Guide to Public Policy Certificates and Short Courses

If you’re planning a career in governance, leadership, consulting or even entrepreneurship, a background in public policy may be an advantage. It’s not a necessity to pursue a full degree program to gain experience in the field, though. Online short courses and certificates that provide comprehensive overviews of policy topics and skills may benefit you in your public policy career. These courses offer a practical way to learn governance online and are generally completed much faster than traditional degree programs. 

What Is Public Policy and Governance?

What is public policy, exactly? Public policy refers to the government laws, regulations, court decisions and local ordinances that affect all of our lives. Public policies are implemented by federal, state and local government, and may have a long-lasting impact on our lives. 

Studying public policy and governance may help you understand the processes and procedures integral to public policy operation. You’ll also learn about analyzing policy issues, communicating to multiple audiences, and ultimately improving the outcomes of public policy and government. This may prepare you to become a public policy analyst, a business or nonprofit leader, a consultant, a social entrepreneur or a lawyer. 

While there are many paths to an education in public policy, online public policy courses are accessible and may complement different education programs.

Can You Study Governance and Public Policy Online?

Yes, there are multiple ways to study governance and public policy online. If you’re considering a full degree program in the field, a number of schools offer an online Master of Public Policy (MPP) or similar degrees. 

If you want to develop your knowledge of public policy without pursuing a degree, you may want to consider taking online public policy courses. These online short courses are less extensive than full degree programs, but they still allow you to develop your skills and knowledge in this area. Certificate programs take a similar approach, delivering a condensed version of the information you would learn in a traditional degree program. 

With both short courses and certificate programs available online, you can enjoy these learning opportunities in a format that’s convenient for you. These courses may vary, ranging from basic introductory training to much more comprehensive courses. With a variety of online public policy courses available to choose from, you may find one or more courses that provide the knowledge you seek. 

Common Topics in Governance and Public Policy Online Courses

Governance and public policy online courses generally cover the following topics: 

  • Quantitative methods for policy analysis.
  • Policy evaluation.
  • Foundations of policy analysis.
  • Economics for policy analysis.
  • Public policy processes.
  • Politics of public policy.

These are just some common topics. The specifics may vary depending on the course you take. 

Public Management and Governance Courses

Public management and governance courses may prepare you for many leadership roles, for example, a career as a public manager. With the skills you learn from these courses, you might go on to help a government, nonprofit or private sector operation to maximize its success, use its resources wisely and more. A background in public management and governance courses may help prepare you for a supervisory position as a public policy analyst, nonprofit manager or a director of development. 

By studying public policy management, you’ll learn how to understand and evaluate the theories behind public governance. You’ll also learn how to understand and assess the context within which public governance functions, and you may be better suited to identify and assess short-term and long-term challenges. You’ll also develop analytical and problem-solving skills that may prepare you to tackle these governance issues.

Public management and governance courses may give you the option to concentrate in a certain area. Common concentrations include environmental policy, public policy and public management. 

Public Policy Analysis Courses

Enrolling in public policy analysis courses may help you develop your leadership and analytical skills. These courses may even prepare you for a career in a government or public organization. You’ll develop the skills and knowledge you need for a future career, such as a public policy analyst, and may learn how to evaluate programs, perform cost-benefit analysis, conduct research and more.

Common public policy analysis course topics include: 

  • Public economics.
  • Evaluating programs and policies.
  • Policy formation and policy analysis.
  • Public policy and planning.
  • Estimating impacts in policy research.
  • Introduction to econometrics.
  • Policy communication.
  • The politics of public policy.

The skills you learn from these courses may prepare you for different roles in international organizations, government, corporate operations and more. Taking public policy analysis courses can help to demonstrate your professional achievement and your understanding of the tools and methods that may be useful in policy analysis and leadership operations.

Is a Public Policy or Governance Certificate Worth It?

Is studying public policy worth it? The answer depends on your career goals and the benefits you take away from your education. For example, a certificate program may help prepare you for a career as a policy analyst. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that political scientists, including political analysts, made a median annual wage of $125,350 in May 2020. While a master’s degree is generally required for this career, a certificate program may prepare you for a related career. 

