With the guidance of a committee of active public policy leaders, our M.P.P. curriculum combines rigorous policy coursework, experiential learning opportunities and collaborative activities.

The M.P.P. primarily relies on asynchronous assignments that encourage self-paced, flexible learning, but there are opportunities for students to connect with classmates, instructors and guest speakers in synchronous evening classes held on Zoom.

Students can earn their degree on a part-time schedule in two years, or six terms, by taking two courses per term.

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Degree requirements overview

Students must complete 36 credit hours to earn their online Master of Public Policy.

  • Core courses make up 24 credit hours
  • The remaining 12 credit hours are fulfilled by electives

Learning outcomes

Our curriculum aims to equip students with a strong foundation in policymaking, statistics, critical analysis and effective design and implementation. In addition to enhancing students’ writing and public speaking skills, the program provides thorough training in quantitative and qualitative analysis. In our program, students will:

  • Build the quantitative and qualitative analytical skills necessary for policy analysis, especially as a way to support decision making.
  • Design, implement and evaluate public policy and understand potential unintended consequences of policymaking.
  • Communicate analysis and recommendations effectively to relevant stakeholders.
  • Identify policy solutions and the political and economic institutions that influence the policy process.
  • Develop a basic understanding of the economics of the public sector.
  • Develop and refine an approach to ethical leadership.

Immersion experiences

The M.P.P. program prioritizes networking so that students have the opportunity to form close relationships with current and aspiring public policy professionals. In line with this, students are required to participate in two on-campus immersion experiences that provide networking opportunities and a deep understanding of policy analysis and implementation.

The first immersion takes place at the beginning of the program and involves interactive lectures, workshops and meetings with faculty and public policy professionals. This opportunity is designed to introduce students to the foundations of public policy and set a positive tone for their academic journey.

The second immersion occurs during the Capstone B course, typically in the final term of the program. Students present their capstone projects to classmates, faculty members and public policy professionals working in a variety of sectors.

During the immersions, students will:

  • Meet and network with current and aspiring policy professionals.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of public policy, including theoretical frameworks for analysis, as well as real-world case studies of how these are applied.
  • Work on a real-world public policy problem and propose policy solutions that are well-designed and rooted in implementation science.

Coursework and format

Your coursework will vary depending on the instructor and the specific class you’re taking. Each course offers a blend of rigorous writing components and collaborative activities. Expect less of the traditional fill-in-the-blank tests or history-style content, as there will be more emphasis on writing, analysis and project-based assessments. Some coursework may include:

  • Live evening classes
  • Self-assessments
  • Written assignments
  • Individual and group projects
  • On-campus immersions

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To download a program brochure and learn more about the online Master of Public Policy offered by Southern Methodist University, please fill out the form. You can also get in touch with an enrollment counselor directly by calling us at 855-741-1818.

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Course descriptions

Core courses

Eight core courses are required.

Students explore the dynamics and political processes of public policymaking in the United States (including federalism, separation of powers and the interaction of public, nonprofit and corporate sectors) and apply various frameworks and theories for approaching policy review/analysis. Students are introduced to implementation science that will be explored further in other courses. The course provides a graduate-level survey of the field of public policy, and concepts will include agenda setting, decision-making theory, implementation and methods of analyzing policy outcomes at the national, state and local level. A mandatory two-day immersion experience on the SMU campus occurs during the semester the course is taken. Prerequisites: none; students must take this course and the Research Methods and Design course before taking any other course.

Students learn the foundations of research design and qualitative and quantitative research methodologies frequently used in social science and policy research. Concepts include hypothesis testing and falsifiability, and students learn the basics of descriptive statistics and correlations. Additional topics include a survey of research design, research question formation, observation and interview-based research methods, survey development, experimental methods and effective presentation of research findings. Students apply methods in pursuing a policy-relevant research topic of their own design. An overview of publicly available quantitative data will be provided, and comparative policy research will be discussed. Prerequisites: none; students must take this course and the Foundations of Public Policy course before taking any other course.

Students learn the fundamentals of statistical reasoning and analysis relevant to public policy research, building on the descriptive and correlational approaches covered in the Research Methods and Design course. Students learn the probabilistic basis for statistical hypothesis testing and learn to conduct bivariate statistical tests (e.g., t-tests, chi-squares, correlations) as well as linear regressions. This course will provide students with a solid and pragmatic foundation for interpreting and analyzing data and the differences between statistical and practical significance. The class will use real-world data drawn from the public policy realm. Prerequisites: Foundations of Public Policy and Research Methods and Design

Students explore the fundamentals of economic theory as applied to public policy as well as the role of key economic institutions, such as the Federal Reserve. Students discuss the economic rationale for government and review public expenditures in education, health care, defense, infrastructure, welfare programs and social security. This course includes analysis of the government’s role in a market economy and introduces methods of economic analysis. Additional topics include resource scarcity, opportunity cost, market equilibrium, allocative and productive efficiency, welfare economics, market failure, intended and unintended consequences of policy interventions, efficiency versus equity and cost-benefit analysis. Prerequisites: Foundations of Public Policy and Research Methods and Design

