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Public Policy & Administration

Curriculum and Specialization Details

MPPA Curriculum

Curriculum Overview 

The Master's in Public Policy and Administration requires the successful completion of 13 courses to obtain a degree. Students complete nine core courses, three elective courses corresponding to a chosen area of specialization, and a capstone class (498) or independent thesis (590). Current students should refer to curriculum requirements in place at time of entry into the program.

Core courses:

MPPA 401 Research Methods

This course provides students with a basic understanding of qualitative and quantitative research methodology frequently used in social science and policy research. The course content includes research question formation, observation and interview based research methods, analysis of qualitative data, survey development, and weighting and sampling techniques. Students will have the opportunity to apply methods to pursue a research topic of their own design. An overview of publicly available quantitative data will be provided, and comparative policy research will be discussed.

MPPA 402 Elements of Public Finance and Budgeting

Public budgeting is one of the most important responsibilities of democratic governance. The budget defines policy, sets priorities, allocates scarce public resources, and distributes the burden of paying for public goods and services. The budget is inescapably both a political document and a management tool. The purpose of this course is to understand the complexities of the budget process and its central role in both democratic institutions and the profession of public administration. Students will be introduced to the public budgetary process and to key budget theories, practices, and methodologies. The budget structure and process will be reviewed as well as the role of the public administrator and other participants in the process. The course will also examine politics in the budget process and the role of interest groups in decision-making; more specifically, the role of politics in both establishing public spending priorities and in distributing the burden of taxes and fees. Lastly, students will learn about concepts and methodologies relating to program cost analysis and how the budget may be used as a management tool.

MPPA 403 Fundamentals of Public Administration

This course is an introduction to the basic skills useful to public administrators and policy analysts seeking to work in an analytical or managerial position in the public or not-for profit-sectors. This course is structured to introduce students to both the principles and contextual constraints that form the environment of the modern public administrator. It will cover a basic understanding of the process, policy, and politics of public administration and public management at the national, state, and local level. Fundamental theories, practices, and concepts that contribute to the administration and understanding of complex public sector organizations are explored, as well as basic practices and techniques of modern public administration. The course assumes a basic foundation in political science theory, public policy, or public administration usually garnered at the undergraduate level as well as a working knowledge of contemporary issues that confront governments today.

MPPA 404 Microeconomics for Public Policy & Administration

Economics is about choice, and microeconomics is the study of resource allocation choices, beginning with how consumers and producers make choices. This course is aimed at developing student understanding of microeconomic theory, especially as it concerns the relationship between the market economy and public policy. Topics include consumer behavior and the theory of demand; production, cost, supply functions; choices under uncertainty, insurance; competitive equilibrium; subsidies, taxes, price controls; monopoly and monopsony; price discrimination and public utility pricing; monopolistic competition; general equilibrium theory and welfare economics; information theory; and public goods, externalities and market failure.

MPPA 405 Statistics for Research

This course teaches students the fundamentals of measuring political data, summarizing observations, and analyzing contingency tables. Descriptive statistics, including central tendency, dispersion, and data display; probability; distributions, including binomial and normal; inference, including confidence intervals and hypothesis testing; correlation; bivariate regression; contingency tables and chi-square. 

Students will do homework using SPSS, a statistical software package. SPSS is installed in some Northwestern computer labs and can be rented and downloaded to your personal computer. The Graduate Pack is sufficient for class.

MPPA 406 Program Evaluation

This course will expose students to a set of tools and principles that fall under the heading of "analytic methods." These methods help public policy and program analysts systematically value decisions, improve the decision-making process (and hopefully the resultant decisions), value inputs and outcomes, handle uncertainty, and compare aspects of public policy and systems that might not otherwise appear to be comparable. Topics include discounting techniques, cost-benefit analysis, decision theory, difference equations, and elements of microeconomic analysis.

MPPA 407 Scope and Theory of Public Policy

This course is an introduction to the public policy process in the United States. It focuses on developing an understanding of what "political" and "public policy" mean and how public policy is made. The course considers agenda setting, decision making theory and methods of analyzing policy outcomes. Course materials will provide students with the analytical framework to explore why some problems reach the public agenda, why some solutions are adopted and others rejected, and why some policies appear to succeed while others appear to fail. It will examine policy making primarily at the national level but will also look at examples at the state and local level.

