Why Earn a Public Policy Degree

Professionals who desire a career in public service or in the nonprofit sector often find a public policy degree to be highly beneficial for their future advancement. These professionals often work in government agencies, consulting companies, nonprofits and international organizations.

When you earn an undergraduate or graduate degree in public policy, you will be learning how to analyze and evaluate information to solve a multitude of policy problems. Public policy graduates work with qualitative and quantitative data to develop, assess and evaluate alternative methods to deal with current and emerging policy issues.

A public policy degree is very useful in preparing generations of the future to deal with some of the biggest problems our society faces.

Today’s public policy programs offer many degree programs that will ready you to launch and sustain an exciting public policy career. Many universities offer public policy programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level that may be appropriate for experienced public policy professionals, or students who are just getting started in the field.

Careers in Public Policy

Earning your undergraduate or graduate degree in public policy will help you to establish yourself in one of these common career paths:

Political Scientist

These policy professionals study the origin, development, and operation of many political systems. They conduct research about political ideas and they also conduct analysis of political trends, policies and related matters. Some of their typical job duties include:

  • Conduct research on the US political system, how the US relates to other countries and various political ideologies
  • Collect data from various public sources, such as surveys and the results of elections
  • Use qualitative sources to develop new political theories
  • Conduct tests of theories, including quantitative methods, including statistical analysis
  • Monitor various current events, policy proposals and decisions, and other matters relevant to their subject area
  • Conduct forecasts of political, economic and social trends

Political scientists often need to use advanced qualitative research methods in their research as they gather information from many different sources. For instance, they often use historical documents to conduct analysis of previous government structures and policies.

Overall this profession is not growing quickly in terms of job demand. In the past, many political scientists worked for the federal government. Today, job opportunities may be more numerous in lobbying firms, nonprofit organizations and political organizations.

Urban and Regional Planner

These public policy professionals work with land use plans and programs that create new communities and expand existing ones in a productive way. You will use your skills to accommodate growth of the local population, and help to revitalize the facilities of many towns, cities and counties.

Urban and regional planners often do most of the following in their daily work:

  • Conduct meetings with public officials, architects and developers about developments and proposed land use
  • Handle the administration of government plans and policies that affect land use, zoning, the environment and public utilities.
  • Collect market research data, economic and environmental studies and censuses.
  • Perform field investigations to analyze the various factors that affect how communities develop and decline
  • Offer recommendations on whether proposals need to be denied or approved
  • Conduct presentations to planning officials and communities and planning commissions

Some urban and regional planners may work on large community projects and others may focus on certain issues. The job of a planner in the end is to offer recommendations on how to best use a community’s various resources for developmental purposes.

Job demand for urban and regional planners will increase by 6% by 2024, which is about average when compared to other professions. Overall, demographic and environmental changes will drive higher employment in many areas of the country.

Different Types of Public Policy Degrees

There are a variety of public policy degrees you can earn; which you choose will depend upon your experience level and current level of education:

Bachelor’s Level Degree Options

Earning a bachelor’s degree in public policy will provide you with the basic skills in public leadership and management to work in many entry-level public policy positions in the government and nonprofit sectors.

A good potential choice is the Bachelor of Science in Public Policy at Arizona State University. This program can be completed in three or four years online. You will examine practical solutions to complex policy problems in the public sector. Also, you will look up close at public service, public administration, and policy from the standpoint of a policy professional.

This degree will give you the empowerment that you need to create positive change throughout the public sector. Many graduates of this program work in city management, arts and culture administration, community organizing and outreach, parks and recreation, and various legislative and lobbying positions.

Master’s Level Degree Options

For the experienced public policy professional, you may want to earn your master’s degree in public policy (MPP). A worthy choice is the Master’s in Public Policy and Administration that is offered by Northwestern University. This program will instill advanced leadership skills in you, as well as develop your administrative skills so that you can rise quickly in the public policy field.

This program includes several specialized components, including public policy, global policy and public administration. Each is grounded in the idea that policy challenges are always fluid and changing, as well as global and interconnected. You will learn how to think across boundaries and diverse groups.

This is a highly versatile degree that can apply to many areas in all career sectors, including public and private organizations. Many graduates of this two year, online program will achieve exciting leadership roles in government at the federal, state and local levels.

Some work in leadership in nonprofit organizations and in private companies as well. Graduates often report that they are working in health services, community service, management consulting, financial analysis and even in entrepreneurial roles.

Your required courses include the following:

  • Research Methods
  • Public Finance and Budgeting
  • Fundamentals of Public Administration
  • Statistics for Research
  • Behavioral Economics
  • Strategic Policy Environment

If you have specific career interests in public policy, you may choose to specialize in one of these areas:

  • Public Administration: This specialization is appropriate if you want to serve as a manager at the state, local or federal level, or in a non-profit organization.
  • Public Policy: You will gain an understanding of the facts that are important in making public policy decisions and policy formulations. You will hone your analytical skills and increase your practical and theoretical knowledge.
  • Global Policy: You will be introduced to key matters that are addressed in effective global policy, such as the environment and financial regulation.

Accreditation

If you are planning to earn your degree in public policy, you should verify whether the program has been accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration or NASPAA. Being accredited by this organization is a strong sign that the program will provide you with a highly valuable education that will serve you well in your public policy career.

Summary

A public policy career is one that can be extremely rewarding, and with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you will find that you can work in a wide variety of areas.

Robert Sanchez
Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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