Public Policy Curriculum

The core curriculum of our Public Policy lies in economics and political science, and students begin their study with introductory courses in these two disciplines. From there, you will pursue advanced courses in areas such as taxation, legislative decision-making, government expenditures, and power and public policy. In addition, course work in other disciplines, such as sociology, that relates to policy issues is encouraged. Students are also encouraged to take advantage of internship opportunities that will involve them in the policy making and evaluation process. 

The culmination of the program is a senior thesis that brings to bear your analytical skills on a policy issue of your choice. These analyses are often shared with policy makers, and have proven useful in admission to graduate or professional schools. In the past, issues selected have included local energy policy, coastal zone management, neighborhood governance, racial discrimination, bicycle pathways, and United States drug intervention in Columbia.

Required courses for a concentration in Public Policy are as follows:

Economics: Introductory Microeconomics, Introductory Macroeconomics, Public Finance – Government Expenditures, and Public Finance – Taxation.

Political Science: Introduction to American Politics, Power and Public Policy, plus at least two other policy-related Political Science courses.

Other: In addition to the eight courses listed above, students are required to take two additional policy-related courses. While these courses can be in economics or political science, students are encouraged to consider policy-related courses in other disciplines. Sociology, in particular, offers several policy-related courses on a regular basis.

Students pursuing an AOC in Public Policy are also required to take a course in basic statistics. While no additional courses in quantitative analysis are required, students are strongly encouraged to take additional courses of this nature if they plan on pursuing a career in some aspect of public policy.

Here’s a list of recent course offerings in Public Policy:
Please note that the list below is only a sample of courses available for students in Public Policy. For a complete list of courses by semester, click here.

Introduction to American Politics

We will review the nature of American political institutions and rhetoric. We will also explore the patterns of political action and participation in the United States. Topics include the Constitution, Congress, the Presidency, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, political parties, interest groups, the news media, elections, and the formation of public policy. 

Introductory Macroeconomics

Macroeconomics is one of the two broad fields in economics. Macroeconomics analyzes the aggregate performance of the economy – the overall level of output, employment and prices. The primary learning objectives of the course are: 1) to familiarize the student with the measurement and importance of the basic macro performance variables – GDP, unemployment and inflation; 2) to build a model of the economy that incorporates the most important behavioral relationships that influence macro performance; 3) to analyze the potential effects of government fiscal and monetary policy on the performance of the economy; 4) to understand the historical macroeconomic performance of the U.S. economy in light of 2) and 3) above; and 5) to analyze the determinants of international exchange rates and the effects of changes in such on the performance of the economy.

Introductory Microeconomics

The course is designed to introduce the student to the way economists analyze social behavior and evaluate public policies. We examine the principles underlying how a market-oriented economy allocates its scarce resources among competing uses so as to answer the three basic economic questions – what to produce, how to produce it, and who gets it. We also develop an analytical framework to answer the question of whether a market-based allocation of resources is “good” for society. Considerable attention is devoted to understanding the basic market model of supply and demand. We will use that model to examine the pros and cons of selected policies, including rent controls, the minimum wage, and protectionist trade measures. The goal is to develop the student’s ability to undertake relatively sophisticated policy evaluation using the basic tools of economic analysis. We also analyze the appropriate role of the government in affecting the allocation of resources in a market-oriented economy. No prior knowledge of economics is assumed. No math beyond basic arithmetic is needed, although heavy reliance is placed on graphical analysis. The course serves as a basic building block for further study in economics and is a prerequisite for most additional course work in the field.

Power and Public Policy in the U.S.

This course covers in depth the process by which policy networks make federal level public policies. We will explore theories of power and political institutions to ask why the application of public authority takes the form it does. Some topics covered will include: policy networks, policy legacies, policy typologies, agenda setting, and the new institutionalism. The course will accommodate students’ interests in social policy areas but we will pay attention to immigration policy, housing policy and drug enforcement policy. 

Public Finance: Government Expenditures

This course examines the theory and practice of government expenditures in a market-based economy. The theory part of the course covers the concepts of public goods and externalities, as well as basic cost-benefit analysis. In the second half of the course we will study some of the major policy issues regarding government spending facing the United States today, namely, the Social Security system, health care, and education reform.

Public Finance: Taxation

How the government acquires resources to perform its functions can have profound impacts on the economy. In this course we will analyze the efficiency and equity implications of the major methods that governments employ to acquire resources from the private sector. Taxation is the primary method, and we will examine the major taxes utilized in the United States. Primary attention will be devoted to the federal individual income tax. We will also study the corporate income tax, the estate and gift tax, the sales tax and the property tax. Other methods that governments do or can use to acquire resources, such as the lottery, will be studied. The course will conclude with an examination of the ongoing debate concerning tax justice and reforms to our tax system.

