Online public policy graduate programs apply scientific analysis to today's political, social, and economic issues. Courses are delivered via the internet to compatible devices like a laptop or tablet. This could make an advanced degree a possibility even if you’re already busy with making a difference in your community. Online public policy graduate programs are interdisciplinary. Courses may touch on everything from economics to sociology to government. These topics are typically approached from a quantitative perspective. The aim is to better understand each of them through objective analysis so that students may be prepared to evaluate the impact of legislation and government decisions.
What To Know About Studying Public Policy Online
Online public policy graduate programs are designed for flexibility. This way, they hope to accommodate the busy lifestyle of policy analysts, political scientists, and the modern student. As an online student, you could access your courses from your own computer or tablet, provided it’s compatible and has a stable internet connection. What does that mean for you? As a dedicated professional, you could continue making a difference in your community every day. And you could do it without compromising on your education.
If you choose to study public policy online, you’ll have the freedom to apply to schools without having to worry about things like the commute. Instead, you could chose a program based on what you most need to learn. That could be a certain skill related to research or analysis, or a policy topic related to the needs of your community. And so will all your classmates—meaning you could study alongside people working in communities of all shapes and sizes. The resulting diversity of perspective (not to mention the networking opportunities) could bring an added value to your education.
What Is Public Policy?
Public policy is:
- The principles that guide legislation and public leadership
- The social positions and values that guide how an administration interprets and enforces legislation
- An academic and professional field that applies quantitative methods to measure and predict the impact of legislation and governance on a population
While each of those points are important, in the context of graduate study (and, most likely, your career after you finish), you’ll be most concerned with the third one. Online public policy graduate programs try and prepare students to become leaders and better understand their communities, public organizations, and government. They focus on building quantitative skills, and applying those skills to grasp how laws and law enforcement affect communities. The findings from this research then act as a basis for forming said principles and values, and making educated decisions.
In many cases, people pursue a specific area of expertise within public policy, and concentrate efforts toward that branch of research. That could be anything from economics, to urban policy, to international relations, or even global terrorism. Some programs might offer formal tracks of study that align with those specializations. Others might be designed more broadly and include discipline-specific electives. Programs vary, so contact schools for details.
Types of Online Public Policy Graduate Programs
Online public policy graduate programs could be offered at three different levels. Each type of public policy program may have it's own goals and requirements. Therefore, read program descriptions carefully and consider your interests and experience to find a great match for you. Below is a brief overivew to get you started.
- Online Masters Degree in Public Policy: Also referred to as MPP degree programs, many online Master of Public Policy programs target the needs of working professionals. That means that on top of offering flexibility, their coursework may emphasize the use of knowledge in the real world. Applicants might need at least a bachelor’s degree to enroll. Some programs could also ask for a minimum amount of relevant professional experience. MPP programs usually take around two years to complete, depending on course load and other factors. They generally culminate with either a thesis or capstone project.
- Online PhD in Public Policy Programs: At the doctoral level, public policy students may focus on a specific research topic. In addition to performing that research, programs might support that concentration through advanced coursework. These courses could focus on things like advanced statistics, analysis, and research methodologies. However, this can vary on an individual basis. Generally, online public policy doctoral programs include either a dissertation or capstone project. In some cases, these may need the student to be present on campus to present or defend their research.
- Online Public Policy Graduate Certificate Programs: Certificates are typically shorter than degree programs and may be offered at the masters or post-masters level. However, that could vary widely on a case-by-case basis. The specifics of what you learn may also vary. While some online public policy certificates may be broad, aiming to cover the basics, many programs instead focus their attention on one subject, skill set, or area of need. This could allow public policy analysts to expand their expertise in a relevant area to their community. Or they could learn more about researching a certain topic, enhancing the education and experience they already have.
Example Policy Curriculum
The curriculum offered in each school of public policy—online or otherwise—may be unique. This could hinge on factors like the selected concentration (if any), the degree level, the objective of the program, etc. Generally, these programs aim to develop a basic understanding of the relationship between social systems and legal ones. They also incorporate the advanced quantitative skills one would need to study that relationship. Here’s an example of the types of courses an online public policy graduate program might offer.
- Economics & Econometrics: Not only might online public policy graduate programs cover the essentials of micro and macroeconomics. They may also examine the methods by which economics are researched, and how that research could be applied in a policy setting.
