Houston Masters in Public Policy Online Programs

Online Masters in Public Policy programs help build quantitative analysis skills, preparing students to research, create, and influence policy in government, public and nonprofit organizations. Courses might cover statistics, data analytics, survey methodologies, and other quantitative techniques. Other classes may build general familiarity with lawmaking and public leadership roles. Online MPP programs might also aim to build fluency with specific policy issues or research areas, like poverty, urban planning, international relations, the environment, health policy, and more. Plus, earning your degree online presents a unique opportunity to build expertise while still remaining involved with your community, pursuing your policy career and making an impact.

How to earn a masters in public policy online

Why Earn Your Masters in Public Policy Online?

Online Masters in Public Policy programs are designed to provide the rigorous policy education you’re looking for, in a program flexible enough to work with your life. That means taking your classes with you to complete at home, in the office, or wherever is convenient.

Digital courses give you the freedom to work independently. Most online programs provide access to course materials, assignments and tests through an online platform, allowing students to log on as their schedule allows. And if you need that personal element, many programs build social networking into online study, so you can still work alongside and debate with your peers. Some programs may even have live, streaming lectures or discussion sessions, bringing the classroom experience straight to you.

But what does all that have to do with public policy? For one, earning your Masters in Public Policy online means you’re not limited by geography. So you’ll be studying public policy, in the context of your own community, while your fellow students do the same from their own. That may give you the chance to learn about how policy might fit into other communities across the country and bring a unique and diverse perspective to your education. You also may be able to attend a program based anywhere in the country. This could be especially helpful if you are interested in a specific concentration or type of program.

Online Masters in Public Policy vs. Online Masters in Public Administration

An online Masters in Public Policy is a professional degree that focuses on quantitative research about law, policy, and other social issues. That makes it a little different from an otherwise similar degree, the Online Master of Public Administration or MPA. Both degrees center on public leadership and how that leadership can impact real communities. But where public administration programs generally look at how to actually be a leader, heading agencies and programs, and leading teams of people to accomplish goals, public policy programs focus on giving those leaders the information they need to succeed. So while a MPA program might cover the essentials of leadership roles and team management, a MPP might spend more time on topics like data collection and analysis.

Example Online Masters in Public Policy Curriculum

The specifics of what’s covered in your online Masters in Public Policy Program may hinge on a few factors. First is the program's approach. Some schools might combine public policy and administration into one program. Others may tailor their programs more narrowly, focusing on a certain objective or topic. Then there are programs that offer a series of options for concentrations or specializations. A concentration could influence your course requirements and the lens through which you approach general public policy topics. Potential specializations could be environmental issues, public health, education, poverty, urban development, global terrorism, and more. The specific routes open to you may depend on the school you choose to attend.

Some example courses you might take in your online Masters of Public Policy program include the following.

  • Public Policy & Leadership: While public policy, in an academic sense, generally focuses on performing research, the research in question may go on to inform leadership strategies in government and public agencies. Courses like this examine that relationship—between research, data analysis and governance—to help students understand how leaders and policy experts work together.
  • Policy Analysis: This kind of course focuses on how policy analysts go about doing exactly that—analyzing policy. Programs may cover research methodologies, and how analysis strategies might be tailored to address different issues and communities. This could include how to research the impact existing policies have already had, as well as making predictions about the future effects of potential choices.
  • Microeconomics and Macroeconomics: Effective policy informs how leaders guide a community to success. Economics plays a big role in this. Micro and macroeconomics courses take a small and large scale look at how human behavior and the economy interact, and how that impacts individuals and communities.
  • Econometrics: Of course, as a researcher, you might not only need to know the basics of how economics works. You may also need to take economics research into account, or perform analysis related to the economy. Econometrics looks at how economics research is designed, performed, and analyzed, and how that might be used in a policy context.
  • Decision Analysis & Modeling: Decision analysis refers to the quantitative study of how and why different decisions are made. Decision modeling, meanwhile, takes that analysis and projects it forward, to examine a variety of potential decisions regarding a single issue. Courses on these topics may study a variety of methodologies, such as cost-benefit analysis.
  • Survey Methodology: Effective and reliable surveys are a cornerstone of policy research. Survey methodology courses examine the different ways this type of research could be conducted. This may include survey design, sampling, weighting, writing survey questions, and more.
  • Quantitative Analysis: Quantitative analysis courses use mathematical principles to help analyze data effectively. Advanced mathematics might be covered, as well as statistics, and various tools and strategies to understand different types of data.
  • Psychology & Sociology: In order to do research concerning your community, you first must understand it. That’s why many online MPP courses include at least one component related to individuals and groups within society, and how they behave and interact.
  • Issue-Specific Courses: Especially if your program requires you to choose a concentration, your curriculum is likely to include some courses specific to the issue you selected. For example, international policy courses might be present in a global terrorism or international relations focused program, while a public health program might discuss how diseases are spread and the impact of nutrition on families.

