The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Public Policy Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions: Public Policy Required Courses

SPP203 Economics for Public Policy (4 credits) 
The course will introduce microeconomic theory for policy analysis, applying economic reasoning to public policy questions. Students will evaluate the economic arguments for and against alternative government policies by examining the effects of markets and of public policy on firms, consumers, workers, and families. The overarching course goals are (1) to have students understand basic microeconomic theories used in public policy and (2) to prepare students to apply microeconomic analysis to policy questions in future courses and in real world applications. Prerequisites: 16+ on Math Placement Test algebra section; or MATH 101 & 102; or MATH 104(Gen. Ed. SB). Do not take if you've completed ECON 103 or RES-ECON 102.
SPP204 Statistical Models for Public Policy (4 credits)
This is designed to create intelligent consumers of policy research. The course is not designed to make students into policy researchers, but to enable them to understand the research done by others with a sufficiently skeptical eye to allow them to determine whether the findings of the research are valid given the assumptions made and methods used. This will involve, in part, learning by doing. In addition to learning about the building blocks of using statistics for understanding policies, you will be asked to work with real world data to make policy recommendations. It will also involve thinking about the various problems in data collection, measurement, and analytic approaches that could lead to faulty conclusions. (Gen. Ed. R2) Prerequisites: A score of 11 or higher on the Math Placement Test or completion of the R1 requirement. Do not take without speaking to the professor if you've already completed a 200-level statistics course.
SPP280 Public Policy (4 credits | Cross-listed with POLISCI280)
Focus on how public policies are made in the U.S., including the role of citizens, interest groups, and government institutions. Emphasis on the processes by which policies are made in various institutions, including the Presidency, Congress, bureaucracy, and courts. Examples cover numerous public policies, such as campaign finance reform, foreign policy, and the environment.  (Gen.Ed. SB)
SPP301 Junior Writing Seminar: Communicating Public Policy (3 credits)
This course is designed to help students become better communicators by strengthening their skill as writers since writing is integral to all phases of the policy process.  Public policy is concerned with identifying problems, coming up with solutions to those problems, and getting those solutions adopted and implemented. For that to happen, students must be experts in communicating with a variety of audiences. There are three basic ways to do so: speaking, writing, and showing. This course is designed to enable students to do all three, although the focus is on writing.
SPP302 SPP Practicum: Contemplating Your Career (1 credit)
This course will encourage you to reflect on what you have learned thus far?in your courses, extracurricular experiences, jobs, internships, life?and consider how it will shape your journey forward into your career. It will teach you needed skills to advance your career including networking, resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, negotiating, and embodying professionalism. Ultimately, by looking at your core values and what you have accomplished thus far, you will craft a plan for how to move forward both during your time at UMass and beyond. If you have already completed a career-oriented course, speak to the instructor before enrolling.
SPP494D Capstone for Public Policy Majors (4 credits)
The Capstone Lab provides Public Policy students with the opportunity to reflect on and synthesize their experiences, knowledge, and skills developed during SPP’s undergraduate program. Students will tackle an actual policy or management problem facing a community or mission-driven enterprise (i.e., nonprofit, co-operative, social enterprise, etc.). Working in teams or individually they will research the problem to discover the policy or management issues facing the community or enterprise. They will then utilize the skills they have learned to research and analyze the problem to come up with an evidence-based solution.  At the end of the spring semester, students submit a project report and present it to SPP faculty and others, as appropriate for the project (policymakers, nonprofit organizations, etc.) Prerequisite: SPP 203, 204, 280, 301 (or equivalents)
SPP496DI Independent Capstone for Public Policy Majors (4 credits)  in lieu of SPP494D
This 4-credit course fulfills the Public Policy Capstone requirement for majors. It is designed for students who are unable to enroll in the traditional spring Public Policy Capstone. The Public Policy Independent Capstone provides public policy majors with the opportunity to reflect on and synthesize their experiences, knowledge, and skills developed during SPP’s undergraduate program. The goal is to bridge theory with practice with students working alongside faculty on research projects to complete a report that they will present to SPP faculty.