MPPA 408 Public Organization Theory and Management

This course focuses on organization theory and management as it applies primarily to public organizations. The unique environment that public organizations face will be emphasized. Students will study a range of theories grounded in the traditional literature over time and leading to contemporary theories and modern application in the public sector. The course requires students to critically examine public organizations and leadership using theories and concepts studied during the class.

MPPA 409 Effective Writing and Communication

The course emphasizes research and writing skills and affords students the opportunity to discover the various approaches to designed research as well as recognize and address the strengths and weaknesses in their own critical thinking and writing skills. To reinforce the concepts covered in the course, students will be asked to produce assignments essential to successful research projects as well as written pieces designed to demonstrate knowledge of topics and proficiency in writing skills. Topics vary.

MPPA 498 Capstone course or MPPA 590 Thesis Research

MPPA 498 Capstone

The capstone project course is the culmination of the MPPA program and demonstrates to faculty a student's mastery of the curriculum and core competencies in the public policy and administration field. Working both in small groups and individually, students complete a comprehensive project chosen in conjunction with their instructor. Students are individually assessed and graded throughout duration of class. Students should retain all course material from previous classes in the program, including textbooks, to successfully complete assignments.

Public Administration Specialization

This specialization prepares students to serve as managers on the local, state and federal levels, and in the nongovernmental organization and nonprofit sectors. Graduates leave with an improved ability to deal with the complex challenges and concerns that face public administrators. Our graduates are prepared to lead an increasingly diverse public workforce toward innovative solutions. 

Choose three courses:

MPPA 411 The Legislative Process

This course examines the inner workings of Congress. Beginning with a brief review of the Constitutional roles of the American legislative branch, students continue by discussing the federal budget process. The class pays particular attention to how each chamber of Congress works, how the structures and leadership of House and Senate differ, and how those differences affect what legislation get passed. Students will study some ways the legislative process has changed in the last 20 plus years.

This course, especially relevant during Congressional elections, will give extra attention to aspects of the political environment Congressional candidates operate in, and how they make the decision to run, during election years. Finally, the class will take a look at the oversight role of Congress and its interactions with the executive branch.

MPPA 413 Foundations of the Nonprofit/NGO Sector

This course examines theories of nonprofit (NPO) and nongovernmental organization (NGO) development and operation. Broad trends shaping NPOs/NGOs, both nationally and globally, are studied from a variety of perspectives. Also, high level operational issues, such as governance and executive management in the NPO/NGO environment, are discussed.

MPPA 417 Public Human Resources

This course is designed to develop students' practical understanding of public human resource management. It is structured to examine the relationships between contemporary public policy-making processes, legal and ethical standards of public human resource management, and key human resource functions. Students will analyze how strategic human resource management and positive organizational frameworks apply to key public human resource functions, including recruiting and retention, compensation and benefits, and skill development. The course will also provide students with action-oriented learning to value the impact of current public policy issues, such as healthcare and immigration reforms, on public organizations in general.

MPPA 418 Ethics and Leadership

This course will examine relevant theory and research regarding ethics and leadership in public organizations and provide an opportunity for students to develop a personal foundation for ethical leadership. Students will also look at ethics and leadership from an organizational and systemic level while applying learning to normative questions and case studies.

MPPA 430 Behavioral Economics

Why do people not recycle, even when offered monetary incentives? Why has the 'War on Drugs' failed? Why don't people enroll in 401(k) savings plans? Why is the market for knock-off brand-name goods and pirated DVDs/software so large? This class will use behavioral economics to investigate questions related to policy formulation, implementation, framing and failure. With readings from current experts in the field including Ariely, Thaler, Kahneman and Frank, this class will discuss both behavioral economic theory and its application in policy areas such as immigration, the environment, health care, international relations and (of course) the national economy. Counts toward all specializations.

