Courses of Study 2015-2016 
    Oct 19, 2018  
Courses of Study 2015-2016 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Cornell Institute for Public Affairs

In the College of Human Ecology 

294 Caldwell Hall
(607) 255-8018 (tel)
(607) 255-5240 (fax)


Course Offerings  

The Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) is a unit of the College of Human Ecology.  CIPA offers a two-year program of graduate professional studies leading to the Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degree. The MPA curriculum fosters an understanding of the political and administrative processes through which issues, problems, and policies are formulated; knowledge of the economic and fiscal basis for government action in a market economy; analytical tools for designing and evaluating programs and assessing policy implications; insights  into the behavior of public, private, and nonprofit organizations and their management; and sensitivity to the moral and ethical dimensions of public/nonprofit management and public policy issues. CIPA graduate students (known as CIPA Fellows) also develop leadership and professional skills essential to career advancement.

Graduate Field of Public Affairs

Although administratively CIPA is a unit of the College of Human Ecology, the MPA degree is granted by the Cornell Graduate School and CIPA is a university-wide program due to the graduate field structure of Cornell University.  Affiliated faculty hold primary appointments in departments throughout the university, but are linked with the program via membership in the graduate field of Public Affairs. This broad representation within the graduate field brings an academic richness to CIPA that transcends disciplinary boundaries. Faculty members providing instruction in key foundation and concentration areas are drawn from the Departments of Policy Analysis and Management, City and Regional Planning, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Government, as well as the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

M.P.A. Program

The two-year master of public administration (M.P.A.) degree program consists of 16 courses; CIPA Fellows typically take four courses per semester for four semesters. Although the M.P.A. program offers a basic structure for study, each CIPA Fellow works closely with a faculty advisor to design an individualized program based on his or her specific area of interest. Courses toward the degree may be taken in any department or college in the university.

Foundation Course Work

To develop a foundation of basic concepts and capabilities for the study of public policy, CIPA Fellows take three courses in each of the following three foundation areas:

  • Administrative, Political and Policy Processes
  • Economic Analysis and Public Finance
  • Quantitative Techniques and Analysis

Concentration Course Work

Concentration course work enables Fellows to focus on a specific area of public policy study. Fellows choose their course of study—domestic or international—from the following options:

  • Economics and Financial Policy
  • Environmental Policy
  • Government, Politics, and Policy Studies
  • Human Rights and Social Justice
  • International Development Studies
  • Public and Nonprofit Management
  • Science, Technology, and Infrastructure Policy
  • Social Policy

Fellows select a concentration during the second semester of study.

Practical Experience, Internships, Off-Campus Study, and/or Public Service Exchange

Experiential learning is an integral component of CIPA’s educational strategy, and a practical experience such as a summer internship is a requirement for obtaining the M.P.A. degree. Internships allow students to apply training in a practical environment and establish contacts for permanent employment. CIPA’s Office of Professional Development provides assistance to Fellows in finding internships that match their interests, expertise, and professional goals. Appropriate internships are available in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  In recent years, 98 percent of fellows actively searching for an internship found one. Organizations who have offered internships in recent years can be viewed on the CIPA website.

CIPA Fellows also have the opportunity to gain professional experience off-campus, while taking a semester of courses for credit, through the following four programs:

  • CIPA Washington, D.C., Externship Semester
  • Cornell in Rome Program
  • Cornell–Nepal Study Program
  • CIPA SYVM Mysore, India Externship Semester

Final Project Requirement

As a culmination of studies in the M.P.A. program, Fellows must complete a final project that demonstrates well-developed analytical and expositional skills. This project should provide Fellows with:

  • An opportunity to integrate/refine knowledge and skills that have professional relevance; and
  • Tangible products demonstrating professional competence to prospective employers.

In order to serve Fellows’ different career needs, CIPA offers three options for completing the requirement: a capstone project, a professional report, or a thesis.

Capstone Project

The CIPA Capstone is a semester-long course designed for second-year MPA Fellows.  It offers an opportunity for Fellows to apply the knowledge and skills that they have acquired through coursework and internship experience by engaging in rigorous pro bono consulting projects for real-world public, private, and nonprofit clients.  Each semester, two Capstone courses are offered, one addressing public service initiatives or policies posed by U.S. clients, and the other addressing initiatives or policies posed by clients from other countries.  For each Capstone Project, Fellows form complementary consulting groups that propose solutions which are relevant and actionable.  Through this experience, Fellows learn about managing client projects and undertaking sophisticated policy analyses within the constraints of different political environments and organizations.

