Courses of Study 2014-2015 
    Jun 24, 2024  
Courses of Study 2014-2015 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Cornell Institute for Public Affairs

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

The Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) offers a university-wide two-year program of graduate professional studies leading to the Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) degree. The interdisciplinary nature of this M.P.A. is one of its distinguishing features. CIPA Fellows (graduate students) have the flexibility to design individualized plans of study using faculty resources from across the university.

Fellows gain an understanding of the political and administrative processes through which issues, problems, and policies are formulated; the economic and fiscal basis for government action in a market economy; and the analytical tools for assessing policy implications. They study the behavior of public, private, and nonprofit organizations and their management. They also develop sensitivity to the moral and ethical dimensions of public/nonprofit management and public policy issues.


The depth and flexibility of the program is reflected in the growing number of affiliated faculty members. CIPA is not confined within a single school or college, but spans the entire university. More than 100 field faculty members, representing 25 departments, welcome CIPA Fellows into their courses and serve on professional report/thesis committees. The core faculty is the heart of the CIPA structure. With broad representation from across the university, the core faculty bring an academic richness to CIPA that transcends disciplinary boundaries. These faculty members provide instruction in the core foundation courses. Core faculty members include Richard Booth, City and Regional Planning; Nancy Brooks, City and Regional Planning; Nancy Chau, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management; Ralph D. Christy, the J. Thomas Clark Professor of Entrepreneurship and Personal Enterprise; Kieran Donaghy, City and Regional Planning; Gary S. Fields, the John P. Windmuller Chair in International and Comparative Labor; Oliver Gao, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Rick Geddes, Policy Analysis and Management; Joe Grasso, School of Industrial and Labor Relations; (Daniel) Pete Loucks, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Theodore J. Lowi, the John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions in the Department of Government; Kathryn S. March, Anthropology; Sharon Tennyson, Policy Analysis and Management; and Norman Uphoff, Government.

M.P.A. Program Flexibility

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 may be taken through the program in any department or college in the university.


Upon entering the M.P.A. program, each Fellow is assigned an academic advisor based on his or her area of interest. These advisors are drawn from the CIPA core faculty. They assist Fellows in designing their individual program of study and selecting courses. The assignment of advisors is meant to assist new Fellows in getting a strong start with their studies. Once familiar with the resources available, Fellows are welcome to ask another core faculty member to be their program advisor.

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 latter half of the first year of course work.

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 an 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 public policy- or public affairs-related organization in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.  In recent years, 98 percent of fellows actively searching for an internship found one. Organizations include the following:

  • Deloitte and Touche
  • Government Accountability Office
  • New York City Office of Management and Budget
  • The Overseas Private Investment Corporation
  • United Nations
  • U.S. Agency for International Development
  • U.S. Congress
  • U.S. Congressional Research Service
  • U.S. Department of State
  • U.N. World Food Programme
  • state, local, and urban municipal governments
  • nongovernmental organizations and think tanks worldwide
  • private-sector consulting firms

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


Professional Writing Requirement

As a culmination of studies in the M.P.A. program, Fellows must complete a professional writing project that demonstrates well-developed analytical and expositional skills. This professional writing 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 professional writing requirement.

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 projects are offered, one addressing a public service initiative or policy posed by a domestic client, and, in the other, by an international client.  For each Capstone Project, Fellows will form complementary consulting groups that propose solutions, which are relevant and actionable.  Through this experience, Fellows learn about project management 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. Parallel to the capstone course experience, 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 broad-ranging but focused research. Fellows are responsible for finding one faculty member, preferably within the Field of Public Affairs, who will serve as a thesis advisor, and another who will serve as a second member of his/her Special Committee. This committee will review, critique and also approve the thesis, participating in the oral presentation and defense of the thesis. Fellows who choose this option should enroll for a semester of directed reading/independent study under the supervision of their thesis advisors, with this counting as one of their specialized courses. 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:

  • 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.
  • Point of View (POV):  The CIPA Public Affairs television program offers Fellows the opportunity to work in all aspects of TV production and presentation, gaining invaluable experience for the media exposure they will encounter as public-policy professionals.
  • The Cornell Policy Review:  CIPA Fellows publish a journal of student policy research. Working on The Cornell Policy Review offers Fellows a firsthand view of the rigors of publishing academic work, and also provides a foundation in professional writing and editing—necessary skills for preparing reports and position papers, and publishing research findings.
  • Women in Public Policy (WIPP):  This student organization is dedicated to exploring public policy issues that are of particular relevance to women, as well as advancing the status of women in the profession of public affairs.
  • CIPA-NOLA:  A student-led initiative that provides direct service and consulting to nonprofit organizations rebuilding areas of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina.
  • Jade Moore Forum on American Politics:  CIPA Fellows with a particular interest in American politics/policy spaces participate in the Jade Moore Forum to enhance their subject matter expertise through roundtable discussions, seminars, and special events.
  • ICMA:  CIPA Fellows pursuing careers in local government participate in Cornell’s chapter of the International City/County Management Association, which is jointly sponsoring by CIPA and the Department of City and Regional Planning.
  • IAF:  CIPA’s International Affairs Forum was established to promote the concept of “soft power” in the field of 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 achieve the following minimum scores on the new (2005) Internet-based test version of the TOEFL: writing 20, listening 15, reading 20, speaking 22.

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

Financial Aid

CIPA provides some merit-based funding to its students. 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 programs. In addition, Cornell 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. Decisions on Institute funding are determined on a rolling basis following admission decisions.