Course Descriptions

Online Courses from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Courses from the online Executive Master of Public Administration program are designed by our expert Maxwell faculty with years of experience in private, public and non-profit sectors. All course descriptions are listed below for ExecutiveMPA@Syracuse.


Fundamentals of Policy Analysis (PAI 897, 3 Credits)

Fundamentals of Policy Analysis provides an understanding of some of the models and methods used in policy analysis for the public and nonprofit sectors. The course provides students with an understanding of the rationale for and limits to public sector policies.

Since many public policies, and certainly much analysis of those policies, rely heavily on basic principles of economics, a portion of the course is devoted to an explanation of those principles. The second portion of the course focuses on the policy analysis process, including recognition of the multiple objectives commonly sought from public policies, and illustrates how the rational policy analysis model can be used to evaluate alternative policy instruments. The third portion of the course focuses on cost-benefit analysis as one technique for systematically analyzing the effects of potential policies.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify and explain the basics of market-based methods for allocating scarce resources, the variety of ways markets can fail to efficiently allocate those resources, and the policy instruments governments might use to correct for these failures.
  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of various policy analytic tools and approaches, being mindful of the various and often competing objectives sought from public policies.
  • Describe and analyze the ethical issues faced by policy analysts.

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Managerial Leadership (PAI 895, 3 Credits)

This course is designed for managerial leaders in the public sector and has two major objectives. First, the course is designed to help students to build a better understanding of leadership theories and how they underlie practice. Second, the course will guide students in assessing and improving their own managerial skills and competencies. To meet these objectives, much of the class time will be devoted to self-assessment and experiential learning activities.

Coursework will focus on the changing environment of management at all levels of the organizational hierarchy, the latest thinking in leadership, and concrete ideas to enhance students’ managerial abilities. Students will apply the theory to managerial situations and reflect on how they can continue to develop new leadership skills. They will improve their ability to observe and analyze leadership and gain new insights into how to lead.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Explain and assess leadership and managerial theories, skills, and competencies.
  • Apply leadership theories to workplace situations.
  • Assess how personality affects their leadership choices.

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Master’s Project Course (PAI 996, 3 Credits)

The Master’s Project Course is the capstone for the program. During this course, students will have the opportunity to incorporate what they have learned throughout the program to a specific case that has practical application to a real world organization or group of policy makers. Students will work in a group or individually to integrate concepts and skills learned from the online Executive MPA curriculum to design an evidence-based Master’s project paper.

Students will start this process with an incubation period, where they will explore areas of interest and develop ideas into concrete topics, with the intention of developing a project proposal. As the first phase of the capstone, this process will start at least three months prior to the beginning of the course.

In partnership with professors and faculty members, a virtual “incubator space” will be available on the platform to provide specific requirements and resources, in the form of learning modules and exercises. This will support the exploration and the completion of selecting a topic and developing a project proposal.

Here’s a list of some examples of past projects:

Examples of past projects
Broad Topics Past Project Paper Titles
Fiscal and monetary policy "Analysis of the Detroit bankruptcy case and designing for its rebirth"
"Reforming old age income security: is privatization the answer?"
"Water privatization in the City of Rochester, NY"
Environmental policy and global warming
Designing a national energy policy
Options for utility deregulation
"Achieving affordability of solar energy in India, Pakistan and the United States through global partnerships"
Providing health care services "Healthcare for the elderly - a comparative analysis"
"The role of technology in facilitating informal caregiving in developed countries"
Intergovernmental roles and relations "Improving civil servants' performance appraisal in developing countries"
"Open government partnership - a comparative study"
Replacing decaying infrastructure (e.g. roads, bridges, sewers) "Reducing corruption in municipal infrastructure investments: A case study of Turkey, India and Pakistan"
Providing education
Designing a research and science policy
"A comparative analysis of increasing capacity on non-governmental organizations with HIV/AIDS services to women"
"International cooperation for disaster relief: Haiti and China"
"Human Services Needs Assessment in Onondaga County"

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Public Administration and Democracy (PAI 755, 3 Credits)

Public administration is as much an art as it is a science. It requires far more than the rote application of managerial skills. Public Administration and Democracy is primarily normative rather than skills-oriented in nature. In contrast to many other courses in the public administration curriculum, this course does not teach students how to carry out particular management functions. Rather, it is based on the presumption that only those public administrators who are broad-minded and self-reflective, who are cognizant of the environments in which they operate and of the principles that ought to drive their decisions, can be effective in a truly meaningful way.

This course provides students with the opportunity to grapple with fundamental questions about the relationship between public administration and democracy. Each session is grounded in questions such as: What is democracy? What are the tensions between bureaucracy and democracy? And, to whom are public administrators responsible? Each question is seemingly simple, but actually quite complex. Reasonable people can and do disagree on the answers.

In addition to classroom sessions, students will participate in role-play exercises that offer insights about how their answers to these questions will affect the way they practice public administration. The primary goal of this role-play is to enable students to experience and understand the tensions between bureaucracy and democracy as manifested in a situation characterized by ambiguity, expectations for collaboration, and organizational politics.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Analyze the social and political context of public administration.
  • Identify and apply the principles that ground good public administration practice.
  • Describe and analyze the ethical and normative issues that public administrators face as they seek to make effective decisions.