Through the Independent Capstone, students will tackle an actual policy or management problem facing a community or mission-driven enterprise (i.e., nonprofit, co-operative, social enterprise, etc.). This course will require students to develop and execute a comprehensive research project under the direction of an SPP faculty member that requires the student to define the problem and to provide an evidence-based solution. Prerequisite: SPP 203, 204, 280, 301 (or equivalents)

 

Course Descriptions: Public Policy 100-level Electives

SPP105 Introduction to Political Economy (4 credits | Cross-listed with ECON 105)
Introduction to economic analysis for majors and nonmajors. Facts and concepts basic to understanding the U.S. economy today. Topics may include: unemployment, economic development, inequality, technology, social wealth, environment, government economic policy, economic alternatives, race and gender, and discrimination. Contrasting theoretical perspectives.  (Gen.Ed. SB, DU)
SPP111 Policy in an Age of Precarity (4 credits)
This course introduces you to several, critical ways public policy successes and failures can shape the life trajectories of young adults. The class helps you expand your critical understanding of important policy issues and debates (in education, housing, labor, etc.), to analyze a broad range of views, and to listen to the perspectives of others in a respectful, inclusive, open classroom. Does a state owe its people stability, social mobility, equal opportunity, freedom, or participation? If it does, how can public policy work to achieve these goals or at least not undermine them? This course will help you reflect on the ways in which public policy is alive in your life (often invisibly), and how the effects of policies on individuals and institutions may influence your views and those of others. What?s precarity? Glad you asked. It refers to insecurities and uncertainties in many social and economic spheres and their effects on individuals and society. The course gives you an opportunity to personalize your learning and to build your skills in ways that will be useful to your professional and personal development. All course materials are available at no charge and online. (Gen. Ed. SB, DU)
SPP151 Water, Oil, and Blood: The Middle East in Global Policy (4 credits | Cross-listed with MES 151)
This course is a basic, interdisciplinary introduction to the contemporary Middle East, and uses three substances central to contemporary society as organizing metaphors for issues that help define the region that stretches from Morocco to Iran. We consider a wide range of topics including the modern legacy of Western colonialism in the region, the impact of oil, the roles of religion, gender politics, Arab-Israeli conflicts, and US policies towards the region. (Gen. Ed. DG, SB)
SPP181 Controversies in Public Policy (4 credits | Cross-listed with POLISCI181)
Introduction to contemporary public policy issues and debates. Various perspectives on public policy, including equality, justice, and efficiency. Emphasis on in-class discussion and debates. Applications may include environmental policy, affirmative action, immigration, welfare policy, education, health, and other public policies. (Gen. Ed. SB, DU)

 