MPPA 580 Global Policy Laboratory

The goal of the class is to provide students with a hands on opportunity to apply core skillsets from the MPPA program, particularly as they relate to an organization facing global, social and economic policy challenges. Students will work for a client organization on a commissioned project supervised by an MPPA faculty member. The goal of the client project is to analyze a specific challenge facing the organization, then develop a set of policy recommendations for the client. Students will work in teams to produce final deliverables. The project will culminate in a live client briefing and a written report (so one site visit by a student team representative may be required). Students should expect to spend 20 hours per week on the course. Counts toward all specializations.

Public Policy Specialization

Students in this specialization will be able to understand the factors in public decision-making and policy formulation by honing their analytical skills and increasing their theoretical and practical knowledge in the field. Graduates are able to evaluate competing demands and lead toward innovative and transformative public policy solutions. 

Choose three courses:

MPPA 411 The Legislative Process

Examines the organization of legislatures that make public policy; specifically, how a bill on Capitol Hill becomes the law of the land. Topics include House and Senate procedure, parliamentary maneuvers, committees, structural issues, information issues, re-election concerns, and partisanship.

MPPA 418 Ethics and Leadership

This course will examine relevant theory and research regarding ethics and leadership in public organizations and provide an opportunity for students to develop a personal foundation for ethical leadership. Students will also look at ethics and leadership from an organizational and systemic level while applying learning to normative questions and case studies.

MPPA 419 The Strategic Policy Environment

The purpose of this course is to provide students an opportunity to study public policy in a holistic fashion while at the same time focusing on development, implementation, and the evaluation of public policy. This is accomplished by critically analyzing public policy theory and practice alongside a case-study driven examination of public policy successes and failures.

MPPA 432 Intergovernmental Relations

This course is designed to develop students’ practical understanding of American intergovernmental relations and intergovernmental management. The course is structured to examine contemporary relationships between U.S. federalism and public policy making processes at the federal, state, and local levels. It will also provide a comparative view of federalism, recognizing differences in the developing world as well as increased international relationships due to globalization. Students will analyze how various theories of intergovernmental relations apply to key areas of public policy making — federalism and the courts, fiscal federalism, and regulatory federalism. Students will engage in action-oriented learning to synthesize theories of intergovernmental relations and institutions to recommend policy programs and appraise future policy reform.

MPPA 430 Behavioral Economics

Why do people not recycle, even when offered monetary incentives? Why has the 'War on Drugs' failed? Why don't people enroll in 401(k) savings plans? Why is the market for knock-off brand-name goods and pirated DVDs/software so large? This class will use behavioral economics to investigate questions related to policy formulation, implementation, framing and failure. With readings from current experts in the field including Ariely, Thaler, Kahneman and Frank, this class will discuss both behavioral economic theory and its application in policy areas such as immigration, the environment, health care, international relations, and (of course) the national economy.

MPPA 435 Regulatory Policy

This is an advanced specialization course in the politics and practice of governmental regulation, designed to give students the tools needed to understand the many facets of regulatory politics. It will cover broad areas of regulatory policy and procedure from communications, to environment, to consumer products. Upon completion of the course, students will be able to understand, articulate, and assess the political debates around regulatory policy and approaches to regulation. Additionally, students will be able develop policy solutions to address various regulatory problems using standard regulatory tools and best practices.

MPPA 490 Special Topics: US and Global Environmental Policy

Climate and environment are among the most complex and consequential arenas of 21st-century public policy. This course will provide an overview of major U.S. environmental laws and the court cases interpreting them, and will also explore initiatives to reach international agree-ment on global environmental threats such as climate change. We will address habitat and natural resource protection, explore the limits of federal power to mediate between private resource extraction and public property rights, and learn the frameworks and standards for protection of U.S. surface waters and air quality. We will address how federalism operates in addressing issues as diverse as land use planning and solid waste disposal, and explore elements and effectiveness of different policy frameworks for environmental protection regimes. We will examine the roles of environmental NGOs in U.S. and international debates over standards and enforcement. We will review case studies of regional cooperation among groups of states and nations. We will study the international climate regime, identifying the primary scientific sources of climate change data, and how they set the parameters for international climate policy, and discuss the future prospects of the Paris climate accord following the 2016 U.S. elections.

