UNC Public Policy offers the Ph.D. degree to students who aim to contribute new knowledge and address major domestic and global policy problems. The Ph.D. in public policy combines core foundations in theory, empirical and normative analysis and a policy field area. The curriculum is designed to help each doctoral student develop and use appropriate theoretical and analytical approaches to solve problems in policy areas such as education, innovation and entrepreneurship, labor markets, health and social policy, immigration, environment, national security, international development and global health and environment.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a distinguished tradition in public policy and is a charter member of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. Our Ph.D. program currently hosts approximately twenty-five students actively pursuing a Ph.D. with a variety of policy interests. Our graduate students work closely with faculty on policy-relevant research within our department and throughout the University and Research Triangle. Graduates from our program have gone on to employment at a variety of organizations. Click here for detailed information about all our graduates.

Research and Faculty Expertise

UNC Public Policy has developed particular strengths in a range of social-science based policy research:

Education and Labor Markets

 UNC Public Policy research in the area of education policy includes evaluation of policies, programs, and schools in K–12 education, early childhood education, and postsecondary education. In addition, faculty interests include how educational policies affect inequality in student, teacher, and school outcomes. Other topics on labor markets in the U.S. include policies that impact working families, tax policies, self-employment, professional/occupational licensing, and the link between higher education and the labor market. (Related faculty: Gitterman, Hemelt, Lauen, Moulton)

Environment and Human Welfare

 UNC Public Policy research in the area of environment and human welfare (including health) focuses on climate change, energy policy, and environmental and natural resource management policies in national, state and developing country contexts. (Related faculty: Handa, Jagger)

Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Science and Technology Policy

UNC Public Policy research in this area focuses on regional clustering of scientific knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship, the commercialization of academic research, and factors that promote technological change and economic growth. Moreover, the Research Triangle Park (RTP) is itself internationally recognized as a premier example of knowledge-based economic development. (Related faculty: Feldman)

Social Policy and Inequality

 UNC Public Policy research focuses on the ways that social policies ameliorate or exacerbate disparities within and between groups. Specific research expertise include the U.S. social safety-net policies, innovative policy incentives (such as cash transfer incentives in developing countries), marriage, and women’s reproductive health and rights. This area also includes the study of politically relevant identity groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities groups, low-income individuals, women, and members of LGBTQ* communities,. (Related faculty: Gitterman, Handa, Hemelt, Kreitzer, Moulton, Smith)

Health Policy, Bioethics, and Human Rights

UNC Public Policy research in health policy— domestically and globally—includes a focus on mental health and substance abuse; maternal, reproductive, and infant health; AIDS and infectious disease control; environmental health; health insurance and managed care; and biomedical and behavioral research. Much of this research is focused on improving health behaviors and outcomes, reducing health inequalities, understanding the economic and institutional basis of effective policies, and exploring ethical and rights-based approaches to health. (Related faculty: Durrance, Gitterman, Handa, Kreitzer, MacKay, Meier)

International Development Policy

UNC Public Policy research in this area explores the interplay between economics, politics, and human rights approaches in shaping development policy. Specific topics include: the household and community determinants of human capital investment; the impact of social programs and policies on poverty and human development; household barriers to labor market participation; drivers of civil conflict; corruption; natural resource governance; poverty and environment trade-offs and synergies; energy poverty; aid accountability; public opinion regarding foreign direct investment; the human right to health. (Relevant faculty: Handa, Jagger, Meier, Sullivan, Zimmerman)

Global Conflict and Cooperation

 UNC Public Policy research in this area includes challenges where the causes and consequences extend beyond the borders of any one country. Faculty study how effectively national governments, transnational organizations, and the institutions of global governance respond to these global issues. Specific areas of expertise include the impact of international/regional economic integration on labor standards; the effects of foreign economic and military aid; external interventions into domestic armed conflicts; how international law affects public health; international accountability and anti-corruption efforts; and international cooperation to address critical environmental issues. (Relevant faculty: Gitterman; Meier, Sullivan, Zimmerman)


The Philip and Jane Hammer Fund for the Enrichment of the PhD Curriculum in Public Policy was established in 1991 by Jane R. Hammer. The fund aides in the recruitment and support of exceptional graduate students in the PhD program in public policy.  Click here for further information.