What are your online graduate public service and public policy degree options?

June 12, 2019 · 9 min read · By ASU Online

Entities in the public service sector are striving to improve their offerings and better meet the needs of the citizens they serve. However, this work is challenging as numerous external forces hinder public service groups intent on solidifying and expanding their operational footprints.


Graduate degree and certificate programs

Insufficient funding is among the most common problems with more than half of the organizations in this sector lacking the resources they require, according to research from the Partnership for Public Service. Additionally, the demand for public service intervention continues to increase due to the rising volume and severity of extreme weather events, natural disasters, and food and water crises, analysts for the World Economic Forum found.

With these and other challenges, public service organizations everywhere have begun searching for professionals who can develop innovative yet actionable policies and strategies that will make an impact. ASU Online has multiple graduate public service and public policy degree and certificate programs that can prepare you for this work, giving you the expertise and knowledge you need to pursue a successful career.

Emergency responders meet to review procedure.
Emergency responders meet to review procedure.

Emergency Management and Homeland Security (EMHS)

Natural disasters have become more common, according to research from the Swiss Re Institute, which revealed that annual catastrophe counts have risen dramatically since 1970. While manmade disasters are not as prevalent, such events continue to hurt communities across the globe, costing lives and destroying key public infrastructure, the organization found. The online Master of Arts in Emergency Management and Homeland Security degree can help students cultivate the expertise they need to lead disaster mitigation and response initiatives within the public service organizations responsible for addressing these events.

The program centers on content across multiple disciplines, including public policy analysis and management, science and technology, geography, social work and criminal justice. This allows students to develop a macro-level understanding of the profession while gaining the detailed tactical and technical insight required to navigate field operations and ultimately foster preparedness and community resilience.

In addition to covering core emergency management and homeland security concepts, students may concentrate in one of the following areas: biosecurity and threat management, cybersecurity and policy management, community resilience, emergency management and homeland security. The academic experience closes with an applied project, wherein students can improve their communities through knowledge they gained during the program.

Courses cover subjects including:

  • Integrated emergency management
  • Applied data in criminal justice
  • Geographic information systems and analysis

Possible careers include:

  • Emergency management director
  • Medical and health services manager
  • Risk management specialist


Forensic Psychology (MS)

Professionals in the forensic psychology field are essential to public service work, particularly in the criminal justice system, where they evaluate and profile individuals involved in active court cases, according to the American Bar Association. These insights, which are compiled into formalized reports, form the foundation for sound legal judgment and help facilitate fairness. The online Master of Science in Forensic Psychology program aims to effectively prepare students for work in this profession.

Students participating in the program explore mental illness and human behavior in the context of the justice system through specialized coursework touching on everything from correctional psychology to research methods and quantitative analysis. This degree also gives students the opportunity to customize their experiences through a variety of applicable electives.

The curriculum ends with a capstone that requires students to evaluate overarching issues in forensic psychology and provide potential solutions in written form.

Courses cover subjects including:

  • Legal psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Psychopathology

Possible careers include:

  • Forensic science technician
  • Criminal investigator
  • Forensic psychologist


Legal Studies (MLS)

Professionals in almost every sector interact with the law, including those in public service. Individuals working in the justice system are immersed in it, while those in adjacent fields must be able to operate within the context of local, state and federal law. The online Master of Legal Studies degree can help students develop the knowledge necessary for navigating the legal implications that accompany public service work.

The program allows students to cultivate an in-depth understanding of the law and how it applies to organizations in the public service field. Professionals pursuing the online master’s degree in legal studies may focus in one of the following areas:

  • Sports law
  • Sustainability law
  • Human resources and employment law
  • Intellectual property law
  • Criminal law 
  • Corporate and health care compliance

Equipped with foundational knowledge of U.S. law, legal structure and reasoning, students can enter the public service field confident in their ability to perform in accordance with applicable statutes. Courses cover subjects including:

  • Criminal law
  • Contracts
  • Civil procedure

Possible careers include:

  • Compliance officer
  • Contract manager
  • Law enforcement professional


Nonprofit Leadership and Management (MNLM)

Approximately 1.4 million nonprofit organizations operate in the U.S., maintaining operating budgets totaling more than $1.6 trillion, according to the Urban Institute. Most of these entities function in the public service sector, providing offerings meant to benefit those in need. Unfortunately, nonprofits have may often experience issues in their executive suites, researchers for the Concord Leadership Group discovered. A mere 21 percent of leaders in the field have great confidence in their abilities and many of those who do plan to leave their jobs soon.

The online Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program can give public service professionals the knowledge they need to fill such managerial gaps and make a more significant impact in the field. This master’s degree in nonprofit leadership addresses a number of important issues, including people management, program development and oversight, fundraising, fiscal management and governance. Students close out the curriculum with a capstone course wherein they are required to synthesize the expertise they acquired throughout the program and assess recent nonprofit trends, such as resource development and social responsibility.