MPPA 580 Global Policy Laboratory

The goal of the class is to provide students with a hands on opportunity to apply core skillsets from the MPPA program, particularly as they relate to an organization facing global, social and economic policy challenges. Students will work for a client organization on a commissioned project supervised by an MPPA faculty member. The goal of the client project is to analyze a specific challenge facing the organization, then develop a set of policy recommendations for the client. Students will work in teams to produce final deliverables. The project will culminate in a live client briefing and a written report (so one site visit by a student team representative may be required). Students should expect to spend 20 hours per week on the course.

Global Policy Specialization

This specialization introduces students to key issues addressed by global policy, such as development goals, the environment, financial regulation, nuclear proliferation, democratization and state-building. Graduates build the tools, training and knowledge necessary to lead policy development in an increasingly interdependent world while engaging various governments, private industries, non-governmental organizations and international organizations. 

Choose three courses:

MPPA 430 Behavioral Economics

Why do people not recycle, even when offered monetary incentives? Why has the 'War on Drugs' failed? Why don't people enroll in 401(k) savings plans? Why is the market for knock-off brand-name goods and pirated DVDs/software so large? This class will use behavioral economics to investigate questions related to policy formulation, implementation, framing and failure. With readings from current experts in the field including Ariely, Thaler, Kahneman and Frank, this class will discuss both behavioral economic theory and its application in policy areas such as immigration, the environment, health care, international relations and (of course) the national economy.

MPPA 440 International Institutions

This class examines several prominent international organizations, including the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, and the World Trade Organization. The course will focus on both policy controversies and broader theoretical analysis. Students will address why each organization was created, its institutional structure, and current problems confronting each organization. The effects of international organizations on world politics will also be examined. Some of the key questions that will be addressed are: How do IOs foster interstate cooperation and state compliance? How do IOs shape state interests and identities? Why do IOs often fail? How should we think about the pathologies of IOs as global bureaucracies? How do IOs influence NGOs and their strategies? Particular emphasis will be placed on students' ability to think critically, both about the nature of problems that face states as well as development of global governance mechanisms.

MPPA 450 Global Economic Policy

The goal of this course is to give students the knowledge, tools, and confidence to understand, craft, and advocate for incentives and economic policies. Students will be able to apply macroeconomic principles, draw conclusions about the relevance of economic incentives, and explain in substantial detail the current debates covering such topics as economic systems, international trade, monetary policy, global resource allocation, and development economics. While a working understanding of undergraduate-level microeconomics is helpful, and it is recommended students take 404 Microeconomics first, the content of this course will cover these areas in sufficient detail for students without any background. Previously titled International Macroeconomic Policy.

MPPA 452 The Global City

MSGH 421 Globalization and Public Policy

This class introduces and unpacks the concept of global health governance to familiarize students with questions and problems that revolve around it. This is done with the intention to enable students to relate their already existing knowledge of public health to the field of policy-making and apply this new knowledge to their own areas of expertise. The class aims to develop an awareness of actual cases, which will enable the students to understand the way successful policies work. Since academic research is never a solitary activity, students will be expected to discuss the readings and lectures with their peers along the way. The instructor will prompt the debate by positing particular questions.


Prerequisite: MSGH 405 Foundations of Global Health and Global Burden of Disease

MPPA 490 Special Topics: U.S. and Global Environmental Policy

Climate and environment are among the most complex and consequential arenas of 21st century public policy. This course will provide an overview of major US environmental laws and the court cases interpreting them, and will also explore initiatives to reach international agree-ment on global environmental threats such as climate change. We will address habitat and natural resource protection, explore the limits of federal power to mediate between private resource extraction and public property rights, and learn the frameworks and standards for protection of US surface waters and air quality. We will address how federalism operates in addressing issues as diverse as land use planning and solid waste disposal, and explore elements and effectiveness of different policy frameworks for environmental protection regimes. We will examine the roles of environmental NGOs in US and international debates over standards and enforcement. We will review case studies of regional cooperation among groups of states and nations. We will study the international climate regime, identifying the primary scientific sources of climate change data, and how they set the parameters for international climate policy, and discuss the future prospects of the Paris climate accord following the 2016 US elections.

