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Public administrators manage the services that make communities work and come together. Often employed by government agencies, public health institutions, service agencies and even school boards, public administrators are in high demand by organizations that provide services to the public. They’re responsible for creating and supporting programs and services, supervising service staff and managing finances and funding for community projects.
The BLS indicates that the field of social and community service management is expected to grow faster than average between 2012 and 2022. Although public servants don’t go into government for the money, Social and Community Service Managers earn a respectable median pay. Those with a master’s degree or higher can expect to earn more.
Confused about your options? Use our guide to affordable public administration degrees. In each section, we detail the coursework you can expect, discuss the differences between titles (MPA vs. MPP, DPA vs. PhD) and outline your potential career opportunities. We also take a close look at the importance of regional, business school and NASPAA accreditation.
The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University offers a Master of Public Service and Administration (MPSA) program that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) through 2021. The school has joined with three TAMU departments (Political Science, Economics and Sociology) to give students the chance to earn their undergraduate degrees in these fields (BA or BS) and their MPSA degree in five years. All Bush School students pay in-state tuition, and the school provides some level of financial support to all admitted students ($1,000 to over $15,000/year). Students can apply for the Robertson Fellows Program, which covers tuition, fees, living expenses, health insurance and funding for educational enrichment opportunities.
The School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark ranked in the Top 30 in six categories including policy analysis and public management/administration in the 2017 U.S. News list of Best Graduate Schools. The school has programs at all levels from bachelor's to Ph.D., including dual degrees such as law and MPA. Several graduate certificates are available, including Leadership of Public Organizations. Students get experience outside the classroom through internships, service learning, study abroad, and applied research. Undergrads perform two-semester internships, and graduate students work with community agencies for capstone research. Rutgers-Camden also has a public administration program wth regular and executive master's degrees.
The School of Government at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) through 2017. Students admitted to the program can to choose focus on one of the following areas: Community and Economic Development, International Relations, Local Government, Public Health, and Nonprofit Management. Minority students can apply for the Diversity in Public Administration Scholarship. In 2013, the school began offering its MPA program online (MPA@UNC). The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) and the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) have partnered with UNC to support its members who wish to pursue the MPA@UNC program by offering $5,000 fellowships.
At UIC, the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs is home to the Department of Public Administration. The department offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) through 2021. There is also an accelerated MPA Program available, with classes scheduled so that full-time students can complete the program in 12 months. Students can choose from the following areas of concentration: Public Management, Financial Management, Information Technology, Survey Methods, Local Government Administration, Non-profit Management, and Information and Performance Management. The department's Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program has three areas of concentration: Public Management and Organizations, Financial Management, and Survey Methods.
Baruch College's School of Public Affairs offers a Master of Public Administration in several program formats, all of which are accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration. The traditional MPA program can be completed on a full or part-time basis, and students can choose a specialization in health care policy, nonprofit management, policy analysis and evaluation, public management, or urban development and sustainability. Non-traditional MPA formats include the Executive MPA, National Urban Fellows MPA and the MS in Nursing Administration/MPA program. The Executive MPA is offered in a cohort model that can be completed in two years by taking Saturday classes. MPA students are eligible for various scholarships ranging from $500 to $3,000, including the Hagedorn Graduate Scholarship.
The Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University Minnesota Twin Cities offers a Bachelor of Arts/Master of Public Policy program (BA/MPP). The school's stand-alone MPP program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Students have the opportunity to earn dual degrees in the following: MPP/MBA (Master of Public Administration), MPP/JD (Juris Doctor), MPP/MSW (Master of Social Work), and MPP/MPH (Master of Public Health). The Humphrey School also offers a Master of Public Affairs (Mid-career MPA) program and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Affairs program. PhD students can specialize in one of the following areas: Public Policy, Urban and Regional Planning, Public and Nonprofit Management, and Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy.
Students attending school at Rutgers University's main campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey can earn bachelor's, master's or doctoral degrees in public policy through its School of Planning and Public Policy. Additionally, through the University's Newark campus, students can enroll in the School of Public Affairs and Administration's bachelor's and master's programs in public administration. The B.S. in Public Policy requires 43-credits of major coursework, with concentrations available in poverty and inequality, health and environment, and public management. The Master of Public Policy is a 48-credit program that offers 13 concentrations, including concentrations in management and nonprofit management. Students at RU's Newark campus can earn a B.A. in Public and Nonprofit Administration and a Master of Public Administration. A global executive online Master of Public Administration is also available.
