Social policy can transform lives. We explore the impact of laws, regulations, and data on social outcomes. We hope to improve the lives of citizens by supporting their education, work, health, and well-being. We also identify and address inequalities in access to support and services for individuals and communities. 


Academic Overview 


Professor Lisa Gennetian uses the tools of economics to get at the thorny policy questions about poverty, inequality, and the well-being of children.

Related Programs & Courses

  • Public Policy Studies major
  • Child Policy Research Certificate (open to all Duke majors)

MPP (Social Policy Concentration available)

- View concentration requirements

PhD in Public Policy

  • Center for Child and Family Policy
  • Family Connects
  • Hart Leadership Program
  • North Carolina Education Research Data Center  
  • Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity
  • Social Science Research Institute

Sample Stories & Research


Research Spotlight

Sanford's Mallory SoRelle has been granted the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award for her groundbreaking research. The award is NSF’s most prestigious award for early-career faculty. Recent innovations are dramatically reshaping the financial marketplace, especially with the rise of “fringetech”—digital financial technologies designed to compete with traditional fringe banking alternatives like payday loans. Yet, we know relatively little about who uses fringetech, why, and how relying on fringetech influences people’s financial security, policy preferences, and political behaviors," explains SoRelle. 

Read more

Student Spotlight

Jordan Wilson MPP'24 headed home to San Francisco after graduation. He has been hired by the office of the Mayor of San Francisco to work on various policy initiatives, including implementing his Master’s Project, which aims to advance career technical education in public schools in San Francisco. During his time at Sanford, Jordan was part of the student team that dreamed up and ran the school's first Black Policy Conference.

Read about Jordan's experience

What can you do with a focus on social policy?


Kiera Vinson MPP'17

alumni story

Kiera Vinson has emerged as a visionary in corporate diversity and inclusion, steering transformative initiatives that resonate across organizations.  But it wasn’t global tech innovation that first drove her to champion change in her world; it was a middle school classroom and students that showed her the growing inequity in our world. Kiera is Global DEI Program Director at BCG X in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area.

Read Kiera's story | Read more alumni stories

Key Partnerships

Center for Child and Family Policy


The Center for Child and Family Policy is dedicated to improving the well-being of children and families through research, education, and engagement. They study factors influencing child outcomes, develop and test promising interventions, and advance evidence-based practices and policies to inform change and unlock opportunities for all children and their families.

Family Connects International


Recently launched as a 501c3 nonprofit, Family Connects offers an evidence-based nurse home visiting program for newborns and their families. It's also one example of CCFP’s success in developing research-based strategies for reducing inequities and promoting positive outcomes for all children.

Hart Leadership Program


The Hart Leadership Program challenges students to practice the art of leadership in public life. Through academic courses, experiential learning programs, community-based research, and co-curricular initiatives, students develop their frameworks for leadership and work alongside others toward a common purpose.

NC Education Research Data Center


The North Carolina Education Research Data Center (NCERDC) was established in 2001 through a partnership with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to store and manage a publicly accessible dataset to provide researchers and the broader policy community ready access to the data on the state's public schools, school districts, students and teachers.

Cook Center on Social Equity


The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity is a scholarly collaborative that studies the causes and consequences of inequality and develops remedies for these disparities and their adverse effects.

Social Science Research Institute


The Social Science Research Institute brings together researchers interested in problems that cross the various social and behavioral sciences, including issues that connect with the humanities and natural sciences. They promote multidisciplinary collaboration among such scholars as they work on critical social issues that are challenging to address fully within any discipline.


Let's Connect!

Interested in pursuing a degree with a focus on social policy? Great! The admissions page for each program has detailed guidelines, including our contact info. Please reach out!

Explore the 2024 Impact Report