MPPA 490 Special Topics: U.S. Foreign Policy

This course explores contemporary relations between the United States and the world. The primary goal is to give students conceptual and critical tools to understand and analyze how international relations theory, U.S. foreign policy decisions, and current events fit together. It is designed to develop students’ capacity both to explain the foreign policy-making process in the United States, and to better understand the underlying patterns, logic, and implications of American foreign policy in the world at large. The course is divided into three main topics. First, students will discuss the theory that grounds U.S. foreign policy, focusing on U.S. power in the world. The second part of the class will examine the public policy institutions and processes that guide foreign policy formation and implementation. Finally, the last third of the course will review some of the more salient foreign policy challenges facing the U.S. in the 21st century, including a focus on geographic regions. We will discuss how the recent global economic crises may influence foreign policy, and how terrorism and democracy promotion continue to shape U.S. foreign policy.

MPPA 580 Global Policy Laboratory

The goal of the class is to provide students with a hands on opportunity to apply core skillsets from the MPPA program, particularly as they relate to an organization facing global, social and economic policy challenges. Students will work for a client organization on a commissioned project supervised by an MPPA faculty member. The goal of the client project is to analyze a specific challenge facing the organization, then develop a set of policy recommendations for the client. Students will work in teams to produce final deliverables. The project will culminate in a live client briefing and a written report (so one site visit by a student team representative may be required). Students should expect to spend 20 hours per week on the course.

Global Health Specialization

(Courses are only offered online. This specialization is not available in the accelerated degree option.)

Government agencies and major foundations are investing billions to combat largely treatable chronic diseases that claim far too many lives in low- and middle-income countries. This specialization is designed to enable students, such as nonprofit administrators, policy analysts, social entrepreneurs and others, to make a meaningful difference in healthcare access and outcomes. Students will navigate the legal and regulatory aspects of health-related industries around the world and evaluate cultural and ethical considerations inherent in global health contexts.

Choose three courses:

MSGH 405 Foundations of Global Health

This course introduces the student to global health epidemiology, international public health, and global medicine. Students will gain knowledge of some of the major global health problems, their socioeconomic determinants, and their impact on individuals, populations, and societies. This 10-week course is structured around a series of pre-recorded lectures, readings, short answer questions, and an interactive discussion forum. The course is designed to be taken by students of widely varying backgrounds who may be interested in pursuing further study and/or careers in global health.

MSGH 417 Global Health Systems

Overview of the structure of the U.S. health systems followed by a selective international comparison of other health delivery systems including their relationships to social policies and economic factors.

MSGH 421 Globalization and Public Policy

This class introduces and unpacks the concept of global health governance to familiarize students with questions and problems that revolve around it. This is done with the intention to enable students to relate their already existing knowledge of public health to the field of policy-making and apply this new knowledge to their own areas of expertise. The class aims to develop an awareness of actual cases, which will enable the students to understand the way successful policies work. Since academic research is never a solitary activity, students will be expected to discuss the readings and lectures with their peers along the way. The instructor will prompt the debate by positing particular questions.

MSGH 427 Grant Writing and Fundraising

This course is designed to introduce students to grant writing and fundraising in global health. Topics include assessing and communicating community needs, planning a grant-fundable program, researching funders, writing a successful application, and strategies for fundraising. Students will apply course material to the development of a proposal for a global health grant maker.

MSGH 450 Global Health Initiatives

This course addresses how to address and maximize sustainability of global health initiatives, including burdens on infrastructure, environment, and human systems.

Prerequisite: MSGH 405 Foundations of Global Health and Global Burden of Disease

Data Analytics for Public Policy Specialization

(Courses are only offered online. This specialization is not available in the accelerated degree option.)

The data analytics specialization is intended for students who will use data analytics and statistics to address policy issues. Policy analysts and researchers who can use sophisticated statistical and computational methods can add insight and value to public policy decision-making by using big data to improve public services in public health, transportation, and law enforcement, predict and avert famine and droughts, and improve city infrastructures.

