Public Policy

The field of public policy is focused on understanding and solving public problems. To study public policy is to develop a toolkit of analytical approaches that enables one to:

  • explore the intricacies of social problems;
  • understand how public decisions are made;
  • devise thoughtful responses to serious problems; and
  • navigate through the challenges that arise when solutions are implemented.

Whether a student has an interest in protecting the environment, fighting poverty, or ensuring access to health care, she will be better able to take action with her ideas if she is equipped with the policy analyst's toolkit.

Policy analysts contribute analytical insight and advice to the public decision-making process in a wide variety of areas.  Which military bases should be closed? What is the best way to reform welfare? How can we invest in our communities for the greatest impact? What are the relative benefits and costs of different forms of environmental regulation? Public Policy training prepares students to approach such questions in a systematic way, bringing to bear a variety of analytic frameworks and perspectives to arrive at a deeper understanding of the problem and more informed solutions. Policy studies is interdisciplinary at its core, drawing intellectual tools from economics, law, philosophy, political science, history, anthropology and sociology.

What does a major or minor in public policy offer students? What kinds of work or graduate training can public policy graduates pursue?

Our curriculum trains students to apply concepts from several academic disciplines to important problems, thinking through challenges and tradeoffs and devising appropriate solutions. Students learn to approach legal, social, economic or governmental issues from a policy-oriented perspective. The approach is critical but also aimed at problem-solving:  policy analysts investigate problem definitions, explore possible causes, identify alternative courses of action, and assess alternatives against such criteria as effectiveness, equity, efficiency, political and administrative feasibility. Careful analysis can clarify misleading problem definitions, separate actual causal factors from spurious ones, and illuminate both positive and negative possible consequences of a proposed policy. Policy thinkers can also anticipate potential problems with implementation and can adjust strategies to achieve greater effectiveness.

Those trained in public policy may go on to work as analysts and advocates in government agencies or for elected officials, in nonprofit organizations, and sometimes private firms. Undergraduate public policy training is excellent preparation for pursuing professional degrees in areas such as law, public policy, public health, and international relations.

What are examples of public policy research?

Several members of the Mills faculty who teach in public policy have conducted research that is typical of the work done in this field. Program Director Carol Chetkovich has studied the workings of affirmative action policy in the urban fire service, and her book on the subject is widely used by public managers trying to enhance diversity in uniformed services. Dr. Chetkovich has also produced several reports to federal and state government agencies in a number of social service areas, including child care, health care, and services to people with disabilities. Her current research (with coauthor Frances Kunreuther of the Building Movement Project) explores the social-change work of small nonprofit organizations.  An upcoming book from this project will inform nonprofit activists, funders, and researchers seeking to understand and support this sector.

Among their other work on organizational performance and reliability, Professor Emeritus Paul Schulman and former program director Emery Roe recently have investigated California's restructuring of its electricity sector. Their findings have been reported to numerous policy audiences, including the  California Energy Commission, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Electrical Power Research Institute, and state regulatory staff members at the California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, and the California Power Authority.

Professor Siobhan Reilly has conducted a number of studies relating to family and child well-being, including work on welfare policy, child support, family structure and living arrangements, resource allocation within the family and the risks of infant formula use. Her work has been supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and has significant implications for a number of social policies.

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Last Updated: 10/13/17