The Master in Public Administration program at Westfield State is interdisciplinary, shared by departments as diverse as Political Science, Geography and Regional Planning, and Economics and Business Management. MPA seekers choose from three concentrations: Non-Profit Management, Public Management and Criminal Justice Administration, all of which require capstone experiences. Students in the latter may be interested in joining some of the field trips the Criminal Justice Club takes each year.
Appalachian State University's Department of Government and Justice Studies offers a Master of Public Administration program that is one of only 125 programs nationally to receive accreditation from National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. The MPA curriculum requires 21 credit hours of core courses and 21 credit hours in a chosen concentration. Available concentrations include public management; town, city and county management; administration of justice; and not-for-profit management. All students are required to complete at least one internship during the course of their studies, except for students who are already employed in the field of their chosen career. MPA students are eligible for graduate scholarships, including the $5,000 E.R. Lovill Fellowship and the $2,000 Graduate Alumni Scholarship.
In addition to offering a general Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree, the Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at CSU Long Beach also offers an MPA program with an option in public works administration and urban affairs. This program is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). At the current time, certificate programs are available in the following areas: employee-employer relations, public financial management, and public management analysis. Students have the flexibility to choose on-campus, online, hybrid, or weekend courses. As part of the College of Health and Human Services, MPA students with excellent academic standing can apply for a number of scholarships each year with amounts ranging from $500 to $3,500.
Winona State University's Department of Political Science and Public Administration offers a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration, as well as an undergraduate minor in public administration. The B.S. in Public Administration prepares students for professional administrative roles in nonprofit or public institutions through 33 major credits of coursework. The B.S. curriculum includes coursework in American politics, state and local government, public service, constitutional law, administrative law and policy. Students are also required to complete a three-credit public administration internship. The core curriculum of the public administration B.S. meets the competencies outlined by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.
The Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at University at Albany offers a Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy. The M.P.A. is a 49-credit program that requires two years to complete for full-time students. Part-time students are welcome to enter the program, which offers classes in the evening. M.P.A. candidates complete 29 credits in core classes covering public management, analytic methods, and financial management, and choose an area of concentration. Candidates also have an internship or career experience. Ph.D. candidates can concentrate in: Public Management, Public Finance, Organizational Behavior and Theory, Public Policy, or Politics and Administration. The university also grants a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and Management.
Iowa State University's Department of Political Science offers a Master of Arts in Political Science with a concentration in public policy, as well as a Graduate Certificate of Public Management (GCPM). The 30-credit MA in Political Science with a concentration in public policy requires 21 credits in political science, including six credits in a concentration area. The Graduate Certificate of Public Management is a 15-credit program that combines coursework in public management and public policy. Students are required to complete nine credits of core coursework and six credits of electives. Graduate students in ISU's Department of Political Science are eligible for numerous scholarships, including the $1,000 Philip R. Baumann Graduate Scholarship and the $1,000 Dwight Ink Graduate Scholarship.
The Department of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University offers a highly customizable Master of Public Administration. The 40-credit program requires 21 credits in core courses, and students can use their electives to create a specialty or tailor the program to their interests. Candidates can take courses from outside the department or at other North Carolina schools. Students with no professional work experience are required to complete an internship, which can increase their employability. NC State is also home to the only Ph.D. in Public Administration in North Carolina. The degree is best suited for candidates who want a career in teaching and research. Most applicants already have an MPA.
Alfred University offers a Master of Public Administration through its Graduate School's downstate extension program. The M.P.A. is a part-time program, with classes meeting for a full day on the weekend. Each class meets for five full-day sessions over the course of the semester. The program can be completed in 15 months, including two summer semesters. Since the program is part of the downstate extension program, classes are held at various venues in Brooklyn and Oceanside, Long Island. Students are required to complete one class at Alfred University's main campus, which lasts for one week during the summer. M.P.A. students who don't have prior experience in public administration are required to complete a two-credit field experience, which lasts for 100-contact hours.
Housed within the College of Community and Public Affairs, Binghamton University's Department of Public Administration offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). The 42-credit MPA program includes seven core courses and three courses in one of three areas of specialization: nonprofit management and leadership, local government management and leadership, and sustainable communities. Additionally, public administration dual degree programs are available in nursing, social work and student affairs, and an accelerated bachelor's/MPA degree program is available to undergraduate students in ten majors. Public administration students at Binghamton are eligible for several scholarship opportunities, including the full-tuition Change Maker Scholarship and the Axtell Promise Award.
