An online Master's in Public Policy is for those passionate individuals who are passionate about making a difference in their communities and in the country and aim to make it their life's work. Even at the undergraduate stage, these hardworking professionals can make a difference in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. From working with community centers to running for office, public policy professionals can be found working to build a better future for the country.
However, while an undergraduate degree may be enough for some career paths, an online master's degree can help professionals reach the highest echelons of the field. These programs tend to run for around two years and are flexible enough that they can be completed by even the busiest professionals. With financial aid available as well as flexible term schedules, there's no reason that a professional can't find the perfect online program for them.
A massive amount of research was done in order to create this ranking. The information was sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics and its for-public use College Navigator database. From an initial pool of 30 schools, the final 10 that are listed below were chosen based on their in-state graduate tuition rates.
Ranking Low-cost Online Public Policy Master's
10. SUNY Empire State College
Saratoga Springs, New York
Online Master of Arts in Social and Public Policy
SUNY Empire State College offers students a great Master's in Public Policy online degree. The program is designed for professionals who wish to work in a variety of sectors that require knowledge of governmental and organizational policy. Students will learn how to analyze and implement policies, learn how policies affect different populations, and focus on an area of specialization. The program offers the chance to earn an advanced certificate in nine areas, including Child and Family Advocacy, Social Entrepreneurship, and Non-Profit Management. This program is mostly conferred online, with three courses requiring residency at the campus. All other courses are delivered asynchronously and the entire degree can be completed in two years with year-round study. Students will be required to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, a thesis or professional project, and a comprehensive written and oral exam. Sample courses include Social Policy Perspectives, Ethical Issues in Social Policy, and Policy Implementation.
9. Oregon State University
Online Master of Public Policy
The online Master's in Public Policy that is available from Oregon State University is one of the best programs for entry-level and mid-career professionals who are already working in the field. This is a program that is dedicated to ensuring that this 100 percent online program meets the same academic standard of excellence as its traditional program; to this end, the online degree follows the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administrations guidelines and principles. Students can choose from four public policy concentrations, including Energy Policy, Environmental Policy, Rural Policy, and Social Policy. There are also six graduate certifications, ranging from Public Health to Sustainable Natural Resources, that may be taken in lieu of a concentration that will provide students with an additional certification as well as the degree. Students will find that all courses are available through the school's virtual portal and are delivered in an asynchronous format for their convenience. Students will be expected to complete a minimum of 46 credit hours of coursework for the general degree and 58 credit hours with an added concentration, an applied capstone project, and a comprehensive oral exam. Sample courses include Public Organizations and Leadership, Understanding Social Research, and Public Policy Analysis.
8. Walden University
Online Master of Public Policy
Walden University confers an online Master's in Public Policy that blends theory and application into a well-rounded program. Utilizing a virtual city that grounds the program's curriculum, students will learn how to use their analytical and research skills to develop a comprehensive foundation of knowledge in the political institutions and processes that help create public policy. This online program offers 11 different concentrations, including Law and Public Policy, Terrorism Mediation and Peace, and International Nongovernmental Organizations. Students will find that the program is delivered through asynchronous and synchronous delivery methods online and may be able to complete their degree in around two years with full-time study. Students will be required to complete at least 48 quarter credit hours without a specialization, a capstone project, and a comprehensive written and oral exam. Sample courses include Public Policy and Finance, Governance and Public Policy, and Policy and Politics in American Political Institutions.
7. Grand Canyon University
Online Master of Public Administration with an Emphasis in Government and Policy
Students at Grand Canyon University are offered an excellent public policy master's online program that focuses on building up leadership and administrative skills in all areas of the field. This is a 100 percent online degree that is delivered both asynchronously and synchronously by the same professors and instructors who teach the course on campus. Courses are also delivered in an eight-week format, making it possible for students to complete this Veteran Affairs-approved program in around two years with part-time study. Students will be expected to complete 38 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive written and oral exam; there is no thesis or capstone project required. Sample courses include Public and Non-Profit Administration, Public Budgeting and Financial Management, and Economics for Public Administrators.
