Social Policymaking and Policy Implementation Curriculum

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The Graduate Program in Human Development and Social Policy

School of Education and Social Policy

2120 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/491-4329


Social Policymaking and Policy Implementation Curriculum


Course work in the Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) doctoral program includes a core curriculum and electives. To obtain a PhD, students entering without a master's degree must complete 27 courses while students entering with a master's degree must complete 18 courses. All students complete a trial research and an annotated course outline. There are no qualifying examinations. Instead, successful completion of the trial research and course outline admit a student to PhD candidacy. Doctoral candidates are also required to serve as teaching assistants for two quarters. The last requirement for the degree is completion of a dissertation.

Core Pillars

Three essential themes undergird the HDSP program as core pillars: human development, social policy and research methodology. Courses in the core curriculum and elective courses offer in-depth learning opportunities in these three areas. 

Human Development and Social Policy Integration Courses

HDSP 401 - Proseminar in Human Development and Social Policy

This course aims to introduce graduate students to core theoretical and empirical work in human development and social policy. It is designed to offer first-year students in the doctoral program in Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) an in-depth overview of the intellectual foundations of the program and introduce students to the programs of research of HDSP faculty. HDSP focuses on lifespan development and the life course from multiple perspectives, emphasizing the influence of historical periods, the timing of events, changing roles, and how individuals shape their own pathways in addition to being influenced by individuals around them, by social institutions and by public policy. HDSP is a multidisciplinary program bringing to bear anthropology, biology, education, economics, political science, psychobiology, psychology, social epidemiology, sociology and other disciplines to understand human development and policy. HDSP focuses on those contexts that are essential in shaping life trajectories and opportunities-families, neighborhoods, schools, the workplace, and the realm of local, state, federal, and international policies. Students will examine the entailments of using human development and social policy frameworks to examine social phenomena. They will also consider what makes a human development and social policy framework unique in the study of key social policy issues. Students will also consider the core disciplinary perspectives that inform research in HDSP. Each week students will consider the entailments of a particular disciplinary perspective (e.g., economics, sociology) in framing research in human development and social policy. A central part of this work will involve discussing with core HDSP faculty their research as framed from a particular disciplinary perspective. Our goal in this class is to develop students' ability to think about pressing social issues (e.g., inequality) from a multidisciplinary perspective that attends both to human development and social policy.

HDSP 451 - Research Design

In addition, a core set of classes in the three areas is required of all students and consists of the following courses:

Foundations of Human Development

Students must take at least three courses from the list below. One of the courses must be a developmental stages course (indicated by a *):

HDSP 402 - Child Development*

Research and policy aimed at the goal of improving children's lives require an in-depth understanding of how and why children develop the way they do. This course is designed to provide an intensive overview of the science of child development, with an emphasis on young children. A broad range of theoretical perspectives from a variety of fields will be emphasized. Students will come away with an understanding of the key factors in healthy child development, defined to include socioemotional, cognitive and physical well-being. In addition, we will apply the scientific knowledge of child development to several major policy and programmatic issues, such as early childhood education, antipoverty programs, marriage promotion and health disparities. This course also highlights the role of context: family, peers, child care, school, employment, neighborhood and policy environments. Ethical considerations as well as measurement (i.e., the tools of the science) will be stressed. In addition, a multidisciplinary perspective is a central theme.

HDSP 403 - Adolescent Development*

Biological, cognitive and social development during adolescence. Social institutions and policies that affect the well-being of adolescents.

HDSP 404 - Adult Development and Aging*

This graduate seminar aims to introduce students to the core substantive issues and key social science authors in the interdisciplinary study of adult development and aging, drawing mainly from the disciplines of human development, psychology, sociology, education and the cognitive sciences. The course will focus on the substantive issues of (1) personality and self, (2) cognition and learning, (3) generativity and social commitment, (4) love and family, and (5) work and retirement. Across these five domains, we will pay careful attention to the dynamics of continuity and change across the life course and the socio-historical context within which developing lives are situated.

HDSP 406/PSYCH 404 - Diversity Science in Psychology


HDSP 415 -   Society, Stress and Development:  Implications for Intervention

Note: A previous version of this class was taught under the name  "Nature Vs. Nurture Rrevisited:  The Effects of Experience on Biology". Recent research has demonstrated that, rather than human biology determining human behavior and experience, human biological development is exquisitely sensitive to environmental input, particularly the social environment. In this course, we will discuss theoretical models and data regarding the interplay between biology and social experience in development. Topics include gene-environment correlations, gene-environment interactions, epigenetics, and theoretical models for the interplay between biological systems and ecological conditions. We will learn some basic facts about brain development, stress physiology, and immune functioning, and will examine social-environmental influences on these systems. Special emphasis is placed on the social influences on stress-system biology, a major pathway by which socio-emotional experience affects the body, brain and developmental outcomes.

HDSP 451 -   Culture and Development

HDSP 451 -   Emotional Mysteries

HDSP/PSYCH 482 -   Methods in Social Psychology

Foundations in Empirical Research Methods

* Students must take all five classes:

HDSP 410 - Quantitative Methods I: Probability and Statistics

This course serves as an introduction to the quantitative methods sequence and will cover applied statistical methods. The course will provide useful tools for students who intend to conduct their own statistical analyses, as well as those who want to become critical consumers of others' analyses. Topics to be covered include descriptive measures; basic probability; sampling and sample size estimation; hypothesis testing; techniques for analyzing categorical data; ANOVA; presenting and describing statistical results.

HDSP 411 - Quantitative Methods II: Regression Analysis

This course is intended to be a continuation of the quantitative methods sequence that begins with Quantitative Methods I. The course will cover applied statistical methods and will provide useful tools for students who intend to conduct their own statistical analyses, as well as those who want to become critical consumers of others' analyses. Topics to be covered include the use of data for descriptive and causal analyses, linear regression, experimental design, panel data methods, hierarchical linear models and instrumental variables.

HDSP 412 - Quantitative Methods III: Empirical Tools for Causal Quantitative Analysis

This course provides an introduction to many of the important tools of estimating causal models, including experimental analysis, difference-in-difference, regression discontinuity designs, propensity score matching, event study, interrupted time series and other regression-based models. Emphasis is placed on understanding the rationales behind the empirical techniques chosen and the interpretation of the analysis. Students develop hands-on technical skills as well as critical research-reading skills in this course.

HDSP 432 - Field Methods

This course is designed to introduce students to qualitative research, including fieldwork, document analysis and interviewing. Students will explore qualitative research approaches by undertaking their own research study as well as reading and discussing relevant writing on the subject. The readings, topics for discussion and assignments in this course center on three areas: (1) the epistemological underpinnings of approaches to qualitative research, (2) the practice of qualitative inquiry; students will explore sampling strategies, research design, observation and interview techniques, and approaches to data analysis and data presentation, and (3) other key issues that researchers encounter in doing qualitative research, including ethics and social relationships in the context of fieldwork.

HDSP 435 - Advanced Qualitative Methods

This course in advanced qualitative research is designed for students who have taken an introductory graduate course in qualitative research methods and are in the process of analyzing qualitative data for their trial research, dissertation, or some other research project. The course will focus chiefly on: a) Analyzing qualitative data to develop and justify assertions, b) Epistemological underpinnings of various qualitative approaches and c) Issues of reliability, validity, and making generalizations. The course will be conducted as a seminar with class work organized around prescribed readings on a particular issue as well as data and other materials from researchers' and students' qualitative studies.

Foundations of Social Policy

Students must take three courses from the following:

HDSP 430 - Economics of Social Policy

This course introduces students to the fundamentals of economic analysis in the evaluation of education and social policy. Each week the class concentrates on a different important public policy question and then uses economic reasoning to explain the economic rationales for policies as well as the potential consequences, expected and unexpected, of the policy. The policy questions considered depend on what issues are currently being publicly debated. Economic concepts covered include constrained choice, market forces and price theory, market failures (such as externalities/spillovers and public goods), and welfare analysis.  


HDSP 426 - Topics: Organizations, Institutions and Society: Persistence and Change Among Public, Private and Non-Profit Sectors

This graduate seminar will introduce theories of institutional persistence and change in the context of public, private and nonprofit settings. The course is organized as a seminar and will blend foundational studies in institutional theory with contemporary work from sociology, organization sciences, education and nonprofit studies. An overarching theme of the course addresses how new practices and organizational forms spread (diffusion), how they stick (institutionalization) and how they take the form that they do (emergence). Topics covered will include accountability and performance, organizational learning, contemporary debates about social mechanisms, and micro-foundations of institutional theory. Ideally, this course will provide a platform for students to develop and advance their own research projects, in the form of a research proposal for beginning doctoral students or an empirical analysis for more advanced students.

HDSP 428 - Educational Policy: Design, Implementation and Effects

School reform has become a regular fixture in public, professional and academic deliberations about our nation's schools. In the past couple of decades, educational reform proposals have grown significantly as both state and federal governments have become increasingly interested in developing education policies. This course will provide students with an introduction to key issues in K-12 educational policy. The course is designed to develop students' abilities to examine, analyze and critique education policies, education policy-making, and education policy implementation. Further, students will develop an appreciation for issues relating to policy effects. Given the vastness of the terrain, the course will be grounded in three education policy/reform initiatives that have gained considerable currency over the past decade: (1) standards and accountability, (2) teacher quality and (3) school choice related to vouchers and charter schools.

HDSP 427 - Sociology of Education

How does educational research affect social policy? This course examines theories of the relationship between schools and society, research on educational outcomes and the mechanisms by which schooling accomplishes these outcomes, and policy responses to research findings. How does social research clarify the operation of schooling and policy options? What kinds of research are most useful to policy? How can qualitative and quantitative studies be designed to address theoretical and policy concerns? How can studies of institutions be integrated with studies using national surveys?

HDSP 442 - Social Policymaking and Implementation

Electives in Human Development and Social Policy

In consultation with their advisor, students may select elective coursework from the foundational offerings discussed above, elective coursework listed below, and graduate coursework in other departments.

Relevant Course Work in Other Departments

  • ECON 425 - Theory of Economic Development
  • ECON 440 - Economics of the Labor Market
  • PSYCH 405 - Psychometric Theory
  • PSYCH 470 - Special Topics in Psychobiology: Social, Cultural and Affective Neuroscience
  • PSYCH 486 - Stereotyping and Prejudice: Graduate Seminar
  • PSYCH 492 - Advanced Topics in Cognitive Development: (Folk)biological Concepts and Reasoning
  • STAT 325 - Survey Sampling
  • STAT 359 - Topics in Statistics: Hierarchical Linear Methods
  • SOC 401 - Data Analysis
  • Learning Sciences courses

Contact Us

The Graduate Program in Human Development and Social Policy

School of Education and Social Policy

2120 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208
Northwestern University

Phone: 847/491-4329