Course Descriptions: Public Policy 200-level Electives

SPP208 Defending Democracy in a Digital World (4 credits | Cross-listed with COMM208/CICS208)
This course explores the significance of the public sphere - from pamphlets, newspapers and letters to radio, television, the internet and social media - and its relationship to participatory, democratic society. Moving back and forth between the history of the public sphere and contemporary debates about the tensions between media and democracy, students will learn why democracies prescribe protected roles of the media, how media manipulation plays a role in politics, and how media spaces serve as deliberative spaces. Students will write short reaction papers to the readings, which will be used to shape class discussions, and a longer final paper, focused on applying the theories of the public sphere to regulation of contemporary online spaces. (Gen. Ed. SB)
SPP228 Weighing the Evidence: Reasoning Under Uncertainty for Policy and Law (3 credits | Cross-listed with LEGAL228)
What are the likely effects of proposed social policies? Should an environmental pollutant be considered a health risk? How can one manage to sensibly synthesize multiple strands of evidence of criminal wrongdoing, discrimination, or liability to reach a sound judgment? Human intuition is easily led astray when tasked with judging probabilistic and causal arguments at the heart of these and other such questions. In some cases, mental training may help us better avoid the pitfalls to careful reasoning under uncertainty. In others, simple adaptive heuristics lead us to better results than would have been obtained through attempts at ?rational? decision-making. We consider different ways that philosophers, scientists, and statisticians have sought to interpret probability and causation, the practical techniques that have emerged, and how they may be applied to problems in public policy and legal settings. Grappling with a number of interesting fallacies, puzzles, and paradoxes along the way, students will deepen their ability to critically examine competing claims about data, analyze and interpret evidence, and identify areas of genuine ambiguity. We also pay attention to the natural limitations imposed by a complex world and finite time and mental capacity, examining the pros and cons of common mental shortcuts. Prerequisite: High-school-level algebra and completion of the R1 Gen Ed (R2)
SPP230 The Politician and the Journalist (3 credits | Cross-listed with POLISCI/JOURNAL230)
This course explores the relationships among reporters, publishers, and politicians, and how each uses the media. Using historical biographies and other texts, the class will examine past strategies by politicians and media figures. Topics include campaign strategies, Washington politics, day-to-day effectiveness in office, making arguments through the media, and how those not elected use the media. Taught by Congressman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, the class offers an opportunity for students to hear how elected officials work with the press.
SPP290PS Policy and Social Inequality (3 credits | Cross-listed with SOCIOL 290PS)
We often think about policy as an area where government can be seen to either be effective or inefficient, unbiased or oppressive, too much or too little. But what if the story is that all of these ideas about good or bad governance miss the point? What if even good policy is often the engine of inequality? This class will explore these questions with the ultimate goal of highlighting what policy has been and what it could be.

 