In 2015, the Public Administration and Policy Analysis program at UWSP switched from a major to a minor within the Department of Political Science. However, students can still benefit from two relevant department scholarships: the Professor Cates Alumni Award for high-performing juniors and the Political Science Scholarship for deserving upperclassmen. The 25-credit minor is divided into coursework on government, principles, functional areas, and tools of analysis - most of which count toward the Political Science major; students who declare can take advantage of additional department scholarships.
Through its Department of Government, Minnesota State University-Mankato offers a Master of Public Administration and certificate program in public management. The 34-credit MPA program includes tracks in American administration and international administration and provides students with knowledge of the political and legal processes of government. MPA students can choose from a research and writing capstone, a thesis plan or an alternate paper plan. The Certificate in Public Management (CPM) requires 12 credits of coursework and provides students with training in human resource management, budgetary analysis, management theory and public policy analysis. Public administration students are eligible for several scholarships, including the Truman and Reta Wood Scholarship (up to $6,000) and the Winston W. Benson Political Science Graduate Student Scholarship (up to $2,000).
The Political Science Department at UNCG offers a Master of Public Affairs degree, which is fully accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). Students who pursue a Master of Public Affairs degree may choose one of the following concentrations: Nonprofit Management, Community and Economic Development Concentration, or Local Government Management. MPA graduate students may receive financial aid in the form of the NCCMA Scholarship, the Next Generation Graduate Award, the New Scholarship for Local Government Management Students, the Aericorps Scholarships, the Cemala Foundation Fellowship or Scholarship for Interns, the Graduate Dean's Award, the May Davidson Scholarship, and Graduate Assistantships.
The School of Public Affairs at UCCS offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Students also have the option of earning a dual degree - MPA/MCJ (Master of Criminal Justice). The school has a Graduate Certificate in Public Management available, which is designed to increase a student's knowledge of the field of public administration. Students can apply for the following scholarships, which have been set up specifically for students enrolled in the School of Public Affairs: John Suthers Scholarship Fund ($500 to $1,000), Arthur B. Murphy Scholarship ($750), and the School of Public Affairs Fund ($750).
UNO's Master of Public Administration (MPA) program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) and is the only NASPAA-accredited program in Nebraska. Students pursuing this degree can choose from the following areas of concentration: Aviation, Emergency Management, Healthcare Administration, Local Government, Nonprofit, Public Management, and Public Policy. Two dual degree options are available: MPA/MSW (Master of Social Work) and MPA/MMIS (Master of Managing Information Systems). There is also a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Administration program. In addition, UNO offers the Nebraska Certified Public Manager program as well as a Graduate Certificate in Public Management.
Courses for the Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration degree at Cal State Fullerton include the following: public management and policy, government and the economy, research in public management, politics and policy making, American foreign policy, and law, politics, and society. Students focus on studying the larger political environment of public service and the functions that support it, such as budgeting, policy analysis, personnel, and management. The university also offers a Master of Public Administration program with the following areas of concentration: criminal justice, human resources, public finance management, and urban management. Qualified undergraduates are given the opportunity to intern in the district offices of local, state and federal legislators. Scholarships are available for students who are admitted to the program.
The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Northwest Missouri State University offers a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration and an undergraduate public administration minor. The B.S. in Public Administration requires a minor and 37 credits of major coursework. Public administration majors take courses in subjects like state and local government, public policy, modern organizational theory, federalism and intergovernmental relations. Students are also required to complete an internship at a governmental agency or business, which counts for one to six credits, and a three-credit senior seminar. The public administration minor requires 24 credits of coursework. Additionally, public administration students can participate in student organizations like the Political Science Club, which is designed for students interested in pursuing a career in political science or public administration.
The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at City College of New York offers a Master of Public Administration in Public Service Management designed for students who want management positions in government agencies or non-profits. The rigorous full-time program requires students to complete 45 credits in two years. The program follows a cohort model, with a group of 20 to 25 students moving through the program together. Students can select an optional career track: Public Policy and Research, or Communications and Public Relations. Students who do not have much professional experience must complete a full-time, 400-hour internship the summer between their first and second years. Interns receive a $3,000 stipend. Tuition assistance is available to some M.P.A. students.
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) program offered at West Virginia University has two areas of specialization - Healthcare Administration and Local Governance and Community Development. WVU's MPA program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Students admitted to the program are given the opportunity to earn dual degrees - MPA/MSW (Master in Social Work) or the MPA/JD (Juris Doctor). There are two Graduate Certificates available - one in Nonprofit Management, and another in Cultural Resource Management. The Department of Public Administration provides a limited number of tuition waivers to its students each year. Students can also apply for Graduate Assistantships, which provide tuition waiver and a stipend.