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Public Policy Process (PAI 760, 3 Credits)

Public Policy Process provides an introduction to the policy process, focusing on new directions in policy process scholarship and evidence-based insights for practitioners. The course explores various roles that elected officials, public managers, nongovernmental organizations, and contractors play in public policy and how these actions affect the larger policy-making procedures. Students do not need to possess a background in public policy or the policy process.

A broad representation of policy areas is covered in this course, including social policy (e.g., education, health, employment, and training), environmental policy, and security policy. By focusing on “implementation” and the changing face of public sector governance, students will analyze the central components and key factors in the policy making process.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • identify the central components of the policy making process;
  • identify key actor, institutional, structural, and social factors that influence the policy process;
  • exhibit a strong foundation of knowledge concerning major public policy process theories and apply these theories to study different aspects of the policy making system; and
  • exhibit ability to comprehend and synthesize academic and professional research.

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Ethics and Morality in Public Affairs (PAI 746, 3 Credits)

Ethics and Morality in Public Affairs is designed to enhance students’ ability to think ethically about the means and ends of public policy. The course examines normative concepts and principles that typically enter into moral reasoning and use of those tools in analyzing actual cases. Through discussions, students will be able to gain a better understanding of the moral issues facing the decision-makers and explore how those issues might be resolved in ethically responsible ways.

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Public Budgeting (PAI 734, 3 Credits)

This course provides an overview of budgeting and financial management in the public and nonprofit sectors. Fundamental concepts and practices of budgeting, financial management, and public finance are introduced, with special emphasis on state and local government budgeting and financial management in the United States.

Students will explore the basic concepts and nomenclature of public finance to develop an understanding of budget processes as well as the sources and uses of public revenues. Coursework will enable students to develop basic competence in using spreadsheet programs.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Explain and assess key elements of government budgeting processes.
  • Apply concepts of direct, indirect, fixed, step, and variable costs to the analysis of agency expenditure needs.
  • Design and produce a flexible budget for a government agency.
  • Apply concepts and measures of efficiency, equity, and adequacy to the evaluation of government revenue policies.

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Collaborative and Participatory Governance (PAI 732, 3 Credits)

Collaborative and Participatory Governance seeks to provide a foundation in collaborative and participatory governance so that students can become better producers and consumers of such processes, tools, and approaches. The course enables students to develop knowledge and skills for collaborative and participatory governance. Students will examine the underlying theories that support collaborative and participatory governance, assess research about how these approaches work, and explore how current practice can inform their future professional work.

Students will also work on developing some of the specific skills they will need to engage in collaborative and participatory endeavors. They will critique the use of collaborative and participatory governance in different settings, apply the principles of practice to actual and simulated contexts, and develop collaborative and participatory approaches to contemporary governance challenges.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the key concepts, principles, tools, and problems associated with collaborative and participatory governance.
  • Demonstrate how collaborative and participatory governance are being used to address contemporary problems and issues.
  • Assess the potential of collaborative and participatory governance for modern policy problems.
  • Apply their skills, knowledge, and abilities to engage in collaborative and participatory endeavors.

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Data-Driven Government (PAI 730; 3 Credits)

The Data, Innovation, and Policy Making course explores how cities have used data and technology to inform policy. Students will gain an understanding of the different kinds of data that may be available or collected to inform decision making and policy. Coursework and live class discussions will focus on how to effectively use these data to drive decision making. Topics in this course explore U.S. Census Bureau data sets and interactive mapping platform; how local governments collect data; ways data can be de-identified, aggregated, and combined; and working with crowdsourcing as a primary data source.

Students will learn about the importance of metadata (data dictionaries), and they will be introduced to new software and asked to perform simple analyses with data sets. Case studies will explore new apps and tools that allow citizens to more easily report real-time problems, such as sewer and water main breaks, potholes, and blight (e.g., blexting). During hands-on activities, students will examine the data quality of currently available apps and explore the ways in which citizens can be incentivized to act as sensors.

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Human Resources Management for the Public Sector (PAI 747, 3 Credits)

Theory, research, and practices for effective human resources management in public and nonprofit agencies. Political and institutional context of public sector human resources management, evolution of U.S. civil service system, and critical issues confronting public managers.

People are the most valuable resource in any organization. Most public sector organizations spend more than 70 percent on personnel costs. It is the people who provide service, manage the business, and come up with creative solutions that keep organizations strong. Thus, how personnel are recruited, managed, and motivated is essential to an organization’s success. This course will look at the changing role of human resource management in the public sector from three perspectives: strategic, legal, and individual. This course defines public sector as including the nonprofit sector and provides materials and class discussion specifically focused beyond government. Students will learn broad concepts, theories, skills, and strategies applicable to any organization.

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Analyze the conflicting demands on the human resource management function.
  • Identify and explain the link between effective human resource management and achieving public policy and social goals.
  • Apply theoretical perspectives to practical problems in human resource management.
  • Demonstrate skills required for developing staff productivity and motivation.

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