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About the School

The Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University is one of America’s leading schools of public policy, offering undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees in public policy and international development policy.

Terry Sanford, then president of Duke University, established the school in 1971 as the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs. Sanford’s experience as governor of North Carolina and, later, as a U.S. Senator, convinced him the country needed leaders who were not only politically savvy, but also ethically grounded and trained in rigorous analytical thinking.

He urged students and faculty to set outrageous ambitions, a call to action that remains at the core of the school’s – and the university’s – identity. The institute was later named for Terry Sanford, and became a school in 2009.




The mission of the Sanford School of Public Policy is to educate tomorrow’s leaders and improve the quality of public policymaking through research, teaching, and policy engagement.


The Sanford School’s faculty includes more than 70 tenure-track and regular-rank members, and with adjuncts and lecturers, the faculty exceeds 100 members. They work in wide variety of disciplines, including economics, public policy, political science, sociology, psychology, history, public health, and law.

Sanford faculty are characterized by a deep commitment to research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries within the academy and holds particular relevance for public debates outside the academy. Sanford faculty share a passion for teaching and mentoring that reaches across educational levels, and  connects students and faculty with one another and with the world.

Teaching and Academic Programs

The public and nonprofit sectors require smart, pragmatic, and ethical leaders. We seek to equip prospective leaders with the academic training, real-world experience, and character required to bring theory, evidence, and diverse perspectives to bear on problems of societal and global importance.

Our degree programs encourage an interdisciplinary approach to public policy, drawing on fundamental social scientific models of individual and group behavior, as well as an array of methods used to refine and test these models. In the undergraduate and master’s programs students are exposed to real-world policy problems through engagement with public-sector institutions and leaders as part of class projects and required summer internships.

The doctoral programs place a distinct emphasis on communicating the results of original policy-relevant research beyond the confines of the academy. Graduates of the Sanford School are prepared with the critical tools required to engage in evidence-based policymaking processes.

The total Sanford student body exceeds 700. The school’s undergraduate major enrolls approximately 500 students annually. Our master’s degree in public policy (MPP) enrolls approximately 130 a year and offers a number of joint degree options. Our master’s in international development policy (MIDP), operated through the school’s Duke Center for International Development, enrolls 80-100 mid-career professionals from up to 20 countries each year. The PhD program in public policy, and joint PhD in environmental policy with Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, are the school’s newest degree-granting programs, and enroll approximately 35 students. The school’s faculty also teach in the Master of Environmental Policy program at Duke University’s campus in Kunshan, China.

Policy Engagement

Efforts to place knowledge in the service of society, and to train our students to do so, are central to what we do. Our translational efforts are multifaceted and cover a broad range of activities. Several members of our faculty have spent significant portions of their career in government service. They have testified in legislative and executive hearings at the local, state, and national levels. They have used both traditional and new media to convey the insights of their research to non-academic audiences. Most have taken part in major research endeavors that have an impact on public understanding or legislation. Our faculty advise over 15 different governments and many international organizations.


Duke and Durham

The Sanford School’s mission reflects the broader goals and aspirations of Duke University. The university is committed to the promotion of research that spans traditional disciplinary boundaries and promises to elevate the human condition in all parts of the globe. Most Sanford faculty have secondary appointments in disciplinary departments and many are engaged in one of Duke’s 12 interdisciplinary institutes and initiatives or in a variety of policy research centers. A number of additional faculty with primary appointments outside the Sanford School are actively involved in our day-to-day activities.

Duke places a high priority on the quality of undergraduate education, offering students a true liberal arts experience in the context of a major research university. The university’s outstanding graduate and professional programs help the Sanford School to attract students interested in joint degree opportunities in medicine, law, environment, and business. The university and the school are strongly committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion.

While Duke is an institution of global reach, it is firmly rooted in its physical location in Durham, North Carolina. Durham is part of the vibrant Research Triangle region, home to more than 1.5 million residents and among the nation’s best-educated metropolitan areas. Sanford’s location 225 miles from Washington, D.C., and within two hours’ flight time of all points east of the Mississippi, helps faculty and students engage in outreach activities.



More Information

Sanford Faculty

Sanford’s Degree and Programmatic Offerings

Research Centers, Institutes, and Programs

The faculty of the Sanford School of Public Policy lead or collaborate with a wide variety of interdisciplinary research centers. Some are listed here. VIEW A MORE COMPLETE LIST HERE

Duke's Other Colleges and Schools

Interdisciplinary Institutes at Duke

Duke University Leadership