2024 Best Online PhD in Public Policy Programs

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Earning a PhD in Public Policy online may open doors to a rewarding career path. This field offers lucrative salaries, a positive job outlook for a number of positions, and the ability to impact national and international politics and law.

PhD in Public Policy

Pursuing a terminal degree in public policy may be a good fit for you if you’re interested in teaching, research, or participating in policy development and analysis at an advanced level.

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With a degree in public policy, working within federal or state governments, for nonprofit organizations, or within the private sectors may all be within reach.

Online PhD in Public Policy Programs

political scientists in conference

With a PhD in Public Policy, you may be uniquely qualified for a career as a professor within a postsecondary institution. This may allow you the opportunity to teach aspiring political scientists or policy analysts as well as participate in the development of course curriculum and instructional tools.

Another common career path for those with a PhD in Public Policy is that of research. This type of work may be performed at an academic institution, but it may also be needed for research institutions, think tanks, or government bodies.

When pursuing a PhD in Public Policy online, you may be exposed to a variety of advanced topics, including social change, political economy, microeconomics, and macroeconomics.

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Other content areas may include policy analysis, international politics, healthcare in public policy, nature and environment in public policy, or budgeting and finance in politics. In some cases, depending on the school and program, you may have the opportunity to select an area of specialization for your public policy doctorate.

Areas of focus may include health, social policy, environment and natural resources, globalization, international development, decision making, or science and technology. A PhD in Public Affairs is an alternative study option if you’re interested in the public relations aspects of politics and governance.

A public affairs doctoral program may allow you to focus more on the relationship between public and private interests rather than policy development and analysis in a more strictly governance context.

Public Policy Careers & Salaries

Public Policy Careers & Salaries

With an online doctorate in public policy, you may be qualified to work in a number of different sectors. You may even work in federal, state, and municipal governments, nonprofit organizations, or the private sector.

Due to the nature of public policy and the focus it places on economics, globalization, and policy development, a large majority of political scientists (48%) work within the federal government. The second-largest cohort of political scientists is employed in professional, scientific, and technical service sectors (26%).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with an online PhD in Public Policy, there are a number of rewarding career options that you may qualify for.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Political Scientists, Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services $136,640
Political Scientists, Federal Government $133,460
Political Scientists $125,350
Economists, Federal Government $125,350
Postsecondary Political Science Teachers $85,760
Political Scientists, Educational Services $75,260
Emergency Management Directors $76,250
Economists, State Government $73,510
Market Research Analysts $65,810
Survey Researchers $59,870

A number of career paths within the field of public policy are expected to experience job growth over the next several years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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These positions include emergency management directors (4% job growth), political scientist and policy analyst (6%), postsecondary teacher (9%), economist (14%), and market research analyst (18%).

Public Policy Doctorate Curriculum & Courses

Earning your online PhD in Public Policy may require you to enroll in a variety of PhD level courses. The courses you choose to fulfill your program’s academic requirements may vary depending on the specialty or concentration that you pursue.

  • Political Economy of Public Policy: You may strengthen essential skills for evaluating political, economic, and social theories.
  • Social Choice and the Political Economy: This course is a discussion of normative frameworks in politics and management, such as ethical decision making and right versus wrong.
  • Microeconomics in Public Policy: You’ll examine key microeconomic theories as they relate to policy development, including collective choice, consumption and production, and allocation of resources.
  • Policy Analysis: This course takes a look at the development of policy through effective communication skills and use of value add content.
  • Public Budgeting and Finance: This course reviews key principles in financial management and budgeting as it relates to public policy and administration.
  • Governance and Development: You’ll examine important concepts relating to governance, including the relationship with social growth and social hierarchy.
  • Policy Analysis of Development: You’ll explore the relationship between policy development and social change.
  • International Politics: This course discusses key theories and issues relating to finance, economics, international development, and trade.
  • Macroeconomics in Public Policy: You’ll strengthen your understanding of macro theories, such as economic stimulation, unemployment rates, and inflation.
  • Health Policy: This course takes a look at various topics related to health and public policy, such as health systems, international health, and population size.

In addition to standard coursework, you may also be required to complete a dissertation in order to graduate from many public policy PhD programs.

Admissions Requirements

PhD in Public policy student

Admission requirements for online doctoral degrees in public policy vary from school to school, but common requirements may include:

  • Bachelors degree. It’s necessary to have completed a bachelors degree program from an accredited institution.
  • Masters degree. The completion of a masters degree program from an accredited university is often required. In some cases, it may be required that your masters was earned in a public policy or related program.
  • Test scores. GRE or GMAT scores may also be required by some schools, but it is becoming a less common requirement.

Some universities may have additional criteria relating to the completion of specific coursework in previous programs. This may include the completion of statistics and economics courses at either a bachelors- or masters-level.

Likewise, if your doctoral program requires a masters degree in the field, you may want to consider looking into one of the part-time MPP programs offered at many universities.


PhD in Public Policy Accreditation

Regional accreditation means that an academic program offers educational content that meets a predetermined set of standards.

Attending an accredited program certifies that you’re receiving a high-quality education. An accredited degree program may also be looked upon more favorably by employers, member associations, and other academic institutions.

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This is an important consideration not only for PhD programs but also for earlier academic pursuits, including bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. You can find out more information about regional accreditation via the US Department of Education’s website.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Public Policy Financial Aid

When pursuing a PhD in Public Policy online, there are a number of financial aid and scholarship opportunities that may be available to you if you qualify.

