Best Online Public Policy Master's Degree Programs

Begin or enhance your career in public policy with one of these top online Master of Public Policy (MPP)-related degrees. Then, explore possible degree concentration areas and learn how to choose an MPP the fits your career goals. Schools offering Public Administration degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Best Online Master's Degree Programs in Public Policy

Many intuitions across the country offer online master's degree programs in the field of public policy. When creating our list of the best public policy-related degree programs, we used a strict criterion that was based on program flexibility, affordability, concentrations offered, and unique features.

1. Indiana University-Bloomington

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Bloomington, IN $10,564

Indiana University-Bloomington offers a unique public policy and public administration-centered Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree program that offers a sampling of courses from each discipline.

Students are also able to attend the optional O'Neill Online Week, which is an on-campus course that lets online students work with their peers and professors in person as they help solve a real-world public policy issue. The 48-credit online MPA program has a generous transfer credit policy that can save students significantly on their tuition. Students with professional or military experience can transfer 3 to 6 credits, and those with senior-level public affairs management experience can transfer 9 to 12 credits.

2. University of Missouri-Columbia

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Columbia, MO $10,017

University of Missouri-Columbia's online Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree requires 33 credits and can be completed 100% online with no in-person requirements. This program features short 9-week classes, allowing students to take one class at a time and still finish their degree in 2 years. Along with core courses in public policy economics, public policy processes, and electives, students take two specialization courses: one in HR management in nonprofits and one in budgeting. All online students in this online MPA program qualify for in-state tuition no matter where they are in the country and pay $443.33 per credit, which includes most fees as well.

3. University of Northern Iowa

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Cedar Falls, IA $10,432

The University of Northern Iowa has an online Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree program designed for working professionals that can be completed in 2 years; students only need to take 2 classes each semester, allowing them to balance life, work, and their studies. Classes feature an 8-week format with both synchronous elements completed through video conferencing and asynchronous elements completed through eLearning. Students take classes on public budgeting, education policy, and urban policy. An internship, which can be waived for those with professional experience, is also required. Additionally, students must complete a cornerstone course with an on-campus orientation, but out-of-state students can work with the program if they need accommodations and cannot attend.

4. Oregon State University

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Corvallis, OR$14,331

Oregon State University's online Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree program allows students to choose from 4 concentrations areas, including:

  • Energy policy
  • Environmental policy
  • Rural policy
  • Social policy

Along with coursework, students must also complete a capstone project centering on a public policy issue that aligns with their career goals and pass an oral examination, which can be conducted remotely. This online MPP program aligns with standards established by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), and helps early and mid-career professionals prepare for senior-level roles in a nonprofit or public policy agency. Oregon State University also has an Executive Master of Public Policy (EMPP) program that only requires 45 quarter credits and is for professionals with at least 5 years of experience in public policy.

5. California University of Pennsylvania

Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
California, PA $16,672

California University of Pennsylvania offers an online 30-credit Master of Science in Legal Studies degree program that features a concentration in law and public policy and has a special focus on the connection between the law, the criminal justice system, and public policy.

When attending full-time, students can earn their degree in only 1 year; when attending part-time, it can be completed in 2 years. Students benefit from the guidance of a personal faculty advisor, who is able to guide them through the program, and from a diverse group of peers who come from a range of professional settings, such as the military, business, and the legal world.

Rank School Name Location Graduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
6 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA $16,179
7 University of Nebraska at Omaha Omaha, NE $6,592
8 Aurora University Aurora, IL $12,600
9 Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion Marion, IN $13,104
10 The University of Texas at Arlington Arlington, TX $9,672
11 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus Pittsburgh, PA $23,696
12 University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth North Dartmouth, MA $16,337
13 Temple University Philadelphia, PA $17,378
14 New England CollegeHenniker, NH $13,560
15 Arizona State University Phoenix, AZ $6,462
16 Eastern Illinois University Charleston, IL $9,958
17 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC $12,212
18 Valdosta State University Valdosta, GA $6,628
19 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA $8,333
20 National Louis University Chicago, IL $12,096
21 CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice New York, NY $11,212
22 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus University Park, PA $21,772
23 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA $45,561
24 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD $55,816
25 SUNY Empire State College Saratoga Springs, NY $11,625
26 Thomas Edison State University Trenton, NJ $12,024

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Degree Overview Online Master's Degree Programs in Public Policy

Master's degree programs in the field of public policy prepare students for careers in local or federal governments or in nonprofit agencies. These online programs focus on the process of creating and implementing policies that address social issues.