Course Descriptions: Public Policy Electives at the 300-level and Higher

SPP309 Natural Resource Policy Administration (3 credits | Cross-listed with NRC309)
Introduction to Environmental Policy and Administration in the United States, with a focus on the Federal level. Topics include: Defining a "Public Problem"; understanding what Public Policy is; understanding what Public Administration is; and understanding what Policy Analysis is. Much of the course will be focused on reviewing major historical environmental legislation and policies (e.g., Clean Air, Clean Water; Endangered Species; Superfund; Wind Energy, etc.). We also turn to how to become more engaged in today's environmental issues and public policy, mainly through training on how to track and monitor legislation (Federal or State).
SPP310 Environmental and Resource Economics (4 credits | Cross-listed with ECON310)
This class provides an introduction to environmental economics, ecological economics, and resource economics. We will explore their fundamental principles and analytical methods, including: the economic valuation of environmental goods and services, the economic causes of environmental degradation, the design of policies to regulate pollution, the theory of renewable and non-renewable resources. Our class will also provide ample insights into the policy applications through readings and case studies. Prerequisites: SPP203 or Econ103 or Res-Econ102
SPP312 Making a Difference: Policies and Strategies for Social Change (4 credits | iCons)
This course explores promising approaches to some of the world?s most intractable issues and asks whether these approaches could or should be adopted (or adapted) elsewhere. It also explores strategies for bringing about these and other solutions to social issues. Many of the strategies that help create social change are also strategies that, when adapted for individuals, can help individuals become effective social change leaders. Therefore, we will often explore how the strategies work, both at the macro level and at the personal level. We will have several guest speakers, and students will work on their own projects, exploring the pros and cons of a policy that they find promising. Requirements: Open to sophomores, juniors, seniors only. (Gen. Ed. SB, DU)
SPP320 Introduction to Public Administration (4 credits | Cross-listed with POLISCI320)
The course develops the practical knowledge and analytical skill required to make sense of field problems faced by public managers, and to design and implement strategic and effective practical action in the public sector. Requirements: Open to sophomores, juniors, seniors only.
SPP341 Social Welfare (3 credits | Cross-listed with SOC341)
The policies and programs that are designed to guarantee social welfare are born out of particular  historical moments and social forces. At the same time, social welfare programs actively  structure our society. This course will provide a critical introduction to U.S. welfare programs,  past and present. Over the course of the semester, we will answer questions about why programs  change over time and what the the effects of those changes are on the people that welfare  purports to ‘help.’ Requirements: Open to sophomores, juniors, seniors only.
SPP349 Economic Policy Lab (4 credits | Cross-listed with ECON349)
The Equity Lab course uses economic research and thinking to propose solutions to important social and economic equity problems, including inequality based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities. To design those interventions, we will also draw on ideas about fairness, as well as data analysis, communication strategies, and policy methods. Some likely projects for our Equity Lab will include reparations for African Americans, differential taxation of urban and rural farms, and employment discrimination against transgender and nonbinary people, as well as other issues. Prerequisites: SPP 203, ECON 103, or RES-ECON 102
SPP364 Gender and Race in U.S. Social Policy (4 credits | Cross-listed with HIST/POLISCI364)
What are the problems associated with developing equitable and just policy? Why does social policy in the United States continue to be marked by tensions between the principle of equality and the reality of inequalities in social, political, and economic realms? How might policy subvert or reinforce these differences and inequalities? This class examines the history of social policy in the United States, particularly those policies affecting concerns of gender, race, and class. We will examine a wide range of social policies, focusing on those affecting groups such as: women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT people, and low-income people. We will study primarily empirical work, while asking questions about how political culture, interest groups, social movements, government institutions and other factor influence U.S. social policy. Enrollment Requirements: Open to Seniors & Juniors only. 
SPP376 Catalyzing Change: Creating & Running a Nonprofit (4 credits)
Catalyzing Change: Creating & Running a Nonprofit is a course for students who want to build and work within nonprofit organizations to make a positive impact on the world. The students in this course will organize, fund, operate, and govern an imaginary nonprofit over the course of the semester. They will learn about missions, tax exemption, setting realistic goals, measuring an organization’s impact, fund raising, budgets, managing employees and volunteers, and the extent to which they can be involved in the political process. They will write mission statements, develop budgets, create a strategic plan, and make a proposal to a funder, among other things. Classes will feature case discussions based on the reading, but often adapted to the fictional nonprofits students have created. Students will also meet with leaders from the local nonprofit community. Requirements: Open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors only.
SPP 390MP Managing for the Public Good (3 credits)
This course equips students with both the theoretical foundation and practical skills required for a successful career in public service. Emphasizing equity in the delivery of public services, this course helps students develop the competencies necessary to face contemporary management challenges. Students will engage with big questions related to the management of public organizations, including (1) Defining the nature of public organizations; (2) Analyzing the influence of internal and external factors on public organizations and their management; (3) Evaluating metrics for assessing the performance of public organizations; and (4) Identifying the skills requisite for effective public management.
SPP394LI Leading for Social Impact (4 credits)
