specialized MPA takes a broader focus, preparing graduates for public service careers in administration.
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.
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
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