Coursework in online Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree programs includes the study of the following subject areas:

  • Public policy analysis
  • Public organizations
  • Quantitative/qualitative research methods
  • Policy process
  • Program evaluation

Online MPP programs require anywhere from 30 to 48 total credits. Most programs can be completed in about 2 years; however, some can be completed in only 1 year of study. Many online MPP programs are designed for working professionals as well and offer both part- and full-time attendance. While the majority of programs adhere to the traditional semester format, some programs offer an accelerated 8- or 9-week semester format, so students can take only 1 to 2 classes at a time and still finish their program in 2 years.

Generally, online MPP degrees can be earned 100% online. However, a limited number of programs may require or make optional real-world internships or campus visits. Internships take place within a public service or policy setting, and campus visits may include attending an orientation or working with peers on a real-world public policy issue.

Public Policy Concentrations Areas

Although most online MPP programs have a general focus on public policy, a select few programs offer concentrations that allow students to specialize in one area of policy design and implementation. Below are examples of concentration areas found in some online MPP programs.

  • Rural Policy, which centers on the study of environmental sociology, rural policy, and food policy.
  • Energy Policy, which focuses on topics related to renewable energy, climate change, and US energy policy.
  • Environmental Policy, which includes the study of ocean policy, climate change, and environmental politics.
  • Educational Policy, which is an area that focuses on the study of public school intuitions, the history and philosophy of education, and program evaluation.
  • Social Policy, which focuses on subjects related to social movements, education, criminology, and culture.
  • Public Management, which centers on concepts related to economic development, public process, and public finance.

Master of Public Policy (MPP) vs Master of Public Administration (MPA)

It can be rather difficult to understand the subtle differences between these two master's degree programs as they have curricula that cover similar topics.

The key difference between MPP and MPA programs, however, is what aspect of public policy and management they focus on. MPP programs have a larger analytical focus on teaching students how to design, evaluate, and implement public policies. MPA programs, on the other hand, focus more on the technical administrative skills needed to run public agencies, such as how to budget, communicate, and manage employees.

As such, MPP programs prepare students for careers that are related more to directing and creating policy, such as positions like a policy consultant or an environmental analyst. MPA programs prepare students for careers as city managers, HR managers, or public health administrators.

There are also Master of Public Affairs degree programs that bridge the gap between MPP and MPA programs by including coursework that studies public policy and public administration.

How to Choose an Online Master's Degree Program in Public Policy

Pursuing an MPP degree is a big commitment, so you want to make sure you are choosing a degree program that fits with your life and what areas of public policy you want to study. To help you through the decision, we suggest you consider your career goals, program flexibility, and admissions requirements.

Career Goals

One of the first things you should consider when choosing an online MPP degree is how your perspective program will help you meet your career goals. The concentration areas of MPP degrees are often unique to specific programs, which means not every online program will offer the concentration that aligns with your career goals.

For example, the rural public policy concentration isn't offered by many programs, so if you want to work in that area, then you want to choose a program that offers that concentration or has classes focused on rural policy.

Flexibility and Real-World Requirements

Many MPP are designed for working professionals and allow for some flexibility in attendance options and the number of classes you need to take at a time. If you will be working and earning your degree, make sure to choose a program that understands your busy schedule.

Additionally, some MPP programs require real-world internships for those with limited public policy professional experience. Usually, a program will work with you to find an internship in your local area. If you are unable to complete an internship, be sure to choose a program that doesn't have this requirement. Additionally, MPP programs sometimes waive this internship requirement, if you already have professional experience.

