CORONAVIRUS UPDATES: Resources and updates for Liberal Arts students, faculty, and staff.

Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

School of Public Policy

School ofPublic Policy

Course Offerings

Course Offerings

PPOL 503: Statistics for Public Policy

This course provides an introduction to evaluating and conducting quantitative analysis of public policy. The first part of the course examines foundational concepts including basic elements of research design, research question development, measurement theory, and internal and external validity. The remainder of the course sequentially examines the intuition and implementation of basic statistical techniques in public policy analysis, including descriptive statistics, probability, inferential statistics, and the analysis of nominal and ordinal data. The course provides a foundation for studying more advanced quantitative analysis techniques, such as regression analysis. The course also introduces basic data management and programming using Microsoft Excel and R. Students will demonstrate knowledge of statistical analysis techniques through homework and application exercises, a policy report, and exams.  

PPOL 597: Economic Inequality and Public Policy 

Christopher Witko (Tuesdays at 4:00 p.m./013 Huck Life Sciences Building)

Why is the United States among the most economically unequal affluent democracies, and what role does public policy play? How does inequality play out among different groups? What policies successfully reduce wealth and income inequalities? How does economic inequality feed back into the policy process to shape subsequent responses to inequality and other problems? This course will examine the interrelationship between public policy, economic inequality, and power and influence in the policy process. We will focus primarily on affluent democracies, especially the United States. Search class number 18447 in LionPath (Spring 2023).

PPOL 597: Social Impact Financing

So you want to address the big problems in your community like poverty, inequality, subpar education, lack of affordable housing and crumbling infrastructure. But fixing these problems is not cheap.  Social Impact Financing is a course on policy and management regarding external resources for social impact in public programs, social enterprises, not-for-profit organizations, and public-private projects. The course begins with an introduction to basic investment concepts, financial instruments, and credit risk management strategies. It then expands into concepts of impact finance, performance measurement & management, and pay-for-performance contracts. The course then evaluates the spectrum of existing impact financing alternatives from crowdsourcing to mutual funds, microfinance, to venture philanthropy. The course wraps up with a review of financial innovations with a distinct social impact objective: sustainable or green finance, community impact investments, Islamic and Christian finance, and social impact bonds. 

PPOL 597/SOC 597: Demographic Change & Family Policy

This course will examine the interplay between demographic trends and public policies, largely in the United States. Students will be exposed to the two-way relationship between public policy and demographic change, considering both the impact of policies on demographic outcomes as well as the effect of changing demographic structures on public policy development. The course will involve an introduction to demography and public policy and will cover topics including immigration, health policy and life expectancy, family policies, family structure and fertility, race and racism, housing and urban policy, population aging and pensions, social policy and inequality, and climate and environmental policy. Readings will be a mix of scholarly articles and popular press pieces. Students will complete a policy project that engages with a contemporary demographic issue. 

PPOL 801: The Public Policy Process

The policy process refers to the development of public policy over time and the actors, events, and contexts surrounding this development. Trying to understand and explain the policy process requires an understanding of the relationships among an uncountable number of factors in a dynamic system with nested levels of interactions and uncertain inputs and outputs. This course decomposes this complexity by first considering the political conceptualization of public policy problems, the tools by which public policies — laws, regulations, and markets — are expressed, and the formal and informal actors (voters, legislators, executives, courts, bureaucracies, the media, and interest organizations) engaged in the policy process. The course then examines a number of broad models of the policy process as a whole, including the policy streams, institutional, incremental, advocacy coalition, and punctuated equilibrium models. The course also examines these actors and models at several stages of the policy process running from agenda setting, through policy formulation and adoption, to policy evaluation. The goal of the course is to enable students to identify the wide variety of actors in the policy process, understand the institutional contexts they operate in and the tools of policy influence they seek to employ at several distinct stages of the policy process, and critically assess the implications and empirical veracity of a variety of conceptual models of the policy process. Search class #19581 or PPOL 801 in LionPath.

PPOL 802: Economic Analysis for Public Policy

Should the government directly regulate pollution or allow the market to determine levels of effluents? Should government pay farmers to reduce production of oversupplied crops, or is this an unfair government handout? Economists approach such questions using the basic microeconomic tools of their discipline. Understanding and being able to apply those tools is an essential part of the work of public policy analysts. This course, designed for students with little or no prior training in economics, gives students an overview of the tools and logic economists use in analyzing questions like those above, as well as many others. The focus will be on gaining a sound understanding and familiarity with the basic concepts and modes of analysis used in microeconomics so they can be applied to public policy questions. This includes first a basic overview of the behavior of consumers, firms, and labor markets, and based on this, the concepts of supply and demand, competition, and consumer and producer surplus. Students will learn how these influence the functioning of markets given that they may be imperfect, including problems of imperfect information, irrational behavior, and market failures associated with externalities and public goods. And third, this course will cover how these problems both play out in the demand for government goods and services and government’s production decisions, as well as how these problems might be addressed using the tools of microeconomic analysis. Students will leave this course with a better understanding of how an economist approaches many contemporary policy debates and an ability to use microeconomic analysis to assess policy problems.