- Statistics: These courses aim to build the quantitative and technical skills necessary to perform advanced policy research. This may include statistics techniques related to economics research, probability, modeling, and other advanced mathematical concepts.
- Policy Analysis: Courses on policy analysis and similar topics (such as political analysis, economic policy analysis, etc) discuss the application of statistics, quantitative research methodologies, and modeling to better understand the impact of actual and potential policy decisions.
- Program Evaluation: Not only might policy analysts be called to study the effects of legislation. They also might need to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of public programs. Program evaluation courses discuss the strengths and weaknesses of different methodologies to accomplish this.
- Behavioral Decision Making: Because policy analysis aims to help leaders make effective decisions, it’s important to understand the psychology behind that process. Behavioral decision making looks at the science behind decisions, bias, and the impact of choice. These courses may also discuss how to leverage this knowledge to better focus public policy research efforts.
- Decision Modeling: Decision models are templates for evaluating the logic behind and effects of potential decisions. Public Policy decision modeling courses may survey a variety of methodologies for forming these models, emphasizing the use of data. Topics include the Akerlof Model, Principal-agent model, and more.
What’s The Difference Between a Thesis, Dissertation and Capstone?
Most public policy graduate programs culminate in some kind of final project. Given the nature of public policy, this is almost always research-oriented. Beyond that, though, you may have a variety of avenues. Different types of final projects may support different goals, or play to different strengths. They may also tell you a little bit about a program's focus and approach. Depending on the level of your program, you might have to do one of three types of projects.
- A thesis is a long research paper typically completed in a master’s program. It demonstrates your knowledge of your subject area, developed through your coursework. A program awarding a thesis may be a suitable choice if you intend to go on to complete a doctoral program.
- A dissertation is a research project completed at the doctoral level. It’s usually longer and more complex than a thesis. A dissertation generally aims to contribute new knowledge or ideas to the field. In contrast, a master's thesis would show your command of established thought. Students usually have a dedicated dissertation advisor. That person is there to guide you through the research process. Students may also have to present and defend their research to the relevant policy department faculty. If you’re studying in an online public policy program, this means you might need to visit campus before you graduate.
- In a research-oriented field like public policy, the main difference between a capstone and a thesis or dissertation is the intended audience. A thesis or dissertation is generally written with academia in mind. On the other hand, a capstone project demonstrates the student’s ability to apply their skills in a real-world context. A public policy capstone project might involve conducting research to find a solution to a real-world problem. Students might also perform research in response to a relevant policy question, as one might in the role of a professional policy analyst. Some programs may allow students to complete capstones together with a group of students rather than solo.
How Is Public Policy Different from Political Science or Public Administration?
While all three of these topics have elements in common, there are a few important differences.
- Public Policy vs Public Administration: Public policy programs focus on using quantitative analysis to understand and predict the impact of legislation and leadership decisions. Meanwhile, public administration looks at what it means to be the leader making that decision in a public or nonprofit organization.
- Public Policy vs Political Science: Both of these fields apply quantitative analysis and research skills to better understand how lawmaking, public leadership, and governance can effect different parts of the community. However, public policy tends to look at specific policy issues, like healthcare, education, or poverty to name a few. Political science is a little different. While many political science undergrads go on to law school at the graduate level, political scientists in pursuit of a masters in political science or higher generally study the behavior and functioning of political institutions.
Despite these differences, you may find that some online public policy programs either incorporate some public administration or political science coursework in their curriculum. Some may even blend several topics into one curriculum, such as in “public policy and administration programs.” For more information on how this applies to your selected online public policy graduate program, reach out to the school in question.
Example Policy Career Infoi
Careers in public policy center on helping leaders make educated decisions to guide their communities and the people they serve. Policy analysts could be found in local, state, and federal government, public agencies, and even in nonprofit organizations and lobby groups. In addition to policy research, policy analysts might be called to evaluate the efficacy of public programs, and make recommendations for improvement based on those findings.
Because policy analysts might work in so many different settings, the prerequisites might vary widely. Many of them hold a masters or doctorate in public policy or a similar field, often with a concentration on a certain issue or discipline like urban policy or economics. They also often hold prior research experience gained in academic or professional settings. That being said, entry level positions (like being a research assistant) might be open to those with relevant bachelor’s degrees, especially if the candidate holds relevant professional experience.
Search for Online Public Policy Graduate Programs
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Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm#tab-4