University of Southern California

Price School of Public Policy

Graduate Degrees

Master of Planning

The planning of cities is as old as urban civilization. The contemporary planning profession has expanded to include a broad range of applications that draws upon emphases of foresight, common good and interconnections of elements in human settlements. Planners are engaged in evaluating and guiding community and urban development at geographic scales, ranging from the local American neighborhood to the global village utilizing the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

Planners play an increasingly important role in managing the pressing problems and competing demands of change and growth in shaping a better future. The Master of Planning (MPl) curriculum reflects this forward-looking and constantly evolving role.

The MPl curriculum provides a core of knowledge underlying the key forms and applications of planning. This core sets the foundation for a wide choice of specific careers in the field and extends the relevance and value of graduate education over an extended period of time. A goal of the MPl curriculum is to prepare planners to practice anywhere in the world.

The Planning Accreditation Board of the American Planning Association and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning accredit the MPl program.

All persons pursuing the MPl will complete core courses which present basic theories, techniques and methods.

Concentrations are available in five broad areas: economic development; preservation and design of the built environment; social and community planning; sustainable land use planning; and transportation and infrastructure planning. After students register, the faculty will suggest specializations that allow students to focus their concentrations even further or span planning more broadly.

A concentration in any of these areas qualifies graduates for a wide range of private, public and nonprofit sector careers with government agencies, consulting firms, corporations, utilities, international technical assistance programs, nonprofit and special interest organizations and joint public-private ventures.

Curriculum Requirements

The program of study for this professional graduate degree requires completion of 48 units, including 16 units of core curriculum, 8 units of planning studios, 4 units of methodology related to the student’s concentration, a required concentration gateway course and 16 units of electives, including two additional courses related to a student’s concentration. A comprehensive examination and an approved non-credit internship are also required. The degree may be pursued on either a full-time or part-time basis.

Statistics Prerequisite

A basic competence in descriptive and inferential statistics is required. This prerequisite may be fulfilled by successfully completing PPD 525 or by having completed a previous course (within five years) with a grade of B or higher (A = 4.0).

core curriculum (eight lecture-seminar courses): Units
PPD 500 Intersectoral Leadership 2
PPD 501a Economics for Policy, Planning and Development 2
PPD 524 Planning Theory 2
PPD 525 Statistics and Arguing from Data 2
PPD 526 Comparative International Development 2
PPD 527 The Social Context of Planning 2
PPD 529 Legal Environment of Planning 2
PPD 533 Planning History and Urban Form 2

Note: 2-unit courses may be offered in seven-and-ahalf week blocks.

Planning Studios

Planning studios are an integral part of the curriculum of the Price School of Public Policy, providing the essential educational link between academic education and preparation for professional practice. The planning studios require that students learn to work together as a team by applying their respective capabilities and knowledge to a real-world common problem and to produce a professional project. Students must complete 8 units of domestic or international planning studios under PPD 531L (4) to satisfy this requirement. A maximum of 12 units may be taken.

Local agencies, communities and firms often sponsor planning studios to obtain research and analysis. Community groups seek assistance as a means of informing themselves more thoroughly on community problems and issues or for obtaining planning analysis otherwise unavailable to them. The products of planning studios are usually in the form of policy recommendations, a suggested plan or alternative plans, databases, background information, base maps, or any one of many specific contributions.

MPl planning studios can either be situated in the United States or around the world. Past courses have examined the tragedy around Katrina in New Orleans, developed economic development plans for local Southern California cities, and studied changing public spaces in Germany.

Price International Laboratories (PPD 613ab) can be taken as an elective in the MPl program. The program strongly encourages students to enroll in one laboratory during their course of study. In recent years, Price lab courses have been offered in China, Brazil and England.

Concentrations (16 units)

Students must declare their concentration during the fall semester prior to taking the comprehensive examination in the spring semester. Students are required to complete the gateway course and methodology course related to their concentration as part of their preparation for their comprehensive examination. The student’s concentration must contain a 4-unit methodology course, a 4-unit gateway course and 8 other units. At least 12 of these units must be selected from Price School curriculum. Courses outside the Price School should be selected by the student with the approval of an academic adviser and must be directly concerned with the subject matter of the concentration.

