American Government – Certificate Course


This lifelong-learning course covers policy, theoretical and philosophical foundations, and the structure of American Government. To earn a Certificate of Completion for this course, you must complete all of the content in the course lessons, as well as earn a passing grade of at least 80% on each of the 13 module quizzes.  This course is not eligible for college credit. Click here if you are interested in our college credit course. 

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American Government

This course covers policy, theoretical and philosophical foundations, and the structure of American Government.

This is a self-paced online course. It contains 13 modules, each with multiple lessons that support varied approaches to help a student learn and engage with the topic, including readings, video, and a knowledge-check quiz.

To earn a Certificate of Completion for this course, you must compete all of the content in the course lessons, as well as earn a passing grade of at least 80% on each of the 13 module quizzes.

Course Outcomes

This course focuses on the following learning outcomes. By the end of the course you will be able to:

  • Evaluate and apply the foundations of American Government to every day life and scenarios; including interpretations of the constitution and civil liberties/rights.
  • Evaluate and explain the structure of American politics including public policy and the role of state and local governments.
  • Explain and compare the three branches of American Government and how they interact in the development, enforcement, and interpretation of legislation.
  • Analyze and compare international and national policy as well as the different types of government and economic systems around the globe.

Technology Requirements

This course is delivered fully online and you will be required to have access to a computer, laptop, or web-capable mobile device – along with consistent access to the internet – to access course material and complete assignments.

Review the information below to ensure your system meets the minimum requirements necessary to complete a course for credit.  

PC Requirements


  • Intel Core 2 Duo (or AMD 64×2 Dual-Core) processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 80 GB hard drive
  • 1024×768 resolution monitor
  • Soundcard with microphone and speakers
  • Built-in or external webcam
  • Broadband internet connection with speeds of  at least 2 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload. Hot spots are not recommended. Test internet speed at:
  • Browser with pop-up blocker disabled


  • Windows 7 or above

Macintosh Requirements


  • Intel Core 2 Duo (or AMD 64×2 Dual-Core) processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 80 GB hard drive
  • 1024×768 resolution monitor
  • Soundcard with microphone and speakers
  • Built-in or external webcam
  • Broadband internet connection with speeds of  at least 2 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload. Hot spots are not recommended. Test internet speed at:
  • Browser with pop-up blocker disabled


  • Mac OS 10.6 “Snow Leopard” or above

Tablet or Smartphone

NOTICE:  Though you can view and interact with all of the available course content on a tablet or smartphone, you MUST USE A DESKTOP OR LAPTOP computer to complete the proctored midterm and final examinations.


  • 2 GHz process or faster
  • 1 GB RAM or greater
  • 80 GB hard drive
  • Microphone and speakers
  • Wireless internet connection

Course Outline


Module 1 – What is Government?

Theories, States, and Characteristics of Governments

  • The Four Theories of Government
  • A Social Contract
  • Classifying Governments
  • Who Participates
  • Where is Government Power Located?
  • The Legislative-Executive Relationship

Purpose and Process of Government

  • Elite Theory
  • Pluralist Theory
  • Hyperpluralist Theory
  • The Tradeoffs Perspective
  • Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton

Foundational Democratic Principal

  • Pathways to Engagement
  • From the People to the Policy
  • Give it to the People

U.S. Democratic Values

  • Impacts on Political Activity
  • Liberty and Equality
  • The Influence of the Enlightenment
  • Two Kinds of Balance
  • Things That Matter

Module 2 – The Constitution

Limiting Government

  • Political Thought in the American Colonies
  • Colonial Governments
  • Trade and Taxation
  • Religious Freedom

Independence and the Articles of Confederation

  • The American Revolution
  • The Articles of Confederation

The Constitutional Convention

  • Points Of Contention
  • Federal Supremacy vs. State Sovereignty
  • Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
  • Federal Power vs. State Power
  • The Question of Representation: Small States vs. Large States
  • Slavery and Freedom
  • Compromise and the Constitutional Design of American Government
  • The Great Compromise
  • The Three-Fifths Compromise and the Debates over Slavery
  • The Commerce and Trade Compromise

Ratification of the Constitution

  • The Ratification Process
  • The Federalist Papers

The Constitutional Amendments

  • Key Constitutional Changes
  • The Bill of “Liberties”
  • The Amendment Process

Module 3 – Federalism and Constitutional Interpretation

The Founders and Federalism

  • Federalism – Defined
  • Federalism – Purpose
  • McCulloch v. Maryland
  • Nullification and the Civil War: 1830s – 1860
  • Dred Scott v. Sandford
  • The Beauty and Complexity of the Social Contract

Creating Federalism

  • Dual Federalism: 1870 – 1933
  • Cooperative Federalism
  • The History: 1789 – 1968
  • The Present: 1968 – 2001
  • Swinging Back: 2001 – Present
  • Baking The Cake Of Federalism