6. Regent University
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Online Master of Arts in Government, Law and Public Policy Concentration
Regent University offers students an online Master's in Public Policy alternative. This degree offers students a governmental perspective on how policy is crafted and implemented, giving them the opportunity to learn how their career can positively influence policy in a variety of different fields. This is a 100 percent online degree plan, with students receiving their degree through asynchronous and synchronous courses, and requires no residencies on campus. Students may opt to complete an internship, but this can be completed in their own community upon the approval of the school. While there are no set concentrations available, students will find that they can focus on Biblical Public Policy, Foreign Policy, and Governmental Policy through the concentration course electives offered by the school. The degree requires a minimum of 30 credit hours of coursework, a thesis or final project, and a comprehensive written exam. Sample courses include International Relations Theory, American Political Thought, and International and Comparative Human Rights.
5. Indiana University
Online Master of Public Affairs
Students at Indiana University are offered an online Master's in Public Policy that melds the foundations of both public administration and policy into a comprehensive program. This is a 100 percent online program that offers an optional SPEA Connect Week, a week-long residency for online students. Students will complete their coursework online through asynchronous courses and synchronous seminars, all of which culminate in an experiential component. The component can include an independent research project, prior professional experience, volunteer service, or an internship that is approved by the department. Students will find that the majority of their degree program will focus on their specific fields of interest; this accounts for more than half of all credit hours required for this program. Degree requirements include a minimum of 48 credit hours of coursework, the experiential component, and a comprehensive written and oral exam. Sample courses include Public Management Economics, Public Finance and Budgeting, and Statistical Analysis for Effective Decision Making
4. The University of Missouri at Columbia
Online Master's of Art in Public Affairs
The University of Missouri at Columbia is home to Mizzou Online, the university system's virtual portal. It is here that students will be able to earn an online public policy master's degree. The MPA at this school is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. This is a 100 percent online program that delivers its courses on a nine-week term schedule and through both asynchronous and synchronous formats. Courses are also taught by the same professors and instructors who teach the courses online. Students are treated to a comprehensive program that covers research methods within public policy, government, processes, and economic analysis. Students who choose to study part-time will find that they can complete all the requirements for the degree in around two years. This degree requires 33 credit hours of coursework and a comprehensive written and oral exam. Sample courses include Organizational Dynamics and Leadership, Public Policy Processes and Strategies, and Public Service and Democracy.
3. The University of Nebraska at Omaha
Online Master of Public Administration
The online Master's in Public Policy from the University of Nebraska at Omaha is an exceptional professional program that has been offered online since 2000. It is also the first online MPA to be accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. Students who take on this degree will find that the program is accompanied by six concentrations, include Public Policy, Local Government, and Public Management. It is also possible to specialize in Criminology and Criminal Justice. This program is conferred online through asynchronous and synchronous courses; however, there is a mandatory one-day on-campus residency orientation program. Students will find that the courses within the curriculum are taught by the same nationally renown professors and instructors who deliver the courses on campus. This degree requires 39 credit hours of coursework, a capstone project, and a comprehensive written and oral exam. Sample courses include Analysis and Decision Making, Organization Theory and Behavior, and Policy Design and Implementation.
2. Valdosta State University
Online Master of Public Administration
The MPA provided by Valdosta State University is a 100 percent online program that comes with three concentrations, including Public Sector Management, Public Sector Human Resource Management, and Public Policy. This program is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration. Students will find that all courses are delivered asynchronously through the school's virtual portal and can be completed on their own schedule. The only exception to this is the program's requirement of a 300-hour internship that takes place in a government agency, a non-profit organization, or a non-governmental organization. This experience will be completed in a student's area of residence and must be approved by the department prior to participation. Students will be expected to complete 36 credit hours of coursework, a research paper, and a comprehensive written and oral exam. Sample courses include Administrative Law, Trends and Issues in Public Policy, and Research Methods for Public Policy.