Some financial aid opportunities may exist in the form of grants or loans from federal or state governments. You can apply for financial aid via the US Department of Education’s website using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Due to the great deal of research that many PhD programs require, some schools may offer financial aid packages as well. These financial aid packages vary from school to school, but they may include financial support to cover tuition costs, fees associated with study materials, or cost of living stipends.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Public Policy?

Political scientists in conference

Positions in research and academia, including that of professor, are common career paths for those who obtain a terminal doctoral degree in public policy. There are a number of other career options available as well.

With an online PhD in Public Policy, you may also be qualified for a rewarding career as a policy analyst, political scientist, or economist. Other positions that may be available to you with your terminal degree include emergency management director, market research analyst, or survey researcher.

How Long Is a PhD in Public Policy?

PhD in Public Policy student studying online

Completing a Ph.D. in Public Policy may take between 3 to 5 years, depending on the structure of the program you attend. This is based on a traditional, full-time attendance schedule.

In some cases, you may be able to complete your degree on a part-time basis. This attendance structure may help you balance other obligations within your life, such as work and family needs. A part-time schedule, though, will likely increase the number of years it will take for you to complete your degree.

What Is the Difference Between a PhD in Public Policy vs. Public Administration?

Market Research Analysts in a meeting

Public policy generally focuses on the development of policy—such as laws and regulations—in relation to local, national, and global contexts. Factors such as economic growth, healthcare, nature and environment, trade, and finance may all influence how policy is developed as well as the final outcome.

Public administration, on the other hand, deals more with the implementation and management of those policies. This may include the coordination of government structures or operations to support the execution of policy.

Is a PhD in Public Policy Worth It?

Yes, a PhD in Public Policy is worth it for many professionals. Jobs in life, physical, and social science field are projected to grow at a rate of 5% in the next 10 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics), faster than the average for all occupations, making a degree in public policy worth it. Common public policy careers in this field include policy analyst, political scientist, teacher, researcher, or economist.

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A PhD in Public Policy may open the door to a variety of career pathways, including those in academia, research, government, or private sector businesses. You may also find rewarding employment within the non-profit sector or for lobbyist organizations.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Public Policy Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

California Baptist University

California Baptist University

California Baptist University’s Doctor of Public Administration allows students to obtain the knowledge needed to excel in public policy, evaluate organizations’ usefulness and success, and communicate innovative solutions. Made for working professionals, CBU’s DPA requires 56 credits and a dissertation with 3 years to complete the process online.

California Baptist University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University

The PhD in Public Policy at Liberty University gives students the knowledge and capacity to make real change in their society, the government, and the world. This online degree allows students access to a doctorate in public policy in as little as 3 years and has various specialization options to assist individual learning outcomes.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

National University

National University

National University’s Doctor of Public Administration program aims to prepare students for leadership advancement. The curriculum covers how to evaluate ethical issues, articulate solutions, and create policies to bring positive change. Students can complete this online degree at their own pace. The GRE is not a precondition to enter this program.

National University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University allows students to move forward as leaders and decision-makers in public and private sectors with its PhD in Public Administration. In this 49 credit online program, students learn to research, assess, and establish policies and decisions that are solution-based and appeal to a broad audience.

Old Dominion University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Portland State University

Portland State University

The coursework offered through Portland State University’s PhD in Public Affairs and Policy emphasizes theory, research, and practical learning.

Students gain an understanding of issues that relate to all levels of policymaking and the influence these policies have on future endeavors. With three specializations and a multidisciplinary approach, PSU strives to meet the needs of all learners.

Portland State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Saybrook University

Saybrook University

Future advocates, policymakers, and leaders turn towards Saybrook University to obtain a PhD in Transformative Social Change.

This online curriculum prepares graduates to participate in creating research and collaborating on critical social issues on local and global levels. This program is ideal for students seeking roles in a variety of social change areas.

Saybrook University is accredited by the Senior Commission of Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Union Institute and University

Union Institute and University

Union Institute and University is committed to helping students explore social justice by offering an interdisciplinary studies PhD in Public Policy and Social Change.

This program allows students to review current policies and research ways to bring positive change using ingenuity, modernization, and research. Students can complete this online hybrid program in as little as 3 years.

Union Institute & University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University campus

At Valdosta State University, students can acquire a Doctorate in Public Administration online in as little as 54 credits hours, and the fundamental classes are offered on a 2 year cycle. This DPA program helps students move forward in government, nonprofits, and other organizations where leadership, communication, and problem-solving are essential.

Valdosta State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Walden University

Walden University

The Doctor in Public Policy and Administration awarded from Walden University allows students to gain the knowledge and experience to become experts in creating, explaining, and evaluating government and private organizations’ policies.

Students will have access to top instructors and four residencies to develop their skills and build networks with peers in their field.

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

West Chester University

West Chester University

West Chester University’s Doctor of Public Administration degree prepares students to excel in public institutions and administration leadership roles.

The PhD places emphasis on strategic leadership, civil service economics, and economic policymaking. This online program also teaches advocacy skills that help learners make policy changes in local and global society.

West Chester University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Getting Your PhD in Public Policy Online

PhD in Public Policy Online

With an accredited online doctorate in public policy, you may be well suited to participate in the development of public policy at various levels of government, from local to international. With your doctoral degree, teaching and research positions may be other opportunities available to you that could lead to a rewarding career.

There are a variety of specializations in the field, ranging from health and environment to finance and trade. Many of these diverse opportunities come with higher than average annual salaries and positive career growth over the next several years.

If you’re interested in advancing your career in this impactful field, you can start researching online public policy doctoral programs from accredited universities.

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Brenda Pyzik
Brenda earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda’s focus is on employment, entrepreneurship, business, and training and development.