Please note that students must take the core MPPA 405 Statistics for Research before beginning the specialization.

Required course:

MSDS 400 Math for Data Scientists

Students learn techniques for building and interpreting mathematical models of real-world phenomena in and across multiple disciplines, including linear algebra, discrete mathematics, probability, and calculus, with an emphasis on applications in data science and data engineering. This is for students who want a firm understanding or review of these fields of mathematics prior to enrolling in courses that assume understanding of mathematical concepts.

Choose any two courses:

MSDS 410 Regression Analysis and Multivariate Methods

This course develops the foundations of predictive modeling by: introducing the conceptual foundations of regression and multivariate analysis; developing statistical modeling as a process that includes exploratory data analysis, model identification, and model validation; and discussing the difference between the uses of statistical models for statistical inference versus predictive modeling. The high level topics covered in the course include: exploratory data analysis, statistical graphics, linear regression, automated variable selection, principal components analysis, exploratory factor analysis, and cluster analysis.

Prerequisites: MSDS 400-DL Math for Data Scientists and MSDS 401-DL Statistical Analysis.

MSDS 420 Database Systems and Data Preparation

Behind every analytics project is an analytical data source. In this course, students explore the fundamentals of data management and data preparation. Students acquire hands-on experience with various data file formats, working with quantitative data and text, relational database systems, and document database systems. They access, organize, clean, prepare, transform, and explore data, using database shells, query and scripting languages, and analytical software. This is a case-study and project-based course with a strong programming component.

Prerequisites: MSDS 402-DL Introduction to Data Science.

MSDS 455 Data Visualization

This course begins with a review of human perception and cognition, drawing upon psychological studies of perceptual accuracy and preferences. The course reviews principles of graphic design, what makes for a good graph, and why some data visualizations effectively present information and others do not. It considers visualization as a component of systems for data science and presents examples of exploratory data analysis, visualizing time, networks, and maps. It reviews methods for static and interactive graphics and introduces tools for building web-browser-based presentations. This is a project-based course with programming assignments.

Prerequisites: MSDS 400-DL Math for Data Scientists and MSDS 401-DL Statistical Analysis.

MSDS 460 Decision Analytics

This course covers fundamental concepts, solution techniques, modeling approaches, and applications of decision analytics. It introduces commonly used methods of optimization, simulation and decision analysis techniques for prescriptive analytics in business. Students explore linear programming, network optimization, integer linear programming, goal programming, multiple objective optimization, nonlinear programming, metaheuristic algorithms, stochastic simulation, queuing modeling, decision analysis, and Markov decision processes. Students develop a contextual understanding of techniques useful for managerial decision support. They implement decision-analytic techniques using a state-of-the-art analytical modeling platform. This is a problem and project-based course.

Prerequisites: MSDS 400-DL Math for Data Scientists and MSDS 401-DL Statistical Analysis.

MSDS 490 Special Topics

Choose any special topics course that is appropriate.

About the Final Project

Students may pursue their capstone experience independently or as part of a team. As their final course, students take either the individual research project in an independent study format or the classroom final project class in which students integrate the knowledge they have gained in the core curriculum in work assigned by the instructor. In both cases students are guided by faculty in exploring the body of knowledge on public policy and administration while contributing research of practical value to the field. The capstone 590 thesis project and 498 capstone class count as one unit of credit.

Choose one:

MPPA 498-DL : Capstone Project

The capstone project course is the culmination of the MPPA program and demonstrates to faculty a student's mastery of the curriculum and core competencies in the public policy and administration field. Working both in small groups and individually, students complete a comprehensive project chosen in conjunction with their instructor. Students are individually assessed and graded throughout duration of class.Students should retain all course material from previous classes in the program, including textbooks, to successfully complete assignments.

Students may choose this course or registration in the 590 individual thesis research to fulfill their capstone requirement.

MPPA 590 Thesis Research

The 590 Thesis Research is an individual research project in an independent study format. The paper is written under the supervision of an approved faculty member and presents an opportunity to research and explore a topic thoroughly. The typical time to complete the master’s thesis is four months to a year.

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