Nonprofit organizations serve social missions rather than distributing profits. Strategic leadership and values are central to serving those missions effectively while ensuring survival. This course will allow you to examine your assumptions about leadership and learn about the theoretical and strategic issues and the ethical dilemmas associated with leading for social change. Theories and analytical frameworks about leadership will be examined along with nonprofit leaders’ roles and considerations for managing mission and impact, board governance, stakeholders and human resources, organizational culture, change and innovation, philanthropy, and financial sustainability. To be successful in this course, you will need to draw on the knowledge you gained in your General Education coursework as skills in critical thinking, analysis, and application will be key in this class. This course fulfills the IE requirement for public policy majors.
SPP394PI Politics & Policy in the American Police State (4 credits | Cross-listed with LEGAL394PI)
Between news stories and tv shows, attention to policing in the United States is typically high. However, since 2013 the diversity of reasons why attention has turned to the police and policing and the nature of that attention has varied widely. For example, beginning in 2015, the Washington Post began tracking the number of people the police kill each year: on average, around 1000 people are. Similarly, from 2013 through 2020 the rate of protests against police violence and racial inequality in the United States have increased, culminating in protests sweeping the nation in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. During that same period, a new national consensus arose that the police in the US need to be reformed. A stumbling block in seeking and implementing those reforms is a lack of agreement on what role the police should play in a community, what the central problems may be, and how to address those issues. In this course, we will tackle each, with the aim of understanding of the basic contours of policing in the United States today through a public policy lens, including an understanding of: what the police do and who they are, challenges and problems facing the police and policing today, proposed policy changes, and possible tradeoffs or considerations when considering the current state of affairs and potential changes. Central to this is developing an understanding of power dynamics and hierarchies, how the police?s presence is felt by the populations and people they interact with, and the public?s response. Woven throughout are discussions of race, class, and gender as personal testimonials, anecdotes, and quantitative research have revealed differential policing patterns across groups and that members of different groups respond to police contact differentially. Although the course primarily asks about the contours of policing from a public policy lens, we will draw heavily from a range of intimately related disciplines including but not limited to history, political science, sociology, and public administration. This course constitutes an IE (Integrated Experience) designation for SPP. Prerequisites: SPP/POLISCI280 or LEGAL250 AND at least sophomore standing
SPP396PI Public Policy Internship (1 - 3 credits)
Students will enroll in this course when they have found an internship in public policy that they would like to complete for academic credit. The course will allow students and a supervising faculty member to establish common goals that are substantive and measurable, ensuring opportunities for meaningful learning. Completing an internship in the field of public policy is an opportunity for students to gain a deeper understanding of how the process of policy making and implementation works, develop knowledge within an area of interest, and expand skills in communication, critical thinking, analysis, and more. The internship may be completed locally, regionally, or internationally. 
To find an internship, you must use your initiative, securing the internship and finding a professor to supervise the academic component required for receiving credit. Generally, you must have completed at least 45 credits and have over a 2.0 to participate. (An SBS Dean’s approval is  needed if otherwise.)
SPP398R Public Policy Research Practicum (1 - 3 credits)
Students will enroll in this course when they have been selected through the Public Policy Undergraduate Research Engagement Program to assist faculty with their research. The course will allow students and faculty to establish common goals that are substantive and measurable, ensuring opportunities for meaningful learning. Completing research in the field of public policy is an opportunity for students to gain a deeper understanding of how the process of research occurs, develop knowledge within an area of interest, and expand skills in communication, critical thinking, analysis, and more.
SPP525 Governing the Commons (3 credits)
Over the last decade or more, there has been a detectable and growing dissatisfaction among students with the "status quo" in the way the society works. Students have witnessed terrorism, long-term war, a "great recession," the "Occupy" movement, effects of climate change and worse projections to come, and most recently, a global pandemic with a great impact on the economy. Many students are looking for models of hope and alternatives to the status quo on how society at local, regional and global levels might operate to collectively address problems. In this course, we will review historical and contemporary commons cases exploring how these forms of social organization might be used to change the way we humans interact. Central to these discussions will be learning methods for studying commons governance, called "Institutional Analysis," and a focal activity in the course will be a project where we study the governance and management of one or more active commons cases. Our overall goal is to study and investigate both successful and unsuccessful cases, and get inspired. Prerequisite: Senior standing.
SPP540 Internet Governance and Information Policy (3 credits)
This class introduces students to actors, institutions and public interest battles fought nationally, regionally, and globally for the control of the Internet. It considers the interaction between law, technological design, and policy solutions in shaping infrastructure, code, and content of the global web. Topics covered in the course include history of Internet policy; the relationship between technical architecture and law; digital inequalities and social inclusion; freedom of expression and intellectual property; surveillance, privacy, and cybersecurity; trade policy, data protection and social media governance in the era of datafication. Readings and online discussions with research partners, policy advocates and experts will expose students to diverse perspectives and first-hand information on these debates. Prerequisite: Senior standing.
SPP585 Introduction to GIS (3 credits | Cross-listed with NRC585)
The goals of this course are to teach you basic GIS concepts such as spatial data sources and structures, projections and coordinate systems, geospatial analysis, cartographic modeling, and the integration of remote sensing and GIS. Prerequisite: Senior standing.