Courses cover subjects including:

  • Financial and resource management
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Grant writing Possible careers include:
  • Fundraiser
  • Social and community service manager


Public Safety Leadership and Administration (MPSLA)

In some ways, America is significantly safer than it was more than two decades ago. For instance, violent crime rates have dropped significantly over the past quarter century, the Pew Research Center found. Public service organizations are among the entities responsible for this progress, providing criminal justice and health care services that help increase public safety. However, there is more work to be done. Some states are still experiencing upticks in crime and grappling with other issues that can involve not only police forces but also fire and emergency medical services, according to data from the Council of State Governments.

The online Master of Public Safety Leadership and Administration program can prepare students for work in this space, helping them transform into agents of positive change in public safety organizations. The core curriculum addresses an array of sector-specific issues and can help students develop the problem-solving skills needed to tackle them as part of leadership teams. In addition to the foundational public safety courses offered in the program, students may concentrate in one of the following areas: emergency medical services — mobile integrated health care, executive fire administration and executive police administration. This public safety administration master’s degree closes with an applied project capstone, where aspiring public service leaders are asked to demonstrate their knowledge through a research-based project.

Courses cover subjects including:

  • Public policy analysis
  • Public budgeting and finance
  • Organization behavior

Possible careers include:

  • Emergency medical technician
  • Paramedic
  • Police officer


Criminal Sentencing and Sentencing Advocacy (Graduate Certificate)

Tens of thousands of criminals are sentenced for federal crimes in the U.S. annually, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Social workers and criminal justice professionals are often involved in these proceedings, working on behalf of victims’ families to ensure offenders receive punishments commensurate with their crimes. From administrative assistance and courtroom guidance to emotional support and counseling, these public service specialists offer support of all kinds, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.

The online Criminal Sentencing and Sentencing Advocacy Graduate Certificate can provide students the ability to cultivate actionable expertise through a skill-based curriculum to help them pursue various public policy career paths, such as pre-sentencing investigator or court consultant. Individuals taking part in the certificate program evaluate court practices, sentencing strategies and offender assessment best practices. The curriculum also touches on granular issues centered on advocacy, mitigation and probation, allowing students the ability to focus in specific areas of criminal sentencing. One unique instructional aspect of this online graduate certificate is its emphasis on mental health and treatment methodologies, which are addressed in topics such as alternatives to penal sanctioning.

Courses cover subjects including:

  • Courts and sentencing
  • Mitigation in death and life cases
  • Race and ethnicity and crime issues

Possible careers include:

  • Social worker
  • Lawyer
  • Detective


Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development (Graduate Certificate)

Entrepreneurs have entered the public service field in large numbers in recent years, intent on building profitable organizations with purpose. Today, almost one-quarter of founders worldwide launch businesses based on need, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which also found that many end up reinvesting their earned revenue in local communities by funding social initiatives. This approach holds serious potential for the public service sector, offering an alternative to donation- or grant-based operations.

The online Social Entrepreneurship and Community Development Graduate Certificate can help public service professionals embrace this strategy, lending them an environment in which they can develop functional knowledge. The program features courses exploring concepts such as social entrepreneurship and community and social innovation, along with others centered on operational issues, including financial and resource management, program evaluation and grant writing. Students pursuing this certificate also get the opportunity to connect with peers in other programs and build professional communities that can create foundations for future endeavors.

Courses cover subjects including:

  • Financial and resource management
  • Grant writing for nonprofit organizations
  • Strategic human resources management

Possible careers include:

  • Social and community service managers
  • Child and family social workers
  • Sociologists

Earning an online graduate degree or certificate with ASU

The ASU Online public service and public policy graduate degrees and certificates can provide professionals with the advanced knowledge and expertise they need to move forward in their careers as they lend assistance to organizations worldwide that are struggling to fulfill their missions. With communities across the globe depending on these entities, new leaders must emerge and bring innovation with them to counter roadblocks such as organizational complications and fundraising issues. Are you interested in expanding your impact and taking advantage of a strong public policy job outlook? If so, the online graduate public service and public policy programs available through ASU Online could be right for you. Program details are subject to change. Current information can be found by visiting individual degree pages on the ASU Online website.  

ASU Online – Online Public Service and Public Policy Graduate Degrees
World Public Sector Report by the United Nations Annual Report by the Partnership for Public Service
Public-Sector Digitization: The Trillion-Dollar Challenge by McKinsey and Company
The Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum
Natural Disasters and Man-Made Catastrophes in 2017 by the Swiss Re Institute
The Forensic Psychology Support by the American Bar Association
The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2015: Public Charities, Giving Volunteering by the Urban Institute
A Study of Nonprofit Leadership in the U.S. and its Impending Crisis by the Concord Leadership Group
Five Facts About Crime in the U.S. by Pew Research Center
50 State Report on Public Safety by the Council of State Governments
Overview of Federal Criminal Cases by the U.S. Sentencing Commission
What is a Victim Advocate by The National Center for Victims of Crime Global Report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor

Nonprofit professionals collaborate in a bright office.
Nonprofit professionals collaborate in a bright office.


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