Remember, these and other courses may vary from program to program. They could go by slightly different names, be combined or split into multiple courses, or be missing altogether. For more information about your curriculum, reach out to the school you’re considering.

Online MPP Degree: Thesis vs Capstone

Most online Masters in Public Policy programs require a final research or practical project in the form of either a thesis or capstone. In public policy, most projects of this nature are research-based, often through a survey of existing scholarship. However, these two project types may have a few important distinctions to separate them.

  • Thesis projects are generally intended to demonstrate the student’s fluency with existing policy research. Students typically work on these projects on their own and with an academic audience in mind. The finished project  resembles a longer version of the research papers one might have written as an undergrad and throughout their graduate program courses. In some cases, a thesis might also involve a formal presentation before peers and faculty.
  • Capstone projects are usually designed to demonstrate a student’s ability to apply what they learned in a professional context. This could be in the form of a portfolio project, a case study, or an example project for a hypothetical client. Because public policy is so research-oriented in itself, in many cases online MPP program capstone projects are research projects for hypothetical clients addressing a specific issue or exploring potential solutions to a problem. They could be completed alone or on a small team, depending on the program in question.

An important consideration in both cases is how these projects are handled in an online program. Because some programs may require a formal presentation, there’s a possibility that you might be asked to visit a physical campus at least once to complete your project. Additionally, while some programs may roll thesis or capstone projects in to a seminar class, in an online program, students might be expected to work a little more independently. If this is an important consideration for you, make sure you follow up with the program you’re considering to find out more.

Online Public Policy Masters Programs: Continuing Your Education

While many people who earn online MPPs do so with the intention of going right into the field to concentrate on their careers, it doesn’t have to be the end of your education. Whether you go straight into another graduate program, or spend some time working first, a number of options for continued learning may be available.

For example, you might go on to earn your doctorate in public policy, and work to establish yourself as an authority in your field. If you think you might want to enter an online doctoral program, you may want to consider MPP programs that include a thesis rather than a capstone, as some programs may prefer students who have written one.

Not interested in another degree, but still want to keep learning? Graduate certificates in public policy may also be earned online. Graduate certificate programs at the masters or post-masters level could be an opportunity to expand your expertise on a specific topic, or develop a certain skill, in a more concise, non-degree program format.

What Might You Do With An MPP Degree?

Earning a Masters in Public Policy could support a variety of career paths related to research in the public sector. One common option is to pursue a career as a policy analyst. In many cases, policy analysts specialize in a certain type of research or a certain issue, and as such, their job titles and minimum qualifications may vary. For example, somebody researching public health might need different education and experience than somebody in education research or global politics. That said, in many of these positions, the typical education is a masters in public policy or a related field. However, some entry level positions might be open to those with a bachelor’s degree, particularly as a research assistant or other support role.

Some example careers one might pursue with an MPP degree and other relevant experience could include the following.

  • Political Scientist: 2016 Median Pay $114,290i
  • Economist or Economics Policy Research: 2016 Median Pay $101,050ii
  • Survey Researcher: 2016 Median Pay $54,470iii
  • Urban and Regional Planners: 2016 Median Pay $70,020i

Earn Your Online Masters Degree in Public Policy

If you’re ready to learn more, or find your potential online masters in public policy programs, GradSchools.com can help. Start by reviewing the listings below. If you’d like to change your search criteria, you can do so using the menu. Once you find programs you think you might be interested in, click on the program name to learn more and get in touch. Then request information, schedule an appointment, or start your application!


[i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm

[ii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/economists.htm

[iii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/survey-researchers.htm

[iv] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/urban-and-regional-planners.htm

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