There are other factors to consider when deciding whether enrolling in a certificate program is worth it. As a political analyst, you’ll try to anticipate the effects of new policies to improve your organization’s positioning and preparedness. This may be a challenging career, but some people may also find it fulfilling. 

Completing courses or a certificate program also may demonstrate your ambition and dedication to your career to potential employers. A certificate is a professional achievement that may be recognized by employers in multiple industries, including the government and nonprofit sectors. By completing courses or a certificate program, you’re taking the initiative to develop specialized skills and knowledge that might be beneficial to your career and may help you stand out from other job applicants.

Courses in Public Policy vs Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Both a Master of Public Policy (MPP) and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) can help prepare you for careers in local, state and federal government. An MPA prepares you to focus on institutional management and human resources, and the program takes one to two years of full-time study to complete. An MPA may open up many potential careers, such as a human resources manager, an operations manager or a budget manager. You could also hold leadership roles in a nonprofit organization or a nongovernmental organization. You can pursue an MPA online; many of these programs may be completed entirely online for scheduling convenience.

When it comes to public policy vs. a public administration master’s degree program, the courses cover many of the same topics but in less depth. Some short courses can be completed in as few as 10 weeks. You’ll still learn from knowledgeable faculty and gain skills and knowledge useful when working in public policy-related positions, but the education won’t be as extensive as a traditional master’s degree. Public policy courses may help prepare you for your career, and with less of a time commitment, they may fit more easily around your existing work and life commitments.

Courses in Public Policy vs. Master of Public Policy (MPP)

A Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree program focuses on the quantitative side of public policy and may be a good fit for you if you’re interested in learning how to analyze and use data to identify solutions to complicated problems. An MPP focuses on economics, statistical analysis and data-driven research, and specializations in economic policy, public policy research, social policy and health care policy are common. It takes one to two years of full-time study to complete an MPP. With an MPP, you might go on to have a career as a public policy analyst, legislative analyst, grant writer, school superintendent or research associate. 

Courses in public policy touch on some of the data-driven policy elements, but they tend to take a broader approach. For example, a certificate course might include quantitative skills for public policy, but it also focuses on elements like institutions and public policy, policy communication and public policy processes. Because courses take less time to complete, with some as short as 10 weeks, they generally don’t go into these quantitative elements with as much detail as you would get from an MPP. Think of public policy courses as being more of a broad overview, while an MPP program may be better suited for you if you plan to go into a field where you need highly specialized analytical skills.

3 Benefits of an Online Public Policy Certificate or Short Course Program

If you’re wondering whether a public policy certificate or short course is right for you, consider the following benefits to these programs. 

1. Learn more about a field that interests you.

A public policy program allows you to learn more about a field that interests you without taking on the time and financial commitment of a full degree program. You may choose to take one of these programs to learn about public policy when the topic is entirely new to you, or to further develop your existing knowledge of public policy. With courses available that serve as introductions as well as more robust certificate programs, you can choose the course that’s right for your needs and goals.

If you discover you enjoy public policy and want to pursue additional studies, some programs allow you to transfer credits toward a full degree program.

2. Enjoy a more affordable cost.

If you don’t need the full education provided by a master’s degree program, then pursuing a certificate or short course program can be a more affordable way to gain higher education. 

Remember that cost isn’t everything when it comes to an education, and the program you choose should deliver quality education to justify its cost. Depending on your career goals, a master’s degree program may be the best route for you, even at a higher cost. It’s best to consider which path is right for your needs and then look for a program—whether that’s a traditional master’s degree or a certificate or short course program—with quality to justify its cost.

3. Potentially advance your career.

Completing a public policy program may show your dedication to and interest in the field. This professional achievement is recognized by some potential employers, and putting in the extra effort to learn more about public policy might help you stand out from other job applicants.

Online Public Policy Courses to Consider

If you’re interested in pursuing a certificate or short course in public policy, consider the following programs:

Last Updated February 2021