- Annual Enrollment:
- 250 in all graduate programs. (The school also has 500+ undergraduate students)
- Degrees Offered:
- Master of Public Policy (MPP), Master of International Development Policy, International Master of Environmental Policy (IMEP), PhD in Public Policy; Dual Degrees: MPP/JD, MPP/MD, MBA/MPP, MPP/MDiv, MPP/Master of Environmental Management or MPP/Master of Forestry.
- International Students:
- Work Experience:
- MPP and IMEP: 2-6 years; MIDP: mid-career professionals
- Employment Sectors:
- International governments; NGOs such as the World Bank, WHO, & UN; nonprofits; business and consulting firms; U.S. federal and state governments.
- Please see our website for details by program: MPP Program; MIDP Program; PhD Program
Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy is a vibrant intellectual community recognized for its highly motivated people and innovative ideas. The school’s timely, relevant research brings many disciplinary perspectives to bear on important issues facing the world, our nation, and our local community. Our students, faculty, and alumni share a commitment to using their expertise in service of the greater good.
Sanford is ranked 5th in the United States for public policy analysis and 3rd for environmental policy. In addition, our faculty is 3rd in the nation for research productivity. Our scholars study a wide range of topics, from global climate and energy policy, international development, health, and environmental health, to global governance, cybersecurity, and terrorism.
The school’s outstanding scholars and practitioners also care deeply about students. Throughout their time here, students find top-quality teaching, and a degree of mentorship and interpersonal relationships with our distinguished faculty that are rarely found elsewhere. Our professors are dedicated to helping students succeed.
Our residential graduate programs include the, two-year, professional Master of Public Policy (MPP) program, the Master of International Development Program (MIDP), the International Master of Environmental Policy (IMEP) based at Duke University’s 200-acre campus in Kunshan, China, and the Ph.D. in Public Policy.
All of our graduate students enjoy the benefits of a diverse, welcoming and engaged academic community, real-world policy experience, and tailored career counseling.
They also enjoy living in a dynamic and affordable city: Durham, N.C. is ranked one of the 10 Best Places to Live (US News & World Report). Join us!
To receive information directly from the Admissions Department, click here.
You’re an international development and foreign aid scholar who also writes for leading general-audience publications and is frequently quoted in the media. How does your public engagement influence students who take your classes?
Graduate students at the Sanford School of Public Policy prepare for careers through coursework that teaches both rigorous analysis and the ability to communicate conclusions to diverse audiences. In today’s workplace, knowing how to write an effective blog post or communicate with a radio host can be as important as demonstrating mastery of the well-known policy memo. My scholarly work has examined the impact of trade agreements and foreign aid in Central America. When extreme violence, food insecurity related to climate change, and high levels of poverty led to increases in migrants leaving that region, there was demand for engaging on these issues with a broader audience. My own efforts to engage different audiences help me teach these techniques more effectively.
What are some distinguishing characteristics of the Sanford curriculum?
Sanford graduate programs train students in economics, policy analysis and empirical analysis. The Sanford Master of Public Policy program also takes the unusual step of requiring a course in ethical analysis, training students to examine ethical implications of foreign and domestic policy. The Master of International Development Program offers flexibility to meet the needs of mid-career professionals. The combination of these two programs results in as many as thirty countries being represented in our programs each year. This creates opportunities for learning from classmates with diverse experiences and perspectives. Courses incorporate multiple forms of policy writing and critical thinking in individual and group assignments. All students complete a master’s project that allows them to dig more deeply into a client-based or research-oriented project.
Opportunities also exist outside the regular classroom, including our Global Policy Program in Geneva and our Summer School for Future International Development Leaders in India. Bass Connections is a unique on-campus opportunity, allowing students to join interdisciplinary research teams focusing on critical, contemporary problems. Current project teams are exploring clean energy access and impacts of electronic waste on maternal and fetal health, among other issues.
How does the Sanford school help students transition to meaningful careers?
The small size of Sanford programs allows students to receive individualized career counseling. Our career services professionals help students pinpoint meaningful internships and jobs. Students receive assistance in networking and guidance on how to prepare professional materials. A highlight is the annual trip to Washington, DC, where students meet a variety of alumni and potential employers with interests similar to their own, through panels and site visits.
Sanford alumni work in nearly one hundred countries. Graduates include the founder of the Global Fund for Children, a peacebuilder working in Syria, U.S. Foreign Service officers fighting human trafficking, and the founder of a global nonprofit helping improve health-care access. Our loyal alumni often return to campus or connect in other ways with current students to offer guidance and advice.
How do Sanford graduate programs connect the theory and practice of public policy?
The Sanford School’s graduate programs attract students who seek to gain analytical skills that they can take to public policy jobs, as well as advanced practitioners with many years of work experience in government who want to learn about new ideas. As a result, our courses and training are strongly grounded in theory but are focused on current public policy challenges.