Constitution Interpretation

  • Federalist
  • Anti-Federalist
  • Hamilton/Adams
  • Jefferson/Madison
  • Liberal Constructionists
  • Strict Constructionists
  • Change in political party ideologies
  • Governmental Powers

Module 4 – Civil Liberties and Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Movement

  • Ratification
  • The Little Rock Nine
  • Fight for your Rights

The 14th Amendment and the Expansion of Civil Rights

  • The Struggle for Gender Equality
  • Women’s Rights 1920-1960
  • The Second Wave
  • The ERA – A Study in Complexity and the Unexpected
  • Continuing Challenges for Women
  • Modern Civil Rights Movement
  • The Congressional Power to Enforce Desegregation
  • Equal Rights for All Americans

Traditional Civil Rights

  • Defining Civil Rights
  • Identifying Discrimination
  • Identifying Civil Rights Issues
  • Affirmative Action: Vital for Equality or Outdated Entitlement?
  • Controlling the Results by Controlling the Vote and the Choices

Civil Rights in the New World

  • Hispanic and Latino Civil Rights
  • Asian American Civil Rights
  • Non-Ethnic/Racial Groups Civil Rights
  • Obergefell
  • Japanese Internment and Korematsu

Module 5 – American Politics

Political Ideologies and Political Culture

  • The Left and the Right
  • Liberal or Conservative
  • Ideologies and the Ideological Spectrum
  • Alexis de Tocqueville
  • The American View
  • Scandals and Voter Apathy

Political Socialization and the Creation of Political Beliefs

  • Public Opinion?
  • Political Socialization
  • Political Attitudes/Behavior

Measuring Public Opinion

  • History And Variety In Polling
  • Goals of Polling And Steps Taken To Reach These Goals
  • Determining Validity
  • George Gallup – the Founder of Modern Polling
  • Elements of a Valid Poll
  • Waffling or the Will of the People
  • Margin of Error

Involvement in Government

  • Direct Democracy v. Indirect Democracy
  • Direct Democracy Defined
  • Referendum
  • Initiative
  • Recall
  • Political Participation
  • Who Participates and Why?
  • Declining Voter Turnout


  • Registration
  • General Eligibility Requirements
  • Expansion of Suffrage
  • Innovative and Modern Ways to Expand Voter Registration
  • VRA Unconstitutional
  • Counting Voters
  • Voting-age Population (VAP)
  • Voting-Eligible Population (VEP)
  • Registered Voters (RV)

Module 6 – Public Policy

Political Parties

  • The Party-in-the-electorate
  • The Party Organization
  • National Party Organization
  • The Party-in-government
  • Roles of Political Parties
  • Why a Two-Party System?
  • What is Party Polarization?

Campaigns and Elections

  • Nomination Stage
  • Convention Season
  • General Elections And Election Day
  • How To Win An Election For Dummies
  • Presidential Campaigns
  • Primaries from the Campaign Perspective
  • Conventions from the Campaign Perspective
  • The General Election – from the Campaign Perspective

Special Interest Groups

  • Why Join a SIG
  • What Gives a SIG Power and Influence
  • Free Rider Issue
  • Types of Interest Groups
  • How Interest Groups Work
  • What is a SIG?

The Media and Politics

  • Media Basics
  • The Political Influence of the Media
  • Early Print Media

The Internet and Politics

  • New Media Trends
  • The First Social Media Candidate
  • The Impact of Social Media
  • The “Citizen Journalist” – Everyman With A Camera
  • Soft News Shows for the Generation X and Millennial
  • The Evolution of Internet Politics
  • The Power and Capabilities of the Internet
  • The Downside of the Internet

Module 7 – Congress

Changes in Congressional Power

  • Congressional Powers
  • Expressed Powers
  • Implied Powers
  • The Inherent Powers
  • Constitutional Powers
  • Important Constitutional Differences Between the House and the Senate
  • Evolutionary Powers

Congressional Leadership

  • Party Leadership
  • Leadership in the House
  • Leadership in the Senate
  • House Leadership
  • Senate Leadership
  • Partisanship

Congressional Representation

  • Senate Representation and House Appointment
  • Racial Gerrymandering and the Paradox of Minority Representation

Congressional Committees

  • Congress In Committee
  • Types of Committees
  • Committee Assignments

Congressional Membership

  • Descriptive Representation In Congress
  • Constituent Representation
  • Collective Representation
  • Congressional Approval
  • The Qualifications May Be Different, But Incumbents Win, Regardless

How a Bill Becomes a Law

  • The Classic Legislative Process
  • Modern Legislation Is Different
  • Creating Legislation

Module 8 – The Expansion of Power

Becoming President

  • The Electoral College
  • Problems in the Presidential System
  • The Twelfth Amendment
  • Formal Qualifications
  • Informal Qualifications

