Online PhD in Public Policy

Should governments restrict Internet access? Should people be allowed to smoke inside restaurants? Should convenience stores deny services to shirtless customers? These are just a few of the questions that public policy makers have to grapple with as they strive to improve the world around us. An online doctorate degree in public policy will prepare students for major decision-making positions in government, environment, academia and more. Applicants interested in the public policy PhD are typically required to hold a bachelor’s degree in public policy, political science or a related field. Public policy entails the laws, regulations and ordinances designed by governments to enhance society. As an online PhD major, you’ll learn to make decisions that affect organizations, control regulations at different governmental levels, and influence your environment. Depending on your school, speed, and level of commitment, the online PhD in public policy may take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to complete. Most schools have some sort of residency, typically between 2 and 4 weeks per year. As an online student, you’ll complete written assignments, presentation, and group projects throughout the course of your PhD program. Along the way, you’ll confront some of society’s most urgent issues and examine viable public policy measures.

About Online PhD Programs in Public Policy

Year One:

  • Leadership and Organizational Change. You’ll learn about models of leadership and organizational change in this class.
  • Governance and Public Policy. The goal of this class is to give students an overview of governance in public administration, as well as nongovernmental organizations.
  • Public Policy Implications of Terrorism Legislation and Policies . This class tackles the Patriot Act, other similar legislative measures and their overall implications on governmental entities and nongovernmental organizations.

Year Two:

  • Managing Public Safety Organizations. This course provides a broad perspective of public safety and problem-solving methodology.
  • Ethics in Preserving Public Safety. The purpose of this class is to examine ethical issues in public safety, using specific leadership case studies.
  • Public Policy and Finance. You will learn about influence of public finance policy choices and the impact of government spending on economic policy.

Year Three:

  • Strategic Context of Public Management. This class covers the dynamic strategic context of public policy implementation, while engaging students in a collaborative approach.
  • Transformative Change in a Shared Power. This course teaches students about the practical changes in complex systems.
  • The Language of Leadership. This leadership course aims to equip students with in depth understanding of how to use language to motivate and manage organizations.

Year Four:

  • Current Issues in Regional and Local Public Policy. In this class, you’ll use real world examples to locate complex interrelated issues in public policy, including immigration, urban development, and housing.
  • Critical Incident Leadership and Planning. This class explores the role of leadership in responding to critical incidents as they occur.
  • Health Services Financial Management. The focus of this course is on the functions of health care finance managers, and topics may include debt, capital acquisition, and decision making.

Public Policy PhD students have an opportunity to put their learning to use in the form of a dissertation—a detailed examination of a topic of interest. This usually entails the completion of a prospectus, proposal, institutional Review Board application, and the dissertation. But you won’t embark on this journey alone. Top schools offer guidance via a dissertation supervisory committee, but students still have to complete the work independently. Past public policy dissertation topics include: a study of the impact of decentralization on access to service delivery and an exploration of the impact of peer effect within the classroom.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Public Policy

A PhD in public policy can prove valuable in various sectors of employment, ranging from local, state and federal government agencies to private firms and non-profit organizations and academia. In many schools throughout the world, employers now require faculty hold a doctorate degree. An online public policy PhD from a top program satisfies that requirement. The training is a valuable asset that many employers find very attractive. The main criticism against online schooling in this field is that it eliminates face-to-face interaction between students and professors. Public policy entails enacting ordinances that affect other people, so interaction is a key ingredient of the learning process. This style of learning may not be suitable for every student. Some programs try to minimize this problem by offering video seminars and occasional in-person seminars, as well as residency sessions. Still, it’s impossible to replicate the same standard of personal interaction that you get at traditional schools. Another criticism of PhD programs is that the resources required don’t match the financial returns. For self-motivated individuals who desire an advanced degree in public policy to bolster their credentials, the online PhD remains a viable option.

Application & Admission Requirements

Top online doctoral programs in public policy require PhD applicants to first secure a bachelor’s or master’s degree in public policy, political science, human resource management or related field. In addition, some schools may require applicants to have professional work experience in government. A typical application consists of 1) the application form specifying on the program to which the application is being made, 2) two professional letters of recommendation, 3) official transcripts of all college-level work, and 4) an official Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score report. Information on the GMAT can usually be obtained online at www.mba.com. Application deadlines are typically posted on the school’s website. International candidates must have strong written and spoken English language communication skills, and may be required to submit TOEFL test scores. According to Emory University, a minimum of 250 is required for the computer-based test, 600 for the paper-based, and 100 for the Internet-based. The application review process starts soon after receipt of a complete application package by the Graduate School.

Career Options & Job Market

As a Public policy PhD holder you have the opportunity to land top level positions in federal, state or local government. This may include: elected office, non-profit organizations or government-related private sector organizations. Practicing doctorate degree holders typically earn significantly higher income, but this will depend on region, skill level, work experience, and sector. Though job outlook will vary by state, the overall job prospects remain favorable. According to the Bureau of Labor, state and local government employment is projected to increase by 8 percent between 2008 and 2018.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

Online doctoral candidates concerned about the cost of college will be relieved to learn about the various scholarships and grants available to them. Regardless of your background or residency, there are many organizations eager to help fund your college education. General tuition costs vary from program to program. For instance, Walden’s online PhD in public policy (course-based option) costs $455 per quarter credit hour plus $935 for each of four 4-day residencies. Their mixed-model option costs $4,380 per quarter plus $935 per residency. Cappella’s public administration PhD costs $2532 per quarter credit.

Essential Advice

  • To succeed in an online public policy PhD program, you need to be sufficiently motivated and willing to challenge yourself.
  • An online doctoral degree in business is a very challenging academic endeavor that may take anywhere from three to six years to complete. You need to be realistic about your ability to delve into this long-term educational journey.
  • Talk to other students. Students who have already completed an online PhD program will be able to give you a thorough assessment of its merits and demerits. Reach out to them and find out what it truly entails.
  • Polish your communication skills. Strong communication skills, both written and oral, are required to excel in public policy. Polish your skills and learn to organize your thoughts in a logical manner.