Developmental Economics

This course is a survey of topics in development economics. The course will be focused on a fundamental question: why are some countries poor while some are rich? It provides a foundation from which students can advance to further studies in economic development and international studies. It examines the meaning and measurement of development and then reviews development theories, issues and policies. Some of the main issues we will examine this semester are: (i) the meaning and measurement of development; (ii) classical and modern development theories; (iii) political economy aspects of development; (iv) trade and development; (v) institutions and development; (vi) finance and development; (vii) the role of the State in development, (viii) environmental issues in development, and (ix) theories of economic growth. 

International Law and Politics

This course is designed as an advanced seminar that examines the tension between law and politics in a range of international issue areas. Introduction to World Politics is a required prerequisite. Legal doctrine and practice aspires to universalism and equity: general rules apply equally to actors in similar situations. But international politics is particularistic, shaped by differences in interests and massive disparities of power. For instance, the United States has opposed the new charter for an International Criminal Court on the grounds that the United States, by virtue of its military power, has special responsibilities. The United States has also been able to avoid control of its anti-terrorism operation because of its overwhelming military capabilities. And the United States invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq was launched in the absence of support from any multilateral organization claiming international legal authority. Does the combination of extraordinary power and great responsibility mean that the United States should be exempt from rules that others must follow? This course explores the ongoing tension between international law and politics and examines its manifestation in issue areas such as military intervention, environmental protection, trade, human rights, and crimes of state.

International Political Economy

This course explores the relationship between political and economic processes in the international system. It introduces students to the history of international finance and trade patterns as well as the theories employed in international relations to model and explain the politics of international economics. It concludes by discussing the major issues in international economics, such as globalization, currency flows, international debt, and monetary integration. This is an intermediate-level course. In addition to frequent evaluations of students’ knowledge of lecture topics and reading assignments, students will conduct a comprehensive country marketing analysis as part of a group research project. 

Politics of Congress

This intermediate level class focuses on the behavior and processes of the U.S. Congress. Most of the seminar examines external influences on members of congress, such as presidents, constituents and interest groups. The rest of the seminar examines members’ relations with each other, which are influenced by such things as rules, norms, committees, seniority and political parties. American Government course strongly recommended, but not required. 

Social Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Power

This seminar will examine social inequality in the U.S. by analyzing how race, ethnicity, class, and gender operate to structure social institutions and relations as well as produce systematic privileges and disadvantages. We will examine the distribution of social resources (e.g. wealth, health, education, and employment) across different groups in society and the impact of this distribution on life conditions, opportunities, outcomes, choices, and experiences. We will analyze various sociological theories and approaches to inequality as well as interrogate popular, widely held beliefs about the causes and consequences of inequality. Lastly, we will examine the impact of inequality on democratic processes in the U.S. and the possibilities for and obstacles to initiating social change.

Space, Place & Community

It has often been claimed that physical location has become increasingly irrelevant as a result of new communications technology, transportation systems, postmodern cultural transformations, and global flows of capital. In recent years, however, there has been a rediscovery of the sociological importance of place-- as an empirical phenomenon, as a theoretical object, and as a conceptual anchor for critical discourse. This course offers an introductory exploration of the sociology of place and the ways that place continues to matter, postmodernist confusion notwithstanding. The course will explore cultural practices, forms of material power, and social processes that produce particular landscapes, with a particular focus on the various ways that constructions of space and place connect humans both to each other and to the non-human world. The course is designed to work toward an understanding of the ways that social relations are inscribed, registered visually, represented or obscured, naturalized or manipulated, and given obdurate material reality in the intentional production of spatial arrangements and architectural forms, as well as in the apparently unintended landscapes (both urban and rural, built and supposedly “natural”) against which such productions take shape.

Sustainable Development

This course examines the tension between the need for economic development in less-developed countries and the necessity to protect and preserve the environment. It is an appropriate point of entry for environmental studies students with policy/international interests. Prior coursework in economics, sociology and/or political science is helpful but not a mandatory prerequisite. The course covers domestic issues facing developing countries as they attempt to solve their economic and environmental problems as well as the relationship between developing countries and the rest of the international community in dealing with environmental problems. 

Work Organization and Its Alternatives

In this course we will explore sociological analyses of the organization of work, focusing on twentieth century labor relations. We look at the organization of work in capitalist enterprises from the late 19th and early 20th century to current experiences as influenced by electronic technology. We analyze participatory plans in privately owned corporations, cooperatives, and the Kibbutz. We look at the building principles of these alternatives, their benefits and limitations. This course is geared at the intermediate level, students with one or two courses in the social sciences will be better prepared to face its challenges. 


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