From personalized learning and scholarship tax credits to inclusive classrooms and hot-button issues surrounding the Common Core, the scope of policy changes made yearly across our education system can be overwhelming. The task of making sense of them all—and selling them to a sometimes-resistant public—falls to education policy researchers and experts.
While the qualifications necessary to succeed in this field vary by job type and employer, all positions require an in-depth understanding of US education systems. Additionally, you’ll need insight into the social, economic, political, and historical factors that drive policy and practice. Finely tuned research skills are also de rigueur. An interest in education, it should go without saying, also helps.
To meet these qualifications, many education policy professionals hold a degree in a related area of study. These may be general—such as public policy or political science—or more specific, such as education policy.
Education policy degrees are available through a range of bachelor’s, masters, and doctoral programs at universities across the country. With them comes the opportunity to pursue behind-the-scenes roles across policy research, development, implementation, and advocacy.
Ready to learn more about what you can do with a degree in education policy? In this article, we discuss:
Education policy decisions made at the local, state, and federal levels shape students’ educational experiences. Locally, policies help schools establish rules and procedures and create quality standards for learning, ensuring that the school environment is safe and productive. Without them, schools would lack the structure and capacity to teach students efficiently, fairly, and safely, and to support teachers and staff.
Education policy officials at the state level may grapple with issues of statewide academic performance, demographic achievement gaps, standardized testing, and district funding. Their decisions can affect investments in school infrastructure, teacher training, curricula, content, and graduation requirements.
At a national level, education policy plays a pivotal role in the country’s global competitiveness. To guarantee economic growth, US education must provide students with equal access to a learning experience that prepares them for the higher-education and job-training programs needed to compete for high-skill jobs.
These days, competitiveness means science, technology, and innovation. Recent legislative proposals have focused on providing more support for K–12 science education, especially in teacher training. Other proposals have included programs to encourage more Americans to pursue the science and engineering fields by expanding access and increasing quality in higher education as well as offering better incentives for graduate education in the sciences.
The students in part-time and full-time education policy master’s programs are optimists who believe they can make education better on a grand scale. They acknowledge the current education system in the United States is fraught with problems, but they don’t view any of those problems as insurmountable. They’re pursuing master’s degrees in education policy because they’ve dreamed of transforming their districts, improving on the ways students are taught across the entire state, or even driving sweeping education reform at the federal level. (
Universities offer so many degrees fitting for this category. At some universities, a Master of Education Policy or Master of Education Leadership program covers all the same subject matter as an M.Ed in Education Policy and Leadership. Others call this degree a Master of Education in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies; Master’s in Educational Leadership & Policy; Master of Education in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership; or a Master of Arts in Education Policy and Leadership. The only way to know whether the leadership and policy master’s program at a particular school is worth it is to look at the curriculum and the school’s job placement data. Make sure the curriculum supports your unique career goals and that the degree sufficiently impresses employers. ( )
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You’ll find jobs that involve work with education policy at the local, state, or federal level in government agencies or with lobbying or advocacy groups, private businesses, or non-profit organizations. Many in the field hold a master’s degree in education policy, while senior-level jobs may require an advanced degree such as a Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
Since education policy combines current educational practice research with a deep understanding of the factors impacting US education, the field favors seasoned educators with extensive teaching or administrative experience.
With this in mind, a bachelor’s degree in an education-related field—whether early childhood education, educational technology, or education policy specifically—serves as an excellent platform for future policy work.
From there, students need to follow their states’ licensing procedures to become certified either as teachers or educational administrators. Having experience in either occupation is necessary for many roles in education policy. It’s also crucial for a more immediate step in the path to careers in the field: earning a master’s degree.
Students interested in master’s degrees in education policy typically choose programs with titles like a Master of Arts (MA) in Education Policy or a Master of Science (MS) in Education Policy degree. Others may choose to complete a more general Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree and tailor their focus of study to the education policy realm.
MPP programs tend to overlap with Master of Public Administration (MPA) degrees. They focus on public administration and how to analyze policies and programs thoroughly. Generally, students in MPP programs with an education policy specialization take core courses in a broader range of topics, including qualitative analysis and research methods, program evaluation, and management, as well as courses concentrated on education policy.
Earning a doctorate in education policy prepares graduates for advanced careers in administration and academia, as well as leadership roles in the field. Depending on a student’s career goals, they typically choose one of two paths.
As the more practice-based of terminal degrees, an EdD in education policy programs\ focuses on applying research and foundational knowledge to real-world issues in the field. Common learning objectives include the application of theory to educational problem solving, collaborative inquiry, and learning science.
Experienced professionals who aspire to pursue leadership roles in the field of education policy are ideal candidates for a program like:
PhD in education policy programs prepare students for research-based or highly academic careers. Rather than a desire to land leadership roles in education policy, PhD students are typically interested in driving change by conducting research that reshapes the field. They also prepare to train the next generation of scholars in the field.
In the US, private non-profit accrediting organizations oversee the accreditation of schools by evaluating faculty, resources, curricula, competency, and credibility. The US Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) validate whether an accreditation agency itself is competent and credible.
The most recognized and accepted type of accreditation in the US is regional accreditation. Generally, credits or degrees received at a regionally accredited institution are accepted by other regionally accredited colleges or universities. These organizations include:
Schools lacking regional accreditation may turn to accreditation organizations that operate on a nationwide scope. Unlike their regional counterparts, national accrediting organizations benefit education institutions that were not originally founded as a college or university. Instead, the two types of national accrediting organizations are either faith-based or career-focused.
National faith-related accreditors include:
National career-related accreditors include:
While nationally accredited institutions may not be out of the question if you are looking for a specific kind of faith- or career-related school, keep in mind that regionally accredited schools often reject or devalue the credits received from nationally accredited schools. This can pose issues for students who transfer before completing a degree at a nationally accredited school or decide to further their education after completing a degree from a school with this type of accreditation.
Specialized accreditation—also known as professional or programmatic accreditation—focuses on particular aspects of a department, program, or school’s academic field of study, such as education, law, business, or nursing. Most of the specialized accrediting organizations evaluate units at schools that are regionally accredited.
Most employers in this field expect candidates to have an extensive educational background, which often means a master’s or higher. However, a handful of jobs related to the field are open to those with a bachelor’s degree in education policy. They include:
Those who do go to complete master’s degrees focused on a more practice-based approach in the field, such as an MA in education policy or specialized MPP degree, are well-equipped to pursue roles like:
A common next step for students who’ve completed an MS in education policy is to continue their studies and work toward earning a PhD in the field. Since many research positions require a doctorate, advancing to a terminal program may be a way to reach the ultimate goal of working in academia as a professor or researcher. Those who opt-out of a doctoral program will find career options in industries that employ researchers or education experts. They include:
Those who earn an EdD in education policy are qualified for roles leading and operating schools and organizations. They also qualify to develop education policies and programs at local, state, and national levels. They may work in a variety of settings, including public and private schools, as well as corporations, consulting firms, and government agencies that shape educational policy. Their titles may include:
A PhD in education policy is most popular among individuals who want to pursue a career in academia, research, or both. Those with this degree typically take on faculty positions in universities and other higher education settings, as well as research positions in government agencies or other educational organizations. Their career options include:
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