The Duke MPA program curriculum is crafted to meet the unique educational needs of mid-career practitioners. While some courses will review foundational theories and concepts, our main focus is on practical training, inviting you to leverage your significant prior experience and apply the skills you develop in the program directly to your professional practice.

Core Public Affairs Curriculum 

These four courses are required and will be taken together with your cohort.

Build upon the Sanford School's nationally recognized strengths with this foundational course. Here, you'll gain a practical overview of policy analysis tools and strategies that inform the decisions of public affairs leaders. Not only will you refine your skills as a policy analyst and decision-maker, but you'll also enhance your writing and presentation abilities. Through initial diagnostic exercises, experienced instructors will offer personalized feedback and support.

Now more than ever, data analysis tools and techniques can enhance decision-making, amplify the impact and efficacy of policies and programs, and promote the public good. However, beyond simply handling the vast amounts of data now available, you, as a public affairs practitioner, must also navigate the moral and ethical considerations inherent in data-driven decision-making. This course will empower you with the skills and knowledge needed to analyze and interpret evidence in your decision-making, emphasizing your role as an informed consumer rather than a producer of original analysis.

What qualities contribute to the effectiveness, ethics, and equity of leaders in public-serving organizations? How can you, as a manager at any level, steer your organization through rapid change? This course acquaints you with fundamental concepts from leadership theory, public and non-profit management, and organizational behavior, laying the groundwork for the leadership skills you're already cultivating as a practitioner. Expect a strong focus on teamwork, where you'll hone your ability to set shared objectives and manage group dynamics.

As you reach the culmination of the program, you'll put the knowledge, skills, and abilities you've gained from the core curriculum into action by tackling a public affairs challenge relevant to your current employer or professional field. Each project is overseen by a faculty advisor, who will be supported by structure, accountability, and feedback from peers and instructors to ensure the success of the project. You'll showcase your capstone project during the final immersive program in Washington, DC.

Leadership, Management, and Ethics Concentration 

Select three of the following courses to satisfy the concentration requirement. Additional concentration courses may be taken as electives.

As a public affairs practitioner, you know that navigating moral and ethical dilemmas is a crucial aspect of your profession. Public service brings with it distinct ethical obligations, and failing to meet them can have widespread repercussions. This course will empower you with the foundational knowledge and practical skills necessary to tackle the moral and ethical challenges inherent in public affairs practice.

Effective leadership has always required adept information management, but today's public affairs leaders encounter unprecedented challenges. From rapid technological advancements like data analytics and artificial intelligence to the instant dissemination of information (and misinformation) and a dynamic media landscape, the hurdles are vast. This course, leveraging the expertise of the Sanford School's DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, will provide you with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate these information management and governance challenges as a public affairs practitioner.

In this course, you will gain a foundational understanding of the fiscal role of government in a mixed economy, practical knowledge of the public budgeting process at various government levels, and a collection of financial management tools and strategies applicable to both public and non-profit organizations.

People are the greatest resource in any organization, and mastering effective management of people is one of your greatest challenges as a public affairs leader. This course will provide you with a solid foundation in the theory and practice of human resources management, focusing specifically on the unique challenges encountered in public-sector and non-profit organizations.

This course emphasizes the crucial role communities play in shaping public organizations' decisions, spanning from policy design and adoption to program implementation and evaluation, and non-profit governance. You will critically analyze the historical, social, and political landscapes influencing government and non-profit decision-making, expand your understanding of approaches aiming for enhanced equity through citizen empowerment, and acquire practical skills and strategies to enhance community engagement and participation throughout your career.

In this course, you will develop two essential skills crucial for public affairs practitioners across all sectors: communications and advocacy. We'll start by introducing you to the fundamental elements of advocacy strategy. You'll learn to establish goals and objectives, analyze advocacy targets using power mapping and other tools, choose tactics, and execute, monitor, and evaluate advocacy campaigns. Next, we'll dive into communications strategy. You'll discover how to craft compelling and persuasive messages, select suitable messengers, choose the right communications channel, and assess the effectiveness of your strategies.

In this course, you will explore how to formulate effective decision and negotiation strategies as a public affairs leader in a complex and unpredictable world. The first half of the course will concentrate on executive decision-making, where we'll delve into the meaning of rationality, the influence of cognitive biases, and the difficulties of decision-making amidst uncertainty and limited resources. The second half of the course will center on negotiation strategy. We'll introduce you to core theories and concepts, and then enhance your practical negotiation skills through case studies, role-playing, and simulations.


You will complete three elective courses, selecting from the options below, additional MPA concentration courses, or online/hybrid courses offered by other Sanford and Duke programs.


In the last summer of the program, and concluding with a weeklong session in Washington, DC, this course offers you a chance to put into practice the knowledge, skills, and abilities you've gained throughout the program while tackling contemporary challenges confronting public affairs leaders. For this domestic variation of the course, such challenges might include climate change, immigration, and economic inequality.

In the last summer of the program, and concluding with a weeklong session in Washington, DC, this course offers you a chance to put into practice the knowledge, skills, and abilities you've gained throughout the program while tackling contemporary challenges confronting public affairs leaders. For this international variation of the course, such challenges might include climate change, global pandemics, and U.S.-China competition.

This course caters to students seeking to deepen their understanding of economics beyond what they'll learn in other classes. You'll explore the economic models and theories commonly encountered in public affairs practice, focusing on becoming knowledgeable consumers rather than creators of original analysis.