Jun 23, 2018  
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog 
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog

Public Policy, PhD

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Degree Requirements

The program involves two years of full-time core course work followed by a course of study consisting of electives and a dissertation seminar (third year) and dissertation research and writing (fourth year and beyond), for a total of 67 credits.
Requirements include:

  • Completion of thirteen interdisciplinary core, research and quantitative methods courses (40 credits)
  • Successful performance on the comprehensive examination to be taken following the second year of full-time study or following the third year of part-time study
  • Completion of an additional six courses (18 credits) in a combination of electives, independent study and/or internship work
  • Completion of doctoral research, culminating in a doctoral dissertation (9 credits)

Students who enter the program already holding a master’s degree in a related field may petition the Academic Affairs Committee in the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs to waive up to 12 credit hours of elective credits. Students who enter the program already having completed courses that duplicate the content of the program’s core courses may petition the Academic Affairs Committee in the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs to receive academic credit for these courses, or a waiver of requirements to take these courses.

Required courses

Required course work includes core courses, research and quantitative methods courses, including the dissertation seminar, and dissertation research. The core courses, taken during the first two years of the program, acquaint students with the basics of political, sociological and economic thought and public policy analysis; they also introduce students to applied economic reasoning and political institutions at the federal and local government levels.


During the first three years of the program, students are expected to enroll in six elective courses (18 credits) which focus on public policy in particular subject areas. Up to six credit hours (three credits per internship experience) may be completed as an internship. Not all courses are available every semester. Courses offered as electives, beyond those listed for particular concentrations above, include:


Students who wish to focus their study in specific areas may choose to pursue one of the three-course (9 credits) concentrations.

The Concentration in Conflict Resolution

The “art” of public policy is mediated among interested and key players. Increasingly, state and local governments and nonprofit community organizations have recognized the role and importance of conflict resolution in their administrative public policies. This concentration fits with the mission of the Public Policy program.

Faculty from the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance, which administers master’s programs in Conflict Resolution, provide coursework for this concentration. Students must obtain approval from the graduate program director and course instructors in order to do extra work beyond what is required for the master’s level courses in order to receive elective credit in the Public Policy PhD program.

Concentration Requirement

  • CONRES 621 Negotiation (M)
  • Two additional courses (6 credits) from the conflict resolution curriculum, selected by student in consultation with advisor

The Concentration in Organizations and Social Change

Organizations are at the heart of societal governance; they develop, contest, implement, and evaluate public policy. Organizations are also frequent targets of public policy, as sites that generate, reproduce, or sustain social and economic inequality. Some organizations, such as government agencies are where public policies are enacted. Other organizations, such as community-based nonprofit organizations or advocacy groups, can act as agents of resistance and social change in the policy process. An understanding of organizations, their sources of power, role in governance, and structures and processes is fundamental for public policy analysts and public managers. An organizational perspective enables students of public policy to apply a range of theories from different disciplinary perspective, including sociology, political science, and economics, to the analysis of a wide range of policy issues in which organizations play a central role.

Students must obtain approval from the graduate program director and course instructors to do extra work beyond what is required for conflict resolution and applied sociology master’s level courses in order to receive elective credit in the Public Policy PhD program.


Students can fulfill some elective coursework through internship credits. Each internship experience accounts for three credit hours. Students can pursue up to two internship experiences for a maximum of 6 credit hours. The internship should demonstrate applied work on a public policy research related issue, fulfilled by one of two different mechanisms:

1. Completing a Paid or Unpaid Internship  

Students may select or identify a paid or unpaid public policy project to carry out which meets specified standards and includes a minimum of (450) actual hours for three credit hours over one or two semesters.

2. Evaluation of Current Policy Work in a Current Work Setting

Students may complete a specific public policy project in a setting where they are currently employed.

Students who wish to complete any internship must complete and submit an Internship Proposal form to the graduate program director during the semester prior to the semester for which they register for the internship credit. The proposal requires students to do the following:

  • Identify a department faculty member who has agreed to evaluate the paper to be written if the project is approved
  • Identify the organizational setting for the policy work
  • Describe the student’s role and responsibilities (including the amount of time spent on the project)
  • Discuss the type and nature of the policy issue(s)
  • Identify the work supervisor and others who can attest to the nature and extent of the student’s work.

Regardless of which option is chosen, the student must do the following:

  • Submit a research paper based on their internship experience which meets the criteria of a substantive and critical research paper
  • Present the project to a seminar of department faculty and students

Upon faculty approval of the internship paper and student completion of a presentation, credits will be awarded. Until the paper and presentation are completed to faculty satisfaction, these credits will be graded as Y (in progress); upon satisfactory completion, the grade will be converted to SAT (satisfactory).

Comprehensive Examination

A comprehensive examination is given following the second year of full-time program enrollment, or following the third year of part-time program enrollment. The exam serves to determine the students’ proficiency in analyzing policy problems with applied statistical tools and methods, as well as the students’ proficiency in framing policy problems, using diverse analytical frameworks. The performance on the exam should demonstrate a strong understanding of economic, sociological and political theory, the fundamentals of public policy analysis, and the fundamentals of research methods and quantitative analysis.


The culminating requirement of the program is the completion of a dissertation, an original research project that makes a substantive contribution to knowledge about public policy. The student’s dissertation work is supervised by a doctoral committee. This committee is comprised of a Chair, who must be a faculty member in or officially affiliated with the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, at least one faculty member in the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, and at least one faculty member from another department within the University of Massachusetts Boston or from another institution. Most committees have three or four members. The committee is responsible for approving the dissertation proposal, overseeing the student’s data collection and data analysis, and reviewing written drafts of the dissertation. The completed dissertation must be approved by the program’s doctoral committee, and an oral presentation and defense must be successfully completed.

Part-Time Study

The program also offers a part-time study option. This course of study, open to all applicants, has traditionally been directed at Commonwealth of Massachusetts managers and other policy makers who are eligible for flexible work schedules. These employees will acquire a strong foundation in theory and analytical skills and will be able to use their job responsibilities to contribute to class discussions, assignments, and research papers, obtain faculty input on important policy considerations, and contribute to the field of state policymaking through their dissertation research.

The sequence of the part-time curriculum requires completion of three courses in one and one half days on campus each week during the first semester. After the first semester, the normal part-time load is two courses (typically two half-days on campus) per semester. All classes are held during the day. Occasionally, elective courses may be offered during the evening.

The part-time schedule allows students to complete all core courses in three years. Elective courses and dissertation research typically begin in the fourth year.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts employees use their state benefits for tuition coverage but must pay fees and are not eligible for assistantship awards. Students who are employed by the Commonwealth can access their tuition benefits through their employer’s human resources or benefits office.

Admission Requirements

Students are admitted to the Public Policy Program to work toward the PhD degree only. There are no spring-semester admissions. Applications are due in the UMass Boston Graduate Admissions Office by January 15, for enrollment in the following September. Applicants must submit the following:

  • A completed UMass Boston graduate admissions application form.
  • A current resume or CV
  • A combined autobiographical sketch (highlighting how your life events have led you to apply for a PhD in Public Policy) and personal statement about your interests and reasons for applying to the program. This essay is not to exceed 1,500 words.
  • A short (3-5 page) academic writing sample or professional policy brief
  • Three letters of recommendation, at least two of which should come from individuals who can assess the applicant’s academic preparation for advanced graduate work.
  • Official transcripts of all prior academic work, including evidence of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
  • An official report of scores on the general aptitude (verbal, quantitative, and analytic) sections of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Although interviews are not a required component of the admissions process, the admissions committee of the program may, at its discretion, request interviews for applicants once applications have been reviewed.

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