1. Eastern Illinois University
Online Master of Arts in Political Science with an Option in Public Administration and Public Policy
Eastern Illinois University confers a cheap public policy master's degree that is perfect for pre-service and early-service professionals. This is a 100 percent online degree that can be completed in just one year with full-time study. Students may also choose to study part-time and complete their degree in two years. All courses are delivered asynchronously and are helmed by the same faculty that teach the traditional campus courses. Students will find that the program is flexible and allows for maximum freedom in terms of curriculum and final project choice. The program also allows for students who live close to campus to participate in a hybrid program, which will allow them to be eligible for graduate assistantships; this may help curb the cost of their tuition. Students can expect to complete a minimum of 30 credit hours of coursework, a thesis or capstone project, and a comprehensive written and oral exam. Sample courses include International Policy Issues, Public Policy Analysis, and City and Urban Policy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the Career Options for an Online Master's in Public Policy Degree?
An online Master's in Public Policy degree offers a professional several different career options. These can be in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Some of these include:
- Policy analyst
- City government elected official
- Nonprofit Executive Director
- Government affairs director
- Court Administrator
- Federal intelligence analyst
- Research Analyst
- Clinical research associate
- Nonprofit Chief Operation Officer
- Public Relations Consultant
- Municipal Budget Director
How Much Can You Earn in This Field?
There is a wide salary range for those in the field of public policy. Currently, this range is $43,000 for a grant writer to $155,000 for a chief executive officer. This range accounts for job positions, varying levels of work experience, different regions where work is available, additional skills and expertise, and more.
It is important to note that those who move into public policy at the master's level will have an average salary of between $65,000 to $75,000 with no prior work history. Professionals with more work experience may command between $85,000 to $92,000. This does not include benefits or bonus forms of compensation.
There is also a difference between public sector jobs and private sector jobs. Professionals working in public sector jobs, on average, are paid less than their private-sector counterparts. However, they tend to have more stability in their careers and a steady rise in their income. Private sector jobs pay more, but are also quite competitive and may require additional professional development credentials.
What are the Various Disciplines of Public Policy?
Public policy is a general field that encompasses public policy in all sectors and across all industries within the United States of America. It is first and foremost concerned with law, policy, economics, international affairs, domestic affairs, and government. All professionals will engage these disciplines on a regular basis in their work.
However, because public policy is a general field, and since there are so many career paths available within the field, it is possible that professionals will need to engage in other disciplines as well.
Professionals who work in the public sector will need to contend with sociology, community affairs, social work, public relations, communication, leadership, and administration. They may find themselves engaging in politics at the administrative level, such as those who work for the White House or other government agencies.
Private sector professionals often work with consulting firms, SuperPACs, political organizations, and more. They will find themselves interacting with political history, theory, and applications. They will also need to focus on communications on all levels, from one-on-one meetings to fundraisers and town halls. They may also work with law firms, meaning they must understand the law of the particular field in which they are working. Conflict resolution and mediation, along with negotiation, may also play a large role in how they conduct business.
Do You Need a Degree in Public Policy to Make a Difference in Legislation?
No, an online Master's in Public Policy is not necessary to make a difference in American legislation. There are several examples throughout history in which an individual or a group of people have demanded, and won, a change in public policy. American governance is structured in such a way that makes this possible; an incredible example would be the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
However, professionals will note that although it is possible to influence legislation one way or another with activism and advocacy, public policy experts are the ones who craft legislation. These are the professionals who understand and can analyze policy to ensure that it is the best for the population that it will affect. The field is important because, with the analysis of public policy, legislation that is ultimately harmful to the people it was crafted to assist is stopped in its tracks and reviewed prior to becoming law.
A degree in public policy prepares students for becoming influencers and experts in public policy. Not every individual will go into politics with this degree, but many who do nevertheless have a hand in shaping policy. From the local to the federal levels, across every aspect of American life, these professionals are armed with the necessary skills and knowledge to understand a policy from every angle and be able to ensure that it is best for the American people.
A degree also serves another purpose: students are able to choose their own concentration, enabling them to learn about the field in a structured environment prior to joining the field. From seminars to internships, this is an invaluable experience that can shape a professional's future in the field for the better. Therefore, it is advised that anyone interested in public policy make a concerted effort to earn an online Master's in Public Policy.
Public policy is an important part of everyday life at every level in America. However, few people are as dedicated to policy work as the professionals who help influence the decisions made at different governmental levels. Now there is an increased need for more professionals with the expertise needed to properly analyze and implement various policies, with that need growing through 2024. With an online Master's in Public Policy, students and mid-service professionals can make a difference in the lives of all Americans while working on their own specific career goals.