College of the Liberal Arts launches Master of Public Policy program

Lilliard Richardson joins faculty as inaugural program director; Christopher Witko also joins public policy faculty

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — People know more about the planet and themselves today than they have at any time in recorded history. Yet, even equipped with all this knowledge, we still find ourselves gridlocked when trying to resolve society’s most pressing problems.

Whether it be fixing inadequate airports, bridges and other infrastructure; protecting cities from floods, hurricanes and other environmental disasters; or ensuring that more Americans have access to health care, leading research institutions such as Penn State have an obligation to help close the gap between what we know and what we do — which is what prompted the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts to launch a new two-year, on-campus Master of Public Policy (MPP) program. Just as an MBA provides individuals with the economic, financial and management skills to analyze business problems, the MPP program will equip students with the economic, analytic, ethics and management skills needed to address the world's most complex public and social issues.

“The college’s new Master of Public Policy program will bolster Penn State’s status as a university that’s at the forefront of solving our nation and world’s most vexing challenges,” said Susan Welch, dean of the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts. “The program will draw upon the college’s interdisciplinary breadth and on partnerships with other colleges at University Park to provide students with analytical, leadership and substantive skills to tackle some of the toughest problems facing society today — everything from crime to health.

“The program will help link together the University’s strategic imperatives focused on solving many world problems," said Welch. "It will also prepare the policy graduates for careers in public service and related occupations, such as those with think tanks, consulting firms, non-profit organizations and private sector organizations that need policy specialists to create and analyze substantive public policies and to lobby for them.”

The MPP is being designed to meet the accreditation standards of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, which accredits the leading national public policy programs. The College of the Liberal Arts will offer the core program curriculum and will partner with other colleges to develop areas of specialization such as criminal justice; health, labor and employment relation energy and the environment; children and families; and science and technology. Ethics components will be incorporated into the curriculum and may be offered as a subspecialty.

Although the college officially launched the program on July 1, Penn State will not welcome its first group of up to 30 MPP students until the fall 2019 semester. Doing so gives the college time to recruit faculty and students, develop internships, and promote the program.

Lilliard Richardson, formerly the executive associate dean for the Indianapolis Campus of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, joined the Penn State faculty as professor of public policy and political science and the inaugural director of the Penn State Public Policy Program on July 1. Richardson received his doctorate in government from the University of Texas and his bachelor's degree in international studies from Missouri State University. A noted scholar in health policy, state politics, policy analysis, traffic safety policy and research methods, he is also a past president of the State Politics and Policy Section of the American Political Association and has served on several editorial boards. Richardson held a Fulbright Fellowship in Belgium; he also has taught in China, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

“It is exciting to build a public policy program at one of America’s great universities,” Richardson said. “Students will be able to draw on the depth and breadth of policy expertise across campus while gaining the skills and knowledge to make a difference in addressing our greatest policy challenges.”

Christopher Witko, formerly director of the Master of Public Administration program at the University of South Carolina, also joined the faculty as professor of public policy and political science on July 1. Witko’s research focuses on how policy shapes and responds to socio-economic inequalities; state budgeting; the effects of school reform on students and communities; and how organized interests influence public policy. Witko previously was on the faculty at Saint Louis University and California State University, Sacramento and has taught abroad in Spain and Korea; he also was a transportation analyst in the New York State Senate and implemented youth job and training programs for the Suffolk County (New York) Department of Labor. Witko earned his doctorate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; his master’s degree from SUNY-Albany; and his bachelor’s degree from SUNY-Plattsburgh.

“It is a thrill to be a part of the public policy program at this very exciting time,” Witko said.  “As the demand for evidence-based policy solutions continues to expand, so too will the demand for people with policy knowledge and skills. By offering a strong core and partnering with Penn State’s many outstanding programs in the College of the Liberal Arts and beyond, we will be able to provide our MPP students with the skills needed to go out into the world and have a positive impact on their communities.”

To learn more about the program, please contact Richardson at or Witko at

Last Updated September 17, 2018