 

Course Descriptions: Public Policy Honors Courses

SPP296ISH Honors Independent Study (3 - 6 credits)
This is a variable credit independent study option open to public policy majors. It is designed for students who are members of the Commonwealth Honors College seeking to do an in-depth independent study. Students must integrate a theoretical component beyond applied experience. They are encouraged to consider their future goals when designing an ISH. Students who have previously or are currently assisting a faculty member with research may use said research as a foundation to complete this 396ISH. Those doing so must compile a paper or other culminating project that demonstrates reflection and understanding of the implications of the research that moves beyond simple data gathering into analysis and theoretical.
SPP396ISH Honors Independent Study (3 - 6 credits)
This is a variable credit independent study option open to public policy majors. It is designed for students who are members of the Commonwealth Honors College seeking to do an in-depth independent study. Students must integrate a theoretical component beyond applied experience. They are encouraged to consider their future goals when designing an ISH. Students who have previously or are currently assisting a faculty member with research may use said research as a foundation to complete this 396ISH. Those doing so must compile a paper or other culminating project that demonstrates reflection and understanding of the implications of the research that moves beyond simple data gathering into analysis and theoretical.
SPP499C Tackling Today's Big Problems: Policy Methods (3 credits)
This course provides a foundation for the capstone project, which is an applied project showcasing the skills learned through the public policy major, by giving an introduction to methodologies for analyzing, implementing, and evaluating public policy. Topics include research methods, participant observation survey research and questionnaire construction, research design, measurement theory and practice, and framing categories. This is the first course in the two course honors thesis capstone within the School of Public Policy, with the end product being a research proposal and design that will be carried out in the Spring semester. Prerequisite: SPP 203, 204, 280, 301 (or equivalents)
SPP499D Tackling Today's Big Problems, Lab (4 credits)
This course is an option for students in the Commonwealth Honors College. It continues their thesis research begun in the fall semester SPP 499C in which they chose a question, wrote a literature review, and learned about research designs best suited to answering their research questions.  This allows for honors students to gain from in-depth research for developing impactful thesis. Prerequisite: SPP499C
SPP499P Public Policy Honors Project (4 credits)
This course asks students to execute their project where they have already identified a public policy, public administration, or public management problem facing a community today, which they then analyze some aspect of and which they laid the groundwork for in SPP 499Y.  This course is the second in the two-course honors research project sequence offered within the School of Public Policy. Prerequisite: SPP499Y
SPP499Y Public Policy Honors Research (3 credits)
This independent study serves as the first course in the two-course honors research thesis sequence offered within the School of Public Policy. Within this course, the student is asked to build upon their understanding of the policy process and toolbox of tools they’ve built in prior classes, such as an understanding of hypothesis testing and statistics. They will identify a research question and will explore different ways–qualitative and quantitative research designs–that they could use to answer the question. Through their studies, they will learn how to evaluate and critique research findings. At the end of the semester, students will revise and refine these ideas into a single research design, such that they have a foundation and plan for their Spring project. Essentially, this final research design is what guides them in the subsequent semester until they complete their thesis. For more information on honors thesis requirements, see the CHC thesis website: https://www.umass.edu/honors/honors-thesis. Prerequisite: SPP 203, 204, 280, 301 (or equivalents), in Commonwealth Honors College
SPP 499T Public Policy Honors Thesis (4 credits)
This course asks students to execute their thesis project where they have already identified a public policy, public administration, or public management problem facing a community today, which they then analyze some aspect of and which they laid the groundwork for in SPP 499Y.  This course is the second in the two-course honors research thesis sequence offered within the School of Public Policy. Prerequisite: SPP499Y