Career Guide to JMU Majors:
Public Policy and Administration
The Public Policy and Administration major is offered through the Department of Political Science, one of two departments in the School of Public and International Affairs within the College of Arts & Letters.
Admission and Progression Standards:
Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.
Description of Major
The major in public policy and administration provides students with a general foundation in the nature of public policy, the public workplace and its political and legal environments. This program consists of a core of courses offering general knowledge essential for understanding and working in the public arena. This core provides students with an appreciation of the political culture of public work, the economic environment of public work, measurement techniques and a basic understanding of the policy process.
Students are offered a choice between two concentration options: public policy or public management. In the Public Policy concentration students acquire knowledge of the nature, dynamics, implementation and substance of public policy and its analysis. The Public Management concentration emphasizes government institutions, administrative process, and technical skill development.
In addition, courses in both concentrations heighten student's critical, analytical and communication skills through case studies, exercises and the intensive writing requirement. The public policy concentration requires a senior capstone experience which seeks to bring policy and analytical skills to bear on a practical issue of public policy. Public management students must complete the dual capstone requirements of a public management seminar and an internship, requiring an integration of knowledge from both general studies and major studies by focusing students on specific cases and workplace applications.
Because the public policy and administration major develops techniques and skills applicable to varied career paths in public service, students are encouraged to choose a complementary minor with a narrower, substantive focus.
Interested students may apply to participate in the Fifth year Master of Public Administration degree program, which allows qualified students to earn an M.P.A. degree with one additional year of study. Students should apply for this program in their sophomore year. See the JMU Graduate Catalog for more information.
The Political Science Department also offers a major and minor in Political Science, a major in International Affairs, a minor in Public Policy and Administration, and a minor in Political Communication.
Tell me more about this field of study
Public Policy and Administration typically involves the management and coordination of day-to-day operations of a public agency, including hiring, delegating responsibilities, and preparing the annual budget. Public administrators are called on by legislators to use their expertise to assist them in designing policy proposals that create or change government services. For example, the elected officials of a community decide what services a community will provide while the public administrator decides how best to deliver these services. Administrators are not only concerned with the day-to-day responsibilities of running government, but they must also plan for the future. Administrators and policy makers must be prepared to deal with changing federal and state regulations and tax rates, as well as population and other demographic shifts. Moreover, they need to be prepared for changes in the economic climate that can dramatically affect public service demands.
Tell me more about specialization
Public policy administrators work in numerous settings, such as the military, the White House, Yellowstone Park, the state capital, and the community center down the street. Individuals in this field can specialize in local, state or federal government or in a community or non-profit agency. Public policy administrators working in federal agencies and departments, for example, may manage processes to collect taxes, arm the military, conduct foreign policy, perform scientific research, tabulate the census, support the arts or administer Social Security benefits. Administrators in state government are charged, among other things, to establish state services like public universities and emergency planning and management. Through local governments, states provide for police, education, recreation programs, waste management, roads, jails, prisons, and other services to citizens. Nonprofit organizations also employ administrators responsible for the development and implementation for the development and implementation of a wide variety of programs – ranging from social services (e.g. American Red Cross) to membership organizations (e.g. AARP).
At the graduate level there are numerous specializations; too many to describe in this format. However, it would be helpful to describe the more "popular" specializations. Counseling psychologists focus on improving normal human functioning across the life span and help people solve problems, make decisions, and cope with the stresses of everyday life. School psychologists help educators promote the intellectual, social, and emotional development of children. Clinical psychologists evaluate and treat people’s mental and emotional disorders, ranging from normal psychological crises to extreme conditions such as schizophrenia or depression. Industrial/Organizational psychologists specialize in the relationship between people and work. Forensic Psychologists apply the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. Other specializations include: Cognitive, Developmental, Educational, Environmental, Experimental, Family, Health, Neuropsychology, Quantitative, Rehabilitation, Social, and Sports.
Common majors or minors that complement this major
Since the public policy and administration major is of broad application, students are encouraged to choose a complementary minor with a narrower, applied focus. The minors recommended for students consideration include Communication Studies, Computer Science, Conflict Analysis and Intervention, Criminal Justice, Economics, Environmental Information Systems, Environmental Management, Environmental Studies, Family Studies, Gerontology, Health Communication, Human Resource Development, Human Science, Integrated Science and Technology, Management Science, Modern Foreign Language, Non-profit Studies, Political Communication, Substance Abuse Intervention, Sociology, Telecommunications, Urban and Regional Studies, Women's Studies, or Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.
Naturally, success in our program comes more easily to those students with a keen interest in public service in its various forms. Students involved in leadership roles in student government or other student organizations may find Public Policy and Administration appealing, as will students interested in government and politics.
Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.
Who employs graduates?
Federal, Local, State Government Administrative Agencies, such as, Budget Analysis, City Management, Commerce, Community Affairs, Defense, Education, Energy, Financial Administration, General Services, Health and Human Services, Labor, or Urban Planning
Federal and State Government Legislative Services, such as, Auditing, Billing Draft Services, Budgeting, General Accounting Office, Government Printing Office, Legislative Councils, Legislative Reference Services, Library of Congress, or Staff to Legislators
Independent Government Agencies, such as, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Office of Personnel Management, Securities and Exchange Commission, Smithsonian Institution or U.S. Postal Service
Other employers include Charitable Organizations, Colleges/Universities, Community Service Agencies, Consulting Firms, Government Contractors, Healthcare Facilities, Hospitals, Lobbying Organizations, Nonprofit Agencies, Nursing Homes, Political Parties, Professional Associations, Public Action Committees, Public Interest Groups, Public/Private Schools or Think Tanks.
Students concentrating in public management and PPA minors must complete an internship with a governmental or non-profit organization. Students in the public policy concentration, as well as all majors in the Political Science Department, may do an internship as an elective in the major. The department has a very strong internship program that has earned a regional reputation for quality. Four credits are earned in PPA 496 (Internship in Public Policy and Administration) for 240 hours of practical experience under faculty supervision. The internship provides students an opportunity to refine career goals, develop job contacts and obtain references for future employment applications. An internship coordinator assists students in locating appropriate internships; however, the ultimate responsibility for securing the internship resides with the student. Students also have the option of pursuing federal government and international internships by participating in the Washington Semester program.
View our list of internship coordinators for each major.
What are JMU graduates doing with this major?
Human Resources Specialists and Labor Relations Specialists
Urban and Regional Planners
A Day in the Life of a City Planner
A Day in the Life of a Property Manager
VAULT: Log in, Click on Guides and search for over 700 professions and 100 industries.
A broad range of resources on career fields, internships, and job search information is also available in the Career & Academic Planning Resource Center.
Make an appointment with a CAP career counselor to learn more about this major and your career options.
A few titles from our Resource Center related to this field include:
© Career & Academic Planning, James Madison University, 2013All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from JMU Career & Academic Planning. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to the Career Guide editor, Nina Stensby-Hurst.