Students learn a comprehensive overview of program evaluation theory and methods that are important in the field of public policy. These methods help make value decisions, improve the decision-making process, value inputs and outcomes, handle uncertainty and compare aspects of public policy and systems that might not otherwise appear to be comparable, which leads to better implementation. Focuses on effective policy design and implementation as well as how to assess the effectiveness of policy interventions. Topics include evaluation (qualitative and quantitative) design, logic models and theory of change, implementation science and implementation and outcome evaluation. Prerequisites: Foundations of Public Policy and Research Methods and Design

Students examine relevant theory and research regarding ethics and leadership in public organizations/public service and develop a personal foundation for ethical leadership. Students consider arguments for and against different normative approaches (e.g., utilitarianism, client advocacy/representation, emphasis on the most vulnerable) to policy formulation and evaluation. Topics include decision theory, including values-based decision-making. A key focus will be the implicit and explicit assumptions underlying different conceptions of what constitutes “good” or “effective” public policy. Prerequisites: Foundations of Public Policy and Research Methods and Design

Students learn why budgeting and finance are critical aspects of public policy and explore how to determine how much policies/programs are going to cost and how they will be paid for. This course will cover the process of budgeting along with the practical tools necessary for agile, dynamic and proactive budgeting. The majority of the course will be dedicated to financial management concepts, strategies and tools necessary for successful public policy implementation. Topics include fundamentals of financial projections and sensitivity analysis; innovative financial approaches for public policy implementation such as blended finance, social impact bonds and risk sharing and related case studies; interest groups; stakeholder groups; incentives; and using financial analysis in policy decision making and in setting spending priorities. Prerequisites: Foundations of Public Policy and Research Methods and Design

Students gain real-world experience in the nuances and challenges of developing public policy solutions. Students use knowledge and skills acquired in the program to analyze a real-world policy question for a client organization. In consultation with a faculty member and working with a small group of fellow students, students examine a public policy question in an analytically rigorous manner. By interacting with a client organization, students develop an understanding of the policy issue facing the organization and determine the appropriate approach to addressing it so that they can provide a systematic analysis. Students gain an understanding of the many steps and decisions that are needed to produce a policy analysis with real-world problems and organizations. Prerequisites: At least 18 hours of program required coursework; usually taken in the last spring semester of the program

Students complete the client-based policy work they started in Capstone A and make a presentation to a panel of experts for feedback on the work they did. Capstone B should be taken the semester immediately following Capstone A. A mandatory one-day immersion experience occurs on the SMU campus during the semester the Capstone B course is taken. Prerequisites: At least 18 hours of program required coursework; usually taken in last spring semester of the program; should be taken immediately following Capstone A.

Elective courses

Students choose four elective courses to round out their courseload. Below are the current options, and more electives will be added over time.

Students explore key concepts and frameworks of sustainable development from a policy perspective and are introduced to a solution-centered sustainability toolbox for policy professionals. This course will explore how the world is changing rapidly. Globalization and technological advancement have led to unprecedented division of labor and prosperity for many. However, large segments of the world’s population have been unable to benefit from these changes. Inequality has been rising in many countries, but global inequality has been on the decline. In the meantime, climate change, the prevailing patterns of natural resource use and environmental degradation are creating new risks for humanity and changing the social contract. Social and environmental objectives often involve trade-offs. And while social and environmental challenges are increasingly driven by global forces, nation-states’ ability to lead and enforce remain limited to their national boundaries. In an intricately interconnected and complex world, how can policymakers make sense of all these layers and nuances and look after the well-being of not only the current but also future generations? Prerequisites: At least six hours of program required coursework.

Examines the field of urban economics and introduces economic models that help explain urban growth. Students will explore why students exist and why some grow more rapidly, the government’s role in urban growth and development, and how individuals, businesses and organizations choose where to be located within a given metropolitan area. Prerequisites: At least six hours of program required coursework.

Students explore policy issues in the U.S. educational system, with a focus on new and emerging issues. Topics include the local, state and federal role in the public education system, as well as a deeper look at the various school models including public, private, charter and home school. Students analyze various accountability models and assess the theoretical underpinnings of our U.S. system of education. Prerequisites: At least six hours of program required coursework.

Students examine the major theories of world trade and analyze the empirical evidence regarding these theories. Students develop a framework for the analysis of trade policy instruments such as tariffs, quotas and voluntary export restraints. Prerequisites: At least six hours of program required coursework.

Immersion experiences

Students are required to attend two immersion experiences on-campus during the program as part of two courses: Foundations of Public Policy (taken in the first semester of the program) and the Capstone B course (taken in the last semester of the program).

During the first immersion experience, students will spend two days on campus (Friday/Saturday) occurring within the first three weeks of class (late August/early September). Students will get a chance to meet in person with classmates, faculty and public policy professionals for interactive lectures, workshops, Q&As and informational sessions. A guided tour of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and Public Policy Institute will be included during this experience. These two days will discuss the foundations of public policy theory and analysis, as well as provide a strong introduction to the program. This immersion experience is part of the Foundations of Public Policy class, and coursework and class time will be modified to accommodate the in-person experience.

The second immersion experience occurs when students take the Capstone B course, usually in their last semester of the program. At the beginning of the Capstone A course, students will be assigned a client public policy project to work on in teams. They will continue this work in Capstone B. They will use these two semesters to conduct rigorous analysis and develop a presentation with their analysis and proposed solutions/recommendations. Students will meet on campus for one to two days at the end of the semester during Capstone B to present their final capstone project to their client and faculty. Group work will be required throughout the semester, but can be done virtually. Some teams may choose to come to campus more frequently to work.