After students register, the faculty will provide them with a series of specializations they may take in association with the concentrations. These specializations are not required; they are provided as guidance for students interested in these subject areas. The specializations vary. Some suggest ways that students can more deeply study a single area within planning, while others provide a broad overview of planning and policy issues. The specializations draw upon courses within the MPl program, the Price School sister programs and courses from other USC units.

Economic Development is the basis for prosperous community development. Job creation and the development of service or employment sites are the core of economic development. At a higher geographical scale, development of regional economies provides a focus for planning in an international context. Suggested courses for students selecting this concentration include PPD 622, PPD 624, PPD 625, PPD 626, RED 509 and RED 542.

Preservation and Design of the Built Environment addresses the architecture of the city, viewed not as a series of individual buildings, but as a set of visual and functional connections between buildings on a street front or in a district. In contemporary settings, planning and construction do not begin with a blank slate. Rather, new structures are inserted into an existing built environment, which must be respected for its historical heritage and its contributions to the new. Students in this concentration are encouraged to draw from courses related to landscape architecture and historic preservation in the School of Architecture. Suggested courses for students selecting this concentration include PPD 530, PPD 615, PPD 618, PPD 619, PPD 623, PPD 631 and PPD 692.

Social and Community Planning gives specific attention to the changing needs of neighborhood residents and to the ways in which different planning policies, programs and activities contribute to resident well-being. Community planning is a process of organizational change that links residents and services to produce communities that are safe, healthy and socially connected. Achieving these goals demands that residents actively advocate for their communities. Suggested courses for students selecting this concentration include PPD 606, PPD 617, PPD 618, PPD 619, PPD 620, PPD 621, PPD 686 and PPD 690.

Sustainable Land Use Planning centers on community land use planning set in the context of regional growth or decline. The planning process involves forecasting transportation means, population growth and housing needs, together with providing comprehensive planning to accommodate that growth in a way that preserves and enhances local quality of life. Envisioning better futures, livability, environmental protection accessibility, mobility and affordable housing production are all part of smart growth strategies for sustainable regional growth. Suggested courses for students selecting this concentration include PLUS 611, PPD 615, PPD 618, PPD 620, PPD 621, PPD 627, PPD 631, PPD 692 and PPD 694.

Transportation and Infrastructure Planning is the combination of vital functions that determine the efficiency and productivity of a city. Issues of access and mobility of urban residents must be addressed. Circulation of workers from home to workplace, and of residents to shopping and services, are fundamental determinants of land use and urban form. Students in this concentration acquire mastery of the basics of transportation analysis, with emphasis on analysis of different policies that serve transportation and infrastructure needs within urban areas. Suggested courses for students selecting this concentration include PPD 557, PPD 588, PPD 589, PPD 621, PPD 630, PPD 631, PPD 635 and PPD 692.

Concentration Gateway Courses

Students are required to complete their gateway course prior to participating in the comprehensive examination. The following courses are required for their concentration:

Economic Development: PPD 639 Introduction to Community and Economic Development

Preservation and Design of the Built Environment: PPD 644 Shaping the Built Environment

Social and Community Planning: PPD 628 Urban Planning and Social Policy

Sustainable Land Use Planning: PPD 619 Smart Growth and Urban Sprawl: Policy Debates and Planning Solutions

Transportation and Infrastructure Planning: PPD 634 Institutional and Policy Issues in Transportation

Concentration Methodology Courses

Students are required to complete one methodology course related to their concentration. Students are encouraged to complete a second methodology course among their electives. The following courses are required for their concentration:

Economic Development: PPD 625 Planning and Economic Development Finance

Preservation and Design of the Built Environment: PPD 627 Design Skills for Urban Planners

Social and Community Planning: PPD 616 Participatory Methods in Planning and Policy

Sustainable Land Use Planning: PPD 617 Urban Demography and Growth

Transportation and Infrastructure Planning: PPD 633 Urban Transportation Planning and Management

Comprehensive Examination

Successful completion of a comprehensive examination is required of each student seeking the Master of Planning degree (except for students pursuing the dual degree with either economics or gerontology). Students pursuing the dual degree with real estate development can choose the MPl or MRED examination. The comprehensive examination integrates accumulated lessons of the core courses and planning studios. Students are also expected to utilize material covered in their concentration and electives.