Professional Report

Most Fellows undertake an internship during the summer between their first and second years, and most of these will require a written deliverable at the conclusion of the experience. Some Fellows, based on their professional and career objectives, will prefer to follow up their internship experience by writing a more thorough and authoritative professional report for their client than was possible during their internship period. Fellows choosing to write a professional report will register for an independent study or directed reading course with a Public Affairs field faculty member in the fall or spring semester of their second year (this will count as a specialized course). In order to meet the professional writing requirement, the report they prepare should be approved by both a representative of the client organization and the faculty member who supervised the directed reading/independent study.


The Thesis option is best-suited for Fellows who intend to pursue a Ph.D. beyond the M.P.A. degree, and who have some topical concern within the broad domain of public affairs that can be well-served by focused research. Thesis research is supervised by a member of the faculty of the Cornell Graduate Field of Public Affairs. Fellows who choose this option may enroll for a semester of directed reading/independent study under the supervision of their thesis. The thesis must meet the format requirements of the Graduate School.

Co-Curricular Activities

CIPA Fellows gain practical skills by organizing, managing, and participating in a variety of professional development activities on campus. These provide Fellows with opportunities to share work experience with other Fellows and to meet practitioners and distinguished faculty members in the field of public affairs. These student-led initiatives include:

  • Cornell Public Affairs Society (CPAS):  CPAS is the student-run professional organization of CIPA. CPAS aims to provide Fellows with access to opportunities and experiences that enhance their professional, interpersonal and leadership skills to prepare them for a successful career in public affairs.
  • Colloquium Committee:  This student group sets the agenda for the weekly Colloquium Series and makes arrangements for the chosen guest lecturers to come to campus.
  • The Cornell Policy Review:  This is CIPA’s student-edited academic public policy journal. Fellows serve as both editors and contributors, and the editorial board solicits book reviews, interviews, and scholarly contributions from members of the Cornell community, alumni and others.
  • Women in Public Policy (WIPP):  This student organization is dedicated to furthering the understanding of the current role of women in public affairs and policy both in the United States and abroad.
  • CIPA-NOLA:  A student-led initiative that provides consulting to nonprofit organizations rebuilding areas of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina.
  • International City/County Management Association (ICMA):  CIPA Fellows pursuing careers in local government participate in Cornell’s chapter of ICMA, which is jointly sponsoring by CIPA and the Department of City and Regional Planning.
  • International Affairs Forum (IAF): This student group facilitates exposure to various issues such as cultural similarities, diverse religious traditions, and “soft power” in the field of international diplomacy and public policy, through guest speakers, student-led forums, and other events.
  • Cornell Latin America Student Society (CLASS):  Members of CLASS work together to foster the engagement of the Cornell community in projects, awareness, and other opportunities in Latin America.

Residence Requirement

Fellows are required to spend four semesters of study in residence to complete the M.P.A.  Exceptions are made for Fellows completing an approved semester of off-campus study.


The CIPA program seeks diversity in its student body, drawing from a pool of applicants who have studied in a wide range of disciplines. No specific background or undergraduate major is required, although individuals with previous work experience in policy making or implementation are strongly encouraged to apply. Admission to CIPA is selective. A faculty committee evaluates individual applications based on the following:

  • overall academic record
  • potential for public-policy leadership as evidenced by professional work and community, extracurricular, or other relevant experience
  • GRE scores
  • two letters of recommendation
  • current résumé
  • an extensive written statement of purpose, as outlined on the CIPA website
  • an essay as outlined on the CIPA website
  • an online video interview

Applicants for whom English is a second language will need to exceed the following minimum scores on the new (2005) Internet-based test version of the TOEFL: writing 20, listening 15, reading 20, speaking 22, as well as an overall combined score exceeding 100.

Although CIPA has a policy of rolling admission, applications should be submitted by the end of January to be assured of full consideration. For more information, contact the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, 294 Caldwell Hall (tel: (607) 255–8018; fax: (607) 255–5240;;

Financial Aid

Cornell Institute for Public Affairs is able to provide some merit-based tuition fellowships. The Institute itself, however, is unable to provide full support for any individual student. Fellows often win support from Fulbright, Truman, World Bank, and other fellowship programs. In addition, Cornell University offers numerous assistantship and employment opportunities for graduate students. Applicants are encouraged to explore all available sources of external funding, including grants that may be provided by current employers.