Admissions Requirements

The admissions requirements for online MPP programs vary by university, which could affect your decision about which programs to apply to. Certain MPP programs require students to have professional experience related to public policy or public affairs. Likewise, some programs require GRE, LSAT, or GMAT scores, while others don't require them or make them optional. Last, some programs allow you to substitute GRE scores for the professional experience requirement. When choosing a program, make sure that your experience matches the admissions requirements and schedule time to take the GRE or other graduate entrance exam, if your chosen program requires scores.

Financial Aid & Scholarships for Online Master's Degrees in Public Policy

After you choose the right MPP program, you're going to want to research ways to afford your degree. The first step you need to take is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Typically, graduate students can access the following types of aid:

  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which are for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.
  • Direct PLUS Loans, which are for graduate and professional students to help pay for expenses not covered by other types of aid.
  • Direct Consolidation Loans, which allows students to combine all their federal loans into a single loan.
  • Federal Work-Study, which is a program that allows students to work on- or off-campus and earn a paycheck that can help offset their school expenses.

You can also search for scholarships that are offered by nonprofits or private organizations. Below are examples of scholarships that are especially for graduate students who are earning a public policy-focused degree:

  • Harry L. Jones Sr. Scholarship - This is a $5,000 scholarship from the National Forum for Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) and is for a graduate student pursuing a degree in public policy or a related field.
  • Clarence E. Ridley Scholarship - This is a $3,500 scholarship awarded by the Texas City Management Association for a student pursuing a graduate degree in public affairs or public administration and will be attending a Texas university.
  • Stephen K. Hall ACWA Water Law & Policy Scholarship Program - This is a $10,000 scholarship for a graduate student pursuing a public administration or public policy degree that is related to water policy or law.

You also want to check with your school's financial aid department to learn about any university-based scholarship you may be eligible for.

Job Options with a Master's Degree in Public Policy

A master's degree in the field of public policy opens the door to various careers in the field of public service, political science, and community service.

Policy Analyst

Policy analysts create and implement public policies. In order to do so, they must conduct research, using quantitative and qualitative methods, must be able to write complex reports, and must stay up-to-date with current policy issues within their field. Policy analysts can work with government agencies, for the legislative branch, or for nonprofits or other private organizations. Usually, policy analysts concentrate on a select area, such as healthcare or education.

According to Payscale.com, policy analysts earn an average salary of $58,562.

Political Scientist

Similar to policy analysts, political scientists conduct research into public policy, but they also research other topics, such as political trends and political ideas. Political scientists complete this research in order to create political theories and understand the way public policies affect certain populations, businesses, or the government. They generally work for the federal government or for private politically-orientated organizations.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018, political scientists earned a median salary of $117,570, and the number of jobs is expected to rise 5% from 2018-2028.

Social and Community Service Manager

Social and community service managers work for nonprofits, social service agencies, or the government where they are responsible for creating and managing social programs and services. Usually, they specialize in one population, which could be children or veterans. They identify what kinds of services are needed and then implement programs that address those needs. Additionally, they must conduct analysis to ensure that their programs are working as intended.

As per the BLS, in 2018, social and community service managers earned a median salary of $65,320, and employment is expected to rise 13% from 2018-2028.

Professional Public Policy Associations

Public policy associations and organizations not only advocate for the study of public policy and political science but also offer a wealth of resources for members and the public alike.

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM)

APPAM is an organization that focuses on research and education related to public policy and management. APPAM holds an annual conference, produces a scholarly public policy journal, and offers several awards. As a paid APPAM member, you get access to a job board, webinars, networking events, and reduced conference rates.

American Political Science Association (APSA)

Since 1903, APSA has been advocating for professional political scientists and promoting political science research and education. APSA produces a number of scholarly publications, offers resources to both students and professors, and holds an annual conference. ASPA also has paid memberships that grant members access to publications, career resources, scholarship opportunities, and discounts.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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