Following the massive Zika outbreak in the Americas and the Caribbean, for example, we started the academic year with a workshop focusing on a Florida ballot referendum to allow experimental introduction of genetically modified mosquitoes to combat the virus. Rather than resuming business as usual, we offered an interdisciplinary workshop that brought together all students enrolled in economics and applied econometrics/research methods courses with experts and guest speakers, including a leading journalist and a geneticist working to create synthetic species.
In my own research, I focus on questions informed by economic theory and central to the practice of public policy and health policy in developing countries. For example, in our ongoing research on the effect of community-level accountability on governance interventions to improve child health outcomes, we also study how information structures within social networks drive participation. Our findings hold promise for finding innovative ways to increase participation, which is always a big challenge in community-based health initiatives.
Urgent concerns and the rapid pace of global communication put pressure on policy analysts to produce quick answers. How can analysts make the case for large-scale or longitudinal studies?
It is indeed difficult to choose between the competing goals of quick answers for policymakers and long-term studies that examine the underlying behavioral underpinnings, or impact of, policy interventions. Both are important, and with some creativity and practical compromise, it is possible to do a large share of both.
For instance, in our ongoing project focusing on conditional cash transfers for maternal and child health in India, we developed a system of reporting indicators on a quarterly basis to help India’s national government with policy planning and implementation. This system also creates ongoing feedback that strengthens our longer term study
How does the curriculum help students to become confident in their own powers of analysis rather than relying on others’ conclusions?
Given the menace of fake news and alternative facts in public policy debates today, a critical skill that our students learn is to weigh the credibility of evidence based on strength of design and analysis. This focus is also reflected in Sanford’s commitment to improve transparency and standards of reporting in media to inform public policy. One of our faculty members, Professor Bill Adair, created the Pulitzer Prize–winning news source, PolitiFact, which pioneered fact-checking.
In courses, whether they focus on economic theory, evaluation methods, or specific policy areas such as education and health, students are encouraged to keep a critical eye and to ask questions that get at the underlying assumptions behind policy positions. Combined with the small classroom environment where students are encouraged to speak up, this training helps them develop confidence to challenge the conventional wisdom.
At a time when political discourse is antagonistic and polarized, what is the Sanford School doing to promote constructive dialogue?
An international affairs career—whether in the field or conducting research on global concerns—requires an exchange of ideas from a rich diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. To achieve this exchange, all partners must feel secure, welcomed, and respected, and all voices must be heard. These values and skills are critical to navigating these contentious times. At the Duke Sanford School, we work both to model them and to teach them.
In the classroom, our faculty address issues such as power imbalances and structural inequality. Outside of class, our committee on diversity and inclusion holds brown-bag discussions and training modules. Student groups—such as Sanford Pride, the Latin American and Caribbean Group, and Sanford Women in Policy—strive to make our campus welcoming to everyone.
Our student body is diverse. Some of our Master of Public Policy students arrive from stints in the Peace Corps, the U.S. military, and international nongovernmental organizations. Each year, our Master of International Development Policy program attracts mid-career professionals from more than twenty countries. With our small program size and collaborative spirit, students are able to establish career connections that reach across continents.
Globalization, mobile technologies, and social media are transforming global affairs. How does the Sanford School prepare students for rapid change and uncertainty?
Thinking imaginatively and being future-oriented are essential. The policy issues we face are cross-national, and we need big ideas. At Duke and Sanford, thinking big is in our DNA—our founder, Terry Sanford, challenged students to pursue “outrageous ambitions” for the greater good. Our students embrace that entrepreneurial spirit. They recently established a social innovation working group, a nonprofit board leadership program, and even a coding club. With their input, our curriculum focuses more on analyzing big data and incorporates ideas from behavioral economics and human-centered design.
Sanford students pursue these new approaches while also building core competencies in politics, microeconomics, statistics, and management. Through group projects for global and local clients, they also practice critical teamwork skills. Some choose to develop subject area expertise—security studies, environment and energy, or international development, for example—or pursue dual degrees in business, law, and environmental management.
How can students find mentors and role models?
Our accomplished alumni hold influential positions around the world. They include the founder of the Global Fund for Children, a humanitarian affairs officer working in Syria with the UN Refugee Agency, U.S. Foreign Service officers fighting human trafficking, and the founder of a global health-care access nonprofit. Our faculty, too, have broad experience. They include a former diplomat, military leaders, economic advisors to foreign governments, and a State Department policy planner. Because of our relatively small program sizes, our students have access to these faculty mentors.
In addition, our dedicated career services staff provides individualized career counseling—assisting with not only a first job but also with planning for the third, or fifth, position. They help students hone networking skills and make connections to our far-flung alumni network. Graduates leave the Duke Sanford School with a forever-widened worldview.
What do students need to pursue careers in international affairs?
