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The MPP program offers great flexibility. Students may choose to concentrate in a particular policy area or to pursue a more general program. Two-year students have five electives, an internship, and a master's project through which they address specific areas of interest.

Close relationships between the Sanford School program and other schools and departments across the University allow students to customize their courses of study. In addition to the electives offered by the Sanford School, MPP students may choose from a wide array of courses offered by other schools and departments at Duke and by neighboring universities.

Many students choose to focus on one of the policy areas in which the Sanford School has particular strengths:

Development Policy

The goal of the MPP concentration in Development Policy is to train future policy analysts and policy makers, as well as independent researchers for leading roles in advocacy, analysis and research on pressing international development issues. This concentration provides a broad understanding and appreciation of current development theories and issues, as well as the processes involved in formulating policies and implementing development projects. Students prepare for professional careers in the field of international development through interdisciplinary coursework that includes the study of economics, research methods, policy analysis, and management.

Environment and Energy

The environment and energy policy concentration at the Sanford School of Policy prepares graduates for leadership positions in government agencies, environmental and energy policy and advocacy organizations, other not-for-profit sector institutions, and industry. Students with a focus on environment and energy policy will be introduced to such issues as energy and climate policy, sustainability, environmental economics and regulation.

Environment and energy policy faculty advisors include: Billy Pizer

Health Policy

The Health Policy concentration within the MPP Program introduces students to key domestic and international issues, including the impact of social determinants of health, organization and financing of healthcare delivery systems, technology and health, and health and human rights. Students choosing this concentration may focus their studies on either domestic or global health.

Health Policy faculty advisors include: Donald Taylor

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  • Photo of Mac McCorkle talking

    Policy Experience Informs Teaching

    Mac McCorkle, professor of the practice, talks with students on the lawn outside Sanford School. McCorkle draws on his two decades of experience as a political consultant in his direction of the MPP program. He also practiced law in the Raleigh firm founded by former Duke President Terry Sanford.

Find out more about the Margolis Scholarship in Health Policy and Management.

Global Policy

Many of the great issues of the 21st Century are global: AIDS, climate change, trade, poverty and human rights. This concentration prepares students to see beyond national boundaries, to think globally and act locally, nationally and internationally.

Working with their advisor or global policy faculty members, students choosing this concentration may specialize in areas such as:

  • International Development
  • Global Trade and Finance
  • Global Environmental Policy
  • Global Health Policy
  • Human Rights and Democratization
  • Security and Humanitarian Intervention

National Security

National security concerns dominate the policy agenda and debate in Washington and around the globe. This concentration equips students to understand the national security policymaking process and provides an opportunity to study in depth the national security challenges of the 21st century. This concentration provides a solid and diverse background on fundamental issues to prepare future public policymakers and practitioners to address the very real problems facing the United States in the days ahead.

The goal is to provide a broad exposure to the theoretical and practical aspects of national security policy, in combination with more specialized subjects into which students may dive deeply through a variety of electives, such as Terrorism and American Grand Strategy.

Supplementing the focused curriculum, students may also benefit from participating in opportunities provided by Duke's Program in American Grand Strategy (AGS).  The Program’s mission is to prepare the next generation of strategists by studying past generations and interacting with current strategic leaders.  Students can take advantage of exclusive small group meetings and dinners to meet with prominent speakers, including leading policymakers and security experts; field trips, simulations, battlefield staff rides, and other experiential learning opportunities; research positions and funding for summer internships and fellowships. 

National security faculty advisors include: Tom Taylor, David Schanzer

Population Studies

Public policy priorities are closely tied to the demographic features of a country or region, such as the age structure of the population and the forces that determine it. The scope of population studies at Duke encompasses the traditional areas of demographic inquiry; fertility, mortality, and migration, but extends to a much broader range of issues, including environmental change, health, gender, family structure, schooling, and economic development.

Policy students at Duke focus on the intersection of population studies and policy. Toolkit courses introduce students to methods of analysis in the fields of demography, survey research methodology, and econometrics. Substantive courses focus on topics such as family and child well-being, poverty and inequality, economic development, health over the life course, and population and the environment.

Social Policy

Many important public policy issues concern social problems: welfare, education, crime, childcare, employment, wealth, and income inequalities. Although these problems are diverse, they have numerous common features.

Social issues often affect various elements of society differently, so that analyses must take into account concerns about equity, ethics and politics. Proposed solutions often involve “programs,” which are distinct interventions that can be evaluated rigorously for their efficiency and effectiveness.

Further, the implementation of social policy often involves multiple levels of government: local, national and international. Students may specialize in such areas as:

  • Education
  • Child and Family
  • Crime, Law and Deviance
  • Race, Ethnicity and Gender
  • Wealth, Inequality and the Welfare State
  • Urban Development and Planning

Social policy faculty advisors include: William Darity, Carolyn Barnes

For requirements for concentrations, please review the MPP Student Handbook.

See how our students apply policy skills in the real world.

Alumna Story: Sanford Degree Launches Social Entrepreneur

When she was in her 20s and a student at Sanford, Maya Ajmera founded the Global Fund for Children. The nonprofit invests in innovative organizations working with some of the world’s most vulnerable children. As of 2016, the fund has awarded $34 million in grants to more than 600 grassroots organizations in 78 countries. Here, Maya Ajmera talks about how she was able to incubate her idea while obtaining her Master of Public Policy degree: