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MPA Curriculum

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) prepares professionals for successful careers in management and leadership positions and as advocates for change in making and implementing public policies. The 30-unit core curriculum emphasizes the foundations of public action based in statutes and regulations, value clarity, strategic leadership, analytical skills, and systemic change. Students may also elect an additional 6-12 units for a concentration as a basis for launching a career or developing expertise in a field of their interest.


Areas of concentration include:

  • Water Policy
  • Health Policy
  • Environmental Policy
  • Capital Policy Making
  • Government Operations and Leadership
  • Non-Profit Operations and Leadership
  • Education Policy and Leadership
  • Policy Change, Institutional Reform, Sustainability


MPA Curriculum
(possible course sequence)

Course Descriptions

Introduction to Legal Analysis
This course provides students with an overview of the American legal system, including the sources and development of law as well as the dispute resolution process. The course further focuses on developing an understanding of how lawyers read and analyze cases, statutes, and legal documents and provides an introduction to legal reasoning.  A primer on legal research with a focus on locating and evaluating the weight of legal sources is also included. (MSL, MPP and MPA only)

Values, Roles and Skills
Introduction to the importance and interrelationships of (1) values, fundamental to public action, and often contested as political actors interpret core values differently, (2) roles which are defined by institutions (e.g., department head, staff analyst, city manager) and (3)  professional skills which support ethical behavior which is also effective in achieving desired public purposes.

Conflicted, Complex, Uncertain
Sets public policy making and implementation in context of value conflicts, complexity and uncertainty as addressed in US democratic system of governance. Starts with structural design of US constitution (separation of powers, federal system, and limited government). Includes analysis of major changes in structures, powers and activities with emphasis on roles and responsibilities of public professionals. Establishes importance of analyses from differing perspectives: individual/household, communities (of place or interest), firms/organizations, public agencies and public interest, including intergenerational. Introduction to tools premised on rational public policy making and implementation. Major attention to tools of analysis and instruments of action that explicitly incorporate value conflict, complexity and uncertainty.

Choices in Policy Design
Choices of policies and design of programs are core responsibilities of any public body. How these choices are made is critical.

The chosen policies and programs shape the potential to achieve desired objectives, influence whether and how a public agency interacts with other public and private sector organizations involved in the same issue, some even working toward the same goal. Very importantly, how these choices are made and the choices themselves determine the roles of citizens beyond elections and also the roles of stakeholders.

This course focuses on the design elements of these choices that cross any single department, sometimes seen at the level of a whole government — a nation, state, county, city or special district. Examples include how councils, boards or commissions develop calendars of work, including enacting ordinances and regulations, adopting budgets, or managing collective bargaining. Some important designs are externally imposed on organizations, including prescriptions of constitutionally superior governments, as well as standards established by professional bodies, such as the Government Accounting Standards Board.

Students in the course develop tools to strategically analyze these design choices and assess how important features of a policy process can be changed. Many of the concepts and tools are also relevant to larger non-profit organizations and some are relevant to for-profit firms.

Public Manager Analytics
Introduces students to the use of analytics in managing organizations and implementation of programs or policies. Provides students with a solid foundation in descriptive and inferential statistics. Topics covered include: measures of central tendency and dispersion, probability and probability distributions, hypothesis testing and confidence intervals, correlation, simple regression, and an introduction to multivariate regression. Develops competencies in identifying relevant analytics, collection of data including survey design, and making information usable for decision makers seeking to improve performance in achieving policy goals.

Economic Concepts and Tools
Develops competence in economic concepts and tools. Draws from microeconomics. Key concepts include efficiency, equity, tax incidence, opportunity cost, cost-benefit analysis and the role of incentives, marginal analysis, competition, public goods and market failure. Provides opportunity for students to discuss the effectiveness of various government programs and regulation or de-regulation strategies from an economic point of view.

Leaders, Organization Behavior
Analysis and development of knowledge and skills relevant to strategic leadership of public organizations, including responsibilities for organization structures and their internal and external relationships; human, financial, and property resources; systems, including digital revolution dynamics; and political and symbolic roles. Explicit attention to professionally expert leadership for success in contexts characterized by conflict, complexity, and uncertainty.

Statutes and Regulations
This course introduces students to strategies and techniques for interpreting and applying statutes and regulations in the modern administrative state. Topics include foundational issues important to public law, such as the legislative process, doctrines of statutory interpretation, the structure of administrative law, and the role of agencies in interpreting and enforcing statutory schemes.

Strategic Public Management
Integration of learning from courses taken through (1) self-assessment and (2) class analyses of a few cases of both successful and unsuccessful public professionals, both contributing to targeted development of knowledge and competencies.

Budgets, Financial Management
Develops understanding of the role budgets play in state, local, and federal governance. Examines the politics of budgeting and the process of developing capital and operating budgets. Gives students hands on experience working with core budget and other financial documents, including budget change proposals, performance measures, comprehensive annual financial reports, and public agency actuarial valuation reports. Also explores the effect economic cycles and past government and voter decisions have on modern budget options.

Systemic Change
Analysis and developing skills relevant to purposeful, enduring change of public policies and public institutions. Roles and strategies of policy entrepreneurs analyzed. Actions which strengthen policies are contrasted with those which weaken policies. Explicit attention not only to public executives, but also to strategies of elected officials, stakeholders, and advocacy groups. Identifying and understanding the articulation of a variety of tools, such as strategic communications or facilitated processes, as well as more specific policy tools, such as changed laws, new decision arenas, or changed financial incentives.

Policy Choices (in Water, Health, Sustainability or Public Reform)
Identifies and analyses possible changes in a specific area of policy in the next 2-5 years. Develops capacity to understand, analyze and recommend actions with sufficient understanding of relevant values, past history, competitive forces, and adaptive human behaviors to reasonably assess implementation feasibility and to identify probable longer term effects of public policy choices.


Contact Casey Heinzen, Assistant Director, Public Policy Programs
Email | 916.340.6192