Social and Public Policy, Master of Arts


Admission to this program is selective. This program enrolls new students in the fall and spring terms. Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree.


Please see the Graduate Admissions pages of this catalog for a complete listing of materials required to complete a graduate application.

Program Curriculum

Students in the M.A. in Social and Public Policy program must take 5 core courses, 4 electives, and a capstone course. The required courses are as follows:

Core Courses
PPOL 6007Policy Process3
PPOL 6010History and Social Context of American Policy3
PPOL 6015Policy Implementation3
PPOL 6020Research Methods3
or PPOL 6021 Methods for Policy Research
PPOL 6030Public Policy Analysis3
Electives, 3cr (4)12
Capstone Course
PPOL 7010Final Project - Professional Project: Social and Public Policy3
Total Credits30

The graduate fall and spring terms are 15 weeks long, and the summer terms have some offerings for eight weeks and some for 15 weeks. Not all students enroll in 6 credits every term. The exact enrollment sequence should be planned between the student and the advisor. This is a sample enrollment sequence.

General Concentration Sequence

Plan of Study Grid
Term 1Credits
PPOL 6007 Policy Process 3
PPOL 6010 History and Social Context of American Policy 3
Term 2
PPOL 6015 Policy Implementation 3
PPOL 6020 Research Methods 3
Methods for Policy Research
Term 3
PPOL 6030 Public Policy Analysis 3
Elective 3
Term 4
Elective 3
Elective 3
Term 5
Elective 3
PPOL 7010 Final Project - Professional Project: Social and Public Policy 3
 Total Credits30


Students must complete 12 credits of electives. Examples of electives include but are not limited to:

PPOL 6070Race Class & Gender in US Public Policy3
PPOL 6075Family Policy3
PPOL 6055Human Services Policy3
PPOL 6035Advocacy in State & Community-level Government3

Transfer Credit

After admission, students should discuss the possibility of transfer credit with their academic advisor. To request transfer credit, students complete the Transfer Credit Request Form available through the Quicklinks box of the Graduate Student Center on MySUNYEmpire.

Typically, 9 credits are acceptable for transfer subject to the Transfer Credit Policy (located in the policy section of this catalog).

Final Project

The final project represents the capstone experience in the program. This shall take the form of a Policy Memorandum, which is designed to support students’ professional and personal goals.

This is a challenging task, which draws on and brings together the skills and concepts learned through the master’s program. It requires identification of a public policy issue, examination, and interpretation of various sources of information relating to the issue including scholarly sources, analysis of possible approaches to the issue, and the student’s recommendations regarding the issue.

Learning Activities and Course Goals

As the capstone project for the master’s program, the policy memo builds on prior coursework and provides the opportunity for the student to engage in a sustained examination of a major policy issue; it integrates and puts into action the learning acquired throughout the program in courses such as policy process, public policy analysis, policy implementation, ethics and program-specific courses.

The purpose of this option is to reinforce the knowledge and skills required to analyze policy issues, develop defensible positions on policy issues, and clearly communicate a position in the form of a policy memo which is standard fare in the work of legislators, elected officials, agency heads, and other organizational leaders involved in the formation of policy.

The policy memo includes the exploration of a critical issue, the development of alternative approaches to the issue and a reasoned, evidence-based, defensible argument about how the issue should be addressed. It is important to keep in mind the distinction between a policy memo and other academic papers. Whereas academic papers build arguments by gradually introducing the least important ideas first, a policy memo uses an “inverted pyramid” of ideas, delivered as efficiently as possible, beginning with the most important. In a policy memo getting at the truth through the exploration and the interpretation of what is known about an issue is more important than developing new knowledge. As such, no thesis statement or theoretical framework underpins a policy memo.

Course goals:

  • The ability to clearly identify a critical policy issue related to the student’s program;
  • The ability to identify and access relevant information related to the problem;
  • Demonstration of a nuanced comprehension, evaluation, and interpretation of the body of knowledge surrounding the issue;
  • Exhibition of a disciplined application of knowledge in the formulation of alternative, feasible approaches to the issue; and
  • Presentation, in good tightly-constructed prose, of a well- reasoned defensible approach to the issue that draws on relevant concepts from previously completed coursework.

To complete the project, the student will engage in general readings and use other resources related to the preparation of a policy memo as specified in the online course including videos and links to various websites.

Next, the student will engage in the relevant readings for this project and prepare drafts of the policy memo. As opposed to preparing the entire memo all at once, the student will develop the memo in sections as follows: Executive Summary (while this appears first in a policy memo, its exact contents will change as the student progresses through this course); Argument, Counter Arguments, Analysis, Recommendations.

Following instructions in the online course, drafts will be submitted to the instructor for review and comments; the student will revise project drafts and return. This process will be repeated until the draft is accepted by the instructor. While there is no set number of pages for a policy memo which can range from a page to a hundred pages, for the purposes of this program, 20-30 pages is the target. The specific task should dictate the length of a policy memo. The writer should use a direct, efficient style of writing that results in a “tight” memo that does not ramble or engage in needless repetition. The student may be required at strategic points during the semester to provide drafts to other students for their feedback and, in turn, the student may be expected to provide feedback to help other students improve their projects.

At the end of the term, the student will be expected to make an oral presentation, following instructions in the online course. The presentation will be made to other students in the study and to the instructor-of-record. The student will be expected to respond to any questions that might be posed during the presentation.

Finally, the faculty member involved will render an evaluation of the project and privately share the evaluation with the student. Even if the student receives a passing evaluation, he/she/they may be expected to make revisions to the project.

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to:

  • Understand the policy process from formation to implementation;
  • Create a paradigm for analyzing public policy;
  • Intensively engage with specific policy issues;
  • Engage in sustained, disciplined research effort; and
  • Develop competencies that they are likely to need as professionals in the public policy arena.