The comprehensive examination is given only in the spring semester of each year. Students usually take the examination in the last semester of their second year. Students must declare their concentration during the fall semester prior to completing the comprehensive examination in the spring semester. They must have completed the gateway and methodology courses in the declared concentration prior to taking the comprehensive examination.

The MPl Program degree committee administers the comprehensive examination. Examinations are graded on a pass/fail basis. Students who fail the examination may take it a second time the next year. The examination may only be repeated once.

Planning Electives

Students are encouraged to select electives related to their course of study. A Price international laboratory course is especially encouraged.


Students working toward the Master of Planning degree must complete an internship of at least 10 weeks duration and 400 hours in an organization engaged in planning or a closely related activity. Students must submit a report to the director of career services describing and evaluating the internship experience. Arrangements must also be made for an evaluative report of the internship by the student’s supervisor submitted directly to the academic adviser. The internship is not for unit credit.

Students often fulfill their internship while working part-time in a planning-related job during their course of study in the program or in the summer between the two academic years. If a student has had equivalent career experience prior to admission to the program, the MPl director may waive the internship requirement on the recommendation of the student’s academic adviser.

The Price Office of Career Services actively works with school alumni and area planning organizations to assist students in obtaining appropriate internships. Numerous internship opportunities are available in the greater Los Angeles area. The student is responsible for securing the internship and fulfilling the requirement.

Directed Research

With the advice of the faculty, a student may elect to enroll in directed research as an elective. Working directly with a faculty member, the student pursues an interest or problem appropriate to the student’s program of study.

The faculty member supervising the student must approve the final product of directed research. The final product may be a written report, article, graphic formulation, physical model, mathematical-statistical analysis, computer output or film — depending on the most appropriate expression of the research undertaken.

General Requirements

Residence and Course Load

The Master of Planning normally requires two academic years of full-time study. Courses are also scheduled to allow completion on a part-time basis.

At least 36 units of graduate-level study must be done in residence at USC. The residency requirement may not be interrupted without prior permission from the Price School of Public Policy. Students accepted into the program with academic deficiencies will require a correspondingly longer time to complete their course work. Students seeking the degree on a part-time basis must take at least one course each semester.

Students must be enrolled at USC for the fall and spring semesters each year until all degree requirements have been met. Students who find it necessary to be excused from a semester of registration must request a leave of absence from the Academic Programs Office by the last day to drop/add courses of the semester in question; such leaves may be granted for up to one year. For additional information refer to USC policies governing continuous enrollment, readmission, and leaves of absence in the Academic Policies section of this catalogue.

Time Limits

All requirements for the Master of Planning must be completed within five calendar years from the beginning of the semester in which the student was admitted to the program. University regulations prohibit the acceptance of credits for courses taken toward the Master of Planning degree more than seven years after the date they were successfully completed.

Grade Point Average Requirement

While enrolled in the program a student must maintain a grade point average of at least a 3.0 for all courses taken toward the degree.

Probation and Disqualification

Any student with a cumulative grade point average below 3.0 for all courses taken in the program will be placed on academic probation. A student whose semester grade point average is below 3.0, but whose cumulative grade point average is 3.0 or higher, will be placed on academic warning.

A student may be disqualified to continue toward a graduate degree if the student has been on academic probation for two consecutive semesters. Whether or not on academic probation or warning, a student may be disqualified at any time from continuing in the program if the dean of the school, after consultation with the faculty, determines that the student is deficient in academic achievement or in another qualification required for the attainment of the Master of Planning degree.

Course Exemptions and Transfer of Credits

Graduate work by transfer may be accepted from approved graduate schools as determined by the USC Articulation Office upon recommendation of the dean of the school. Not more than 12 units of graduate work, with grades of B or better may be transferred for credit to the Master of Planning degree.

The following courses, or their equivalents, cannot normally be transferred for unit credit from other institutions: PPD 500, PPD 501a, PPD 524, PPD 525, PPD 526, PPD 527, PPD 529, PPD 531L, PPD 533, PPD 590, PPD 594ab. Undergraduate work will not be credited for advanced or graduate standing. Students may petition to receive subject credit for these courses; but unit requirements must be met through the completion of additional electives.

Some applicants for admission to the school have been engaged in work in planning, development or closely related activities. Although this experience may have been beneficial to the students involved and may satisfy the internship requirement, it may not be considered equivalent to academic education.