PPOL 805: Bureaucracy and the Public Policy Process

How does representative government function when the implementation of public policy has the authority to reshape democracy? This course links public administration—its function of implementing policies—to representative government by carefully examining the normative requirements for both.  We then examine four typical structures for implementing policies that differ on the extent to which they respect accountability to the people through their representatives and the process values of democracy.  These structures incorporate a broad cast of characters from bureaucrats to non-governmental organizations to citizens themselves.  We gather and explore real-world evidence to assess a hypothesis of value reinforcement: the way that policy is implemented reinforces the values of representative government.  Our evidence comes from Pennsylvania, the United States and a variety of other nations.  The course engages both normative and positive theories and students’ own research into revealing the harmonies and tensions between democratic politics and public policies.

PPOL 807: Managing Public Organizations

This course examines the underpinnings of effective management of public sector organizations. Students will gain an understanding of the dynamics of organizations and the role of people who comprise them. It will provide students a working knowledge of how public sector organizations work. This course offers a special emphasis on the organizational and workplace dynamics associated with diverse workplaces.  The course will provide students with the ability to situate workplace dynamics within larger industry-level, institutional, economic and political forces that drive diversity-related issues both nationally and globally. 

PPOL 809: Policy Analysis

This course provides students an overview of prospective public policy analysis as a means of informing public policy choice. That is, it examines how analysis techniques can be used to assess whether proposed policy solutions are likely to solve policy problems. The scientific logic underlying formal prospective public policy analysis is discussed before turning to identifying policy problems, conceptualizing public policies from economic, organizational, and political perspectives, and identifying public policy alternatives as well as the criteria for assessing their likely policy consequences and political and organizational feasibility. Several formal methods of prospective public policy analysis are discussed, including a family of back-of-the-envelope techniques, forecasting methods, simulation methods, discounting for probability, risk, and time, cost-benefit analysis, and political and organizational analysis addressing feasibility. Such formal analyses are not, of course, the only type of information used in the policy formulation and adoption process. Thus, the limits on the role of formal analysis in the policy process are discussed along with the effective reporting of formal prospective public policy analyses.

PPOL 810: Program Evaluation

This course provides students an overview of public policy and program evaluation as a scientifically-based means of assessing whether such programs and policies are effective after they have been adopted and implemented. The scientific logic underlying evaluation research is discussed before turning to conceptualizing public policies and programs as testable hypotheses. After then reviewing measurement theory and its application to public policies and programs, the course discusses the inferential validity criteria used to assess a variety of research designs. A major portion of the course will entail an in-depth discussion of several different research designs, including their logic, implementation, strengths, and weaknesses. These will include discussions of pre-experimental, experimental, correlational, interrupted time series, regression discontinuity, comparison group, case study, and nested research designs. Ethical and other practical problems of constructing evaluation research in the field are examined. Finally, the reporting of evaluation research results along with utilization problems associated with evaluation reports are discussed. The goals of the course include enabling students to both critically interpret evaluation research reports and to design, conduct, and report evaluation studies of public policies and programs.

PPOL 894: Capstone Experience

Supervised, professionally oriented student activities that constitute the culminating experience in the program.

PPOL 895: Internship

Supervised, professionally oriented, off-campus, non group instruction, including field experiences, practicums, or internships. Written and oral critique of activity required.

PPOL 897: Organizational Leadership

Leadership has been identified as one of the core competencies needed for the effective administration of policy-oriented organizations. PPOL 897 provides an opportunity for students to learn about the challenges of leadership in the public policy space. Through experience, reflective reading and writing and discussion, students will explore their own leadership capabilities and learn tools to help them to be even more effective. This course is taught online/asynchronously.

PUBPL 120N: State, Society, Public Policy

Alexis de Tocqueville called association the “mother science” of politics and saw voluntary associations — from Penn State student associations to the National Rifle Association, from local evangelical congregations to the Catholic Church, from the Girl Scouts to Planned Parenthood — as a pillar of American democracy. These associations must compete in what might be called a moral economy of public policy that preserves the value of equality. This course brings together ideas from political philosophy, history, political science, communication, sociology and economics to address an important question: How have voluntary, non-governmental associations come to shape and implement public policy? The class begins with the core concepts in political thought and traces them through to contemporary ideas about civil society that span the political spectrum. After critically assessing these ideas, we integrate them into a framework for understanding the process of making public policy.