Public policy is the study of the formulation and evaluation of policies designed by governmental, private, and non-profit sectors to deal with a variety of domestic and international issues such as health care, social welfare, human resources development, environmental policy, and foreign policy and defense.
Public policy and public administration are closely related disciplines. The difference can be understood as follows: while public policy analyzes the content and effects of policy with the goal of improving it or developing new policy, public administration is concerned with putting the policy into effect and managing those public structures which implement it.
Training in public policy focuses on research and analytical skills and utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach to policy analysis. Core courses in public policy programs provide work in statistical and quantitative methods, management, and relevant social science disciplines such as economics, political science, and sociology. Due to the complex nature of public policy issues, programs also instill the need for interpersonal and communication skills and the ability to work in group settings.
Individuals with graduate degrees in public policy and administration may choose a wide variety of career paths, ranging from elective politics to program evaluation, from support positions in the national government to administration positions in local government. Many people who specialize in public policy expect to move periodically among departments, agencies, or levels of government or between public-sector and policy-relevant private sector jobs. This flexibility stems from the design of public policy graduate programs, which are designed to prepare graduates to function effectively in a variety of professional environments. Most curricula -- especially those of inter-disciplinary programs -- include not only a core of problem-solving and managerial skills, but also research, case studies, and agency internships. This continuous exposure to the realities of government is accompanied by seminars on specific policy issues, such as welfare reform, toxic-waste regulation, energy conservation, national security, political values and ethics, local government reform, international migrations, and other topics of current interest.
The demand for professionals in the field of public policy and administration is strong, not only because government is growing, but, more importantly, because public demand for accountability and efficiency in government is increasing. In this sense, educational programs in this field play an important public service role, improving the responsiveness of a government to its people and the quality of life in general.