In addition to a strong academic grounding in international relations and depth on one or more international issues, direct experiences are incredibly valuable. Firsthand experiences bring classroom lessons to life and enable students to make personal connections with international practitioners. In this increasingly inter-connected world, developing your own global network is increasingly important.
At the Sanford School, students can gain firsthand experience in a variety of ways. We offer unique experiential programs in Geneva, Switzerland, in Udaipur, India, and at the Duke Kunshan Campus in China. Our students intern around the world, from Asia to Europe to Latin America, as well as in Washington, D.C., with U.S. foreign policy agencies and international organizations. And our students work alongside Sanford faculty who are actively engaged with global governance, climate change, environmental health, terrorism and security, and other critical international issues.
Our incredibly diverse student body also helps foster global networks. Our Master of Public Policy students arrive at Duke with experience in the Peace Corps, the U.S. military, foreign governments, international organizations and NGOs. Our Master of International Development Policy program brings mid-career professionals to Duke from more than 20 nations every year. A student from Bangor, Maine, could be in class next to a student from Bangalore, India. Our small program size, accessible faculty, and collaborative spirit make it is easy to forge lifelong connections.
Why is innovation important in international affairs?
Today’s international affairs students need to to able to think imaginatively about how address the world’s pressing problems. Whether the challenge is empowering women, balancing economic development with energy efficiency, resolving seemingly intractable conflicts, enhancing security while protecting civil liberty, or combatting malaria, new approaches are needed.
At Sanford, students are encouraged to innovate, to harness new technologies and data, to employ social enterprises and forge public-private partnerships, and to draw on the insights of behavioral economics and human-centered design. Sanford students established a social innovation working group and formed a coding club.
How has the Sanford School curriculum adapted to global changes?
We have made major investments in the issues that now top the list of world concerns. Sanford Students can draw upon the resources of the Duke Global Health Institute, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke Energy Initiative, the Duke Center for International Development, the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative, the American Grand Strategy Program, the Duke Center for Homeland Security, the Duke Program on Global Policy and Governance, and the Duke Center on Globalization, Governance and Competitiveness.
Our faculty are not only great scholars, they are also directly engaged with the policy community. Our professors have worked at the National Security Council, the State Department, the Pentagon, the U.S. Congress, the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, the World Health Organization, and numerous foreign governments. Because so many of our faculty stay connected to the world of practice, our curriculum has been able to adapt to the rapidly changing global landscape.
What competencies does your program build for global careers?
Competency begins with your mental framework: how do you think about a problem? At the Sanford School, we help students develop an interdisciplinary and global mindset. The age of siloed knowledge is over; few of today’s policy challenges sit squarely within one discipline or policy area. Or within one nation’s boundaries.
We also emphasize innovation and adaptability. Interconnectivity, fast-paced information flows, and frequent unanticipated developments mean that theoretical models, while helpful, often don’t suffice.
Duke Sanford students build core competencies in politics, microeconomics, statistics, and management. They also have the opportunities to strengthen subject-area expertise through concentrations in Global Policy, International Development, Environment and Energy Policy, Security Studies, or Population Studies.
Outside the classroom, we emphasize teamwork. Students work in small groups as consultants to actual clients grappling with policy problems. Although some students initially chafe at the group work requirement, they discover that with varied skill sets and personalities involved, the resulting analysis is more comprehensive, insightful, and creative than any one person could develop alone. And they are pushed to meet deadlines, really listen to a client, and anticipate potential snags.
How does the Sanford School prepare students for their first job out of graduate school?
We offer top-flight career services. Students are required to complete a summer internship that applies their policy training. Some of these are domestic at the local, state, and national levels. For students with international interests, we have unique options.
One is the Duke Program on Global Policy & Governance in Geneva, Switzerland, the epicenter of international policy. The program includes internships with organizations such as the WTO, WHO, or UNEP as well as various NGOs. Intensive mini-courses and unparalleled networking opportunities are integral parts of the immersion experience. The Geneva program is open to students at other APSIA schools.
Another option is Sanford’s new Summer Program for Future International Development Leaders in India, which is led by Professor Anirudh Krishna, a dynamic scholar with an extensive network in India. Students work in teams with Indian students and NGO leaders to solve practical challenge. They live in rural villages for weeks at a time to gain direct experiences with the people they want to assist.
What do you hope to instill in students for the long term?
Terry Sanford, who had a distinguished career as North Carolina Governor and U.S. Senator, founded our school while serving as Duke University President. “Outrageous ambitions” was Sanford’s signature expression. Break out of conventional wisdoms, strive to make possible what too many resign themselves to consider impossible. As long as society has as many problems and challenges as it does—within the United States, and globally—we must be ambitious. If others consider that outrageous, we should cherish such compliments. It is this spirit, and the attendant skills, that we strive to instill in our students.