The Job of a U.S. President

  • The Four Powers of the President
  • The Eight “Chief” Roles of the President
  • Presidential Succession

The Evolution of the Presidency

  • Building on Washington’s pattern
  • The Growth of War Powers
  • The Growth of Executive Powers and Executive Privilege
  • The Growth of Executive Orders
  • The Growth of Budgetary Controls
  • The Growth of Executive Responsibilities
  • Unity of the Presidency
  • Growth of Executive Powers and Responsibilities
  • Unique Ability To Use Mass Media and Social Media
  • The Ability to Take Military Action
  • The Coming of the Imperial Presidency

Presidential Character

  • Uncontrollable Circumstances
  • Political Time
  • Lasting Legacies
  • Barber’s Research
  • Rating the Presidents

All the President’s Men and Women

  • The Cabinet
  • The Executive Office
  • The White House Office
  • Unseen – Unknown – Underestimated
  • A New Role For The First Lady?

Module 9 – The Bureaucracy

The Evolution and Expansion of the Bureaucracy

  • The Origins Of The U.S. Bureaucracy
  • Patronage
  • The Pendleton Act
  • Growth in the 20th Century
  • Max Weber’s Bureaucracy
  • What Does A Bureaucracy Do?
  • Almost All Organizations Include Bureaucracy

The Organization of the Bureaucracy

  • Merit-based Selection
  • The Cabinet Departments
  • Government Corporations
  • Independent Agencies
  • Regulatory Agencies

The Models of Bureaucracy and Bureaucrats

  • Models Of Bureaucracy
  • The Weberian Model
  • The Acquisitive Model
  • The Monopolistic Model
  • Surprising Facts
  • What Do Bureaucrats Do?

Reforming the Bureaucracy

  • Government Privatization
  • The Rhetoric and the Process
  • Whistle Blowing
  • The Merit System and the Hatch Act
  • Requiring Accountability
  • Cutting “Red Tape”

Module 10 – The Judiciary

Creation of the Federal Courts

  • From The Outhouse To The Penthouse
  • Marshall Marshals the Court
  • Marbury v. Madison (1803)
  • The Writ Stuff
  • The Supreme Court Gets the Final Word

Structure of the Federal Courts

  • The Three Tiers Of Federal Courts
  • Courts of Appeals
  • Constitutional Courts
  • Legislative Courts
  • The Judicial Circuits
  • District Courts and Courts of Appeals
  • Courts of Appeal

The Supreme Court

  • Judicial Opinions
  • Influences On The Court
  • The Power of Choice
  • Hearing and Deciding a Case
  • Announcing and Implementing a Decision

Judges and Justices

  • Supreme Court
  • The Nomination Process
  • Selection Criteria

Power of the Federal Courts

  • The Power of the Courts
  • Checks on Judicial Power
  • The Power of the Courts
  • Judicial Activism versus Judicial Restraint

Module 11 – Policy: National and International

U.S. Foreign Policy

  • A Superpower In A New World
  • New Challenges, New Enemies?
  • Foreign Policy Goals
  • Who Makes Foreign Policy?
  • President and Executive Offices

U.S. Foreign and Defense Policies

  • Broadly Focused Foreign Policy Outputs
  • Public Laws
  • Agreements
  • Sharply Focused Foreign Policy Outputs
  • Who Makes Defense Policy?
  • Threats to National Security

Economic Policy

  • Approaches To The Economy
  • Mandatory Spending Vs. Discretionary Spending
  • Deficit
  • Tax Policy
  • Monetary Policy
  • Fiscal Policy

Public Policy

  • Classic Types Of Policy
  • Distributive Policy
  • Regulatory Policy – History
  • Redistributive Policy
  • Social Policy
  • Categories of Regulatory Policy

Module 12 – Governments, Taxation, and Education

State and Local Governments

  • Governors In Charge
  • The Functions Of State Legislatures
  • The Composition Of State Legislatures
  • County Government
  • City Government

State and Local Taxation

  • Expenses
  • Income
  • The Power to Tax

Funding Education

  • Who Pays for Public Education
  • How Do We Improve Education
  • Issues Affecting Student Success

Module 13 – Comparative Political and Economic Systems

Comparative Government

  • Purposes of Political Systems
  • Purposes of Economic Systems
  • Democracies
  • Dictatorships

Comparing Economic Systems

  • Economic Systems
  • Regulations
  • Capitalism
  • Communism
  • Socialism


  • Globalization
  • Independent Governments
  • The Rise of Globalization in Economics

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      The grade for these courses is based upon:

      • Participation and completion of each lesson = 10% of the final grade
      • Graded module quizzes = 15% of the final grade
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      • Graded proctored final examination = 25% of the final grade
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      • Complete each lesson, including the Check Your Knowledge activity.
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      Participants will not be required to complete or have access to evidence activities, mid-term or final examinations.

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