The University of Massachusetts Amherst


Choosing a specialization is not a formal requirement of the program, but some students choose to focus on a particular area in order to develop specific skills and knowledge in accordance with their interests and career goals. Specializations generally require taking three or more courses related to a particular field of interest.

SPP students can develop their own specializations, or select one of the following:

In addition to the popular specializations listed above, there are substantial resources on campus to develop specializations in areas such as:

  • Information technology;
  • Conflict resolution;
  • Macroeconomic policy;
  • Advanced quantitative methods;
  • Labor policy; and
  • Media policy.

Program faculty and staff work individually with students to design specializations that meet their interests and needs. To complete their specializations, students take electives from among the wide array of courses offered at the University of Massachusetts.

Education Policy

The education policy specialization allows students to gain a deeper understanding of issues in three main contexts:

  • Primary and secondary education in the United States;
  • Higher education; and
  • International education.

School of Public Policy graduates who specialize in educational policy may pursue careers in a range of institutions, including state and federal education authorities, education associations, foundations, institutions of higher education, and international organizations.

Courses that students may take in this specialization are offered in the College of Education's Department of Educational Policy, Research, and Administration. Students also have the opportunity to participate in research and other projects undertaken by the UMass Center for Education Policy. In addition, there are several courses relevant to this specialization offered in the departments of economics, legal studies and sociology.

Environmental Policy

Students who specialize in environmental policy are interested in contributing to the development of solutions to critical domestic and international environmental problems.

Graduates of the School of Public Policy with an environmental policy specialization pursue careers in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, international organizations, and consulting firms. Alumni have worked in the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Tellus Institute, World Resources Institute, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The UMass campus offers a rich diversity of environmental courses and programs, ranging from geosciences to resource economics to environmental design, all of which offer students a unique perspective on understanding and evaluating natural resource use and preservation.

Food Science Policy

The food science policy specialization establishes a means to educate and train highly skilled scientists for careers in food science policy by providing them a strong foundation in public policy and administration.

This academic concentration aims to train scientists who can also be effective in the policymaking world. The specialization focuses on food science policy and regulation in both the domestic and international arenas.

SPP allows two students each year in this formal specialization program. They will be admitted into the MPPA program and required to follow its curriculum, but will receive funding through the  Department of Food Science. SPP electives will be replaced with a 12-credit thesis and two food science policy courses developed by the food science faculty.

Individuals interested in the food science policy program should contact Professor Fergus Clydesdale, Department of Food Sciences, at (413) 545-2276, or Satu Zoller, School of Public Policy, (413) 545-2714.

Health Policy

The health policy specialization provides SPP students with comprehensive, state-of-the-art training for professional careers as managers and policymakers in the changing health care system.

The management courses emphasize an aggressive yet ethical approach to institutional leadership in a complex period of mounting competition and shrinking resources. Health policy students acquire a solid understanding of the process of policy formation on the international, national, local and institutional levels.

Graduates of SPP with a health policy specialization can pursue career opportunities in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, international organizations and consulting firms. Examples include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Health Care Financing Administration, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Alpha Center, the Alliance for Justice, Families USA, the National Rural Health Association, and the World Health Organization.

Students learn how to improve administrative practice, enhance the effectiveness of health service programs, and improve the health of the public through services that prevent disease and protect health. This is accomplished in a variety of ways, including:

  • Understanding the social, economic, legal and political issues germane to national and local health policies;
  • Understanding the history, dynamics and function of the health care delivery system;
  • Applying concepts of administration to the management of health programs and institutions;
  • Planning and implementing research projects in collaboration with an agency or organization; and
  • Mastering skills in managerial problem solving and in oral and written communication.

International/Comparative Policy

The international/comparative policy specialization prepares students to take a comparative and international approach to public policy, including both comparative analyses of policy development and implementation, and analyses focused on international relations and foreign policy.

This specialization allows students to explore:

  • International and domestic institutions;
  • Political development and culture;
  • Political economy and policymaking;
  • Law; and
  • Social and political change.

This specialization prepares students to contribute to the development of policy solutions of critical international problems such as labor issues, poverty, trade, environmental issues, security, human rights, immigration and development.

Graduates of the School of Public Policy with an international/comparative policy specialization can pursue career opportunities in government agencies, international organizations, educational institutions and consulting firms. Examples include the United Nations Development Program, the U.S. State Department, the Save the Children Federation, the International Labour Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Bank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the International Monetary Fund.

SPP-affiliated faculty members provide a contextualized global understanding of public policy. The interdisciplinary strengths of the center, drawing on faculty in economics, political science, sociology, legal studies and several other disciplines, give students the tools to consider governance and policy from a global perspective. In addition, one of the leading centers for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies is housed in the UMass Economics Department, and courses and a graduate certificate program are open to SPP students.

Public and Nonprofit Management

Managers in the public and nonprofit sectors face different issues, political pressures and financial incentives than their private sector counterparts. The specialization in public and nonprofit management allows students to explore and understand the roles and activities of managers in these sectors.

Graduates of the School of Public Policy with a specialization in public and nonprofit management can pursue career opportunities in federal, state or local government agencies, nonprofit organizations and international organizations. SPP graduates have worked in a wide range of organizations, such as the U.S. Department of Transportation; the Greater Worcester Community Foundation; the City of Chicago; the New England Medical Center; the Save the Children Federation; the Federal Transit Administration; Prince George's County, Md.; and many others.

SPP and associated departments offer a number of courses that focus on various aspects of management, with content that includes:

  • Organization theory;
  • Political and legal aspects of management;
  • Personnel management;
  • Managerial ethics;
  • Conflict resolution; and
  • Information technology development and management.

Science, Technology and Society

The science, technology and society specialization allows students to focus on the public understanding of science and the societal implications of science and technology.

SPP graduates who specialize in science, technology and society will be prepared to pursue careers in a wide variety of government agencies and departments; nonprofits; consulting firms; and research institutions.

Courses for this specialization are offered through numerous departments and schools across campus, including Community Health, Sociology, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Philosophy, Anthropology, Management, and Food Sciences. Students will also have the opportunity to pursue individual interests through CPPA independent studies and will be supported by the Science, Technology and Society Initiative. More information on STS-related courses can be found here.

Social Policy

Social policy encompasses a wide variety of public policies aimed at ameliorating hunger, poverty, ill health, homelessness and other forms of human distress.

Students concentrating in social policy explore the dynamics of these problems, as well as public and private systems of social provision in the United States and abroad. Courses highlight historic and persisting dilemmas related to race, gender and inequality; structures of wealth and opportunity; the nature of civil and political rights; welfare state development; explanations of poverty and welfare use; and stigma and discrimination.

The social policy specialization prepares students for careers in government agencies, international organizations, consulting firms and research institutions. Program graduates have been placed in a variety of settings, including:

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;
  • Social Security Administration;
  • Massachusetts Division of Health Care, Finance and Policy;
  • Middle Tennessee Mental Health Institute;
  • Chicago Department of Public Health;
  • Queens Independent Living Center; and
  • Barnard-Columbia Center for Urban Policy.

Many academic programs and departments on campus offer courses particularly relevant to investigating the social issues affecting citizens who receive social aid. Such departments include Afro-American studies; economics; landscape architecture and regional planning; political science; public health and health sciences; sociology; and women, gender, sexuality studies.