The Department of Political Science at UNI's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Public Administration program. Students admitted to this program can choose from the following focus areas: Economics and Finance, Community and Regional Development, and Human Resources. The following scholarships are available for students in the Department of Political Science: Women in Political Science Scholarship ($1,500), Dhirendra Vajpeyi Scholarship ($1,000), Dennis Jensen Memorial Scholarship ($750), and the Charles Ray and Ada Mae Hoxie Scholarship ($590).
The Gerald G. Fox Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at the University of North Carolina Charlotte is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Students can choose to concentrate their studies in the following specialized areas: Non-profit Management, Urban Management & Policy, Emergency Management, and Public Finance. Certificate programs are also offered in these areas for students seeking advanced training but who are not interested in pursuing a master's degree. UNCC has partnered with public and not-for-profit agencies to support qualified students through the Public Service Fellowship Program. Fellowships typically cover the cost of in-state tuition and include an annual $12,000 stipend.
At the University of Georgia, the Public Administration and Policy Department (PAPD) is part of the School of Public and International Affairs. PAPD offers Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Administration programs. The department collaborates with the UGA Law School to offer the MPA/JD (Juris Doctor) joint degree program, which allows students to earn both degrees in four years. PAPD also collaborates with the UGA Honors Program to offer the AP/MPA program. Students who enter the university with several Advanced Placement courses can concurrently complete an MPA degree and their undergraduate degree. Teaching and research assistantships are available from PAPD each year; most award tuition waivers and stipends for a nine-month academic year.
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at the University of Idaho is administered by the Department of Political Science at the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences (CLASS). Students must complete 36 hours of coursework in order to earn the MPA degree. There are two tracks available: the internship track (for students who have minimal or no public administration experience) and the in-service track (for public administration professionals currently employed in the field). Students focus on a specialization area by taking 12 to 15 hours of elective courses in their area of interest. As an enrolled CLASS student, full-time MPA candidates can apply for the Frank Cushing Public Policy Scholarship, which has a variable award amount each year.
Through its Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, the University of Massachusetts-Boston offers a traditional Master of Public Administration degree, as well as a Master of Public Administration in Global Comparative Public Administration. The traditional M.P.A. program takes 18 months to complete, with classes offered in the evening and on the weekends. Two tracks of study are available in the traditional M.P.A. program: a track in municipal management and a track in gender, leadership and public policy. The gender, leadership and public policy track takes a full two academic years to complete, as opposed to 18 months. The M.P.A. in Global Comparative Public Administration is a two-year, 39-credit program that can be completed on campus or online.
The University of North Texas offers a B.S. in Emergency Administration and Planning, a Master of Public Administration, and a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Management. The B.S. in Emergency Administration and Planning program is truly unique, and it is the world's first emergency management resident degree program, attracting students from all over the world. The MPA at UNT was ranked #8 in the Top 10 programs in the country for urban management and city government by U.S. News and World Reports. MPA students may be eligible for the Hatton W. Summers Scholarships or MPA Alumni Scholarships.
Stanislaus State University offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program that is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). The completion of the following nine courses is one of the requirements for the degree: Administration of Public Affairs, Public Finance, State and Local Public Finance, Quantitative Analysis, Public Policy Analysis, Organizational and Administrative Theory, Public Personnel Administration, Public Service Ethics, and Public Agency Budgeting. Students have the option of writing a thesis or taking a comprehensive exam in order to graduate from the program. Academically outstanding students (part-time or full-time status) can apply for the H. Owen Porter Memorial Scholarship (variable amount) or the William E. Neeley Public Administration Fellowship ($350).
Fresno State offers the Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree through the Department of Political Science at the College of Social Sciences. The curriculum follows the guidelines recommended by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Students take courses such as quantitative applications for public administration, state and local government, human resources management, ethics and public administration, and public policy administration. Students have the option of writing a thesis or taking a comprehensive exam as their culminating MPA experience. Qualified first-semester graduate students may be eligible for the university-wide President's Graduate Scholars Fellowship ($3,500). Graduate students from under-represented groups or disadvantaged backgrounds are considered for the Graduate Equity Fellowship Program (up to $4,500 per year).
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree at CSUN is offered through the Tseng College. Students accepted to the program can choose from the following areas of concentration: health administration, non-profit sector management, and public sector management and leadership. Tseng College offers the MPA program online and on campus, and in a number of off-campus locations as well. It is also possible to bring the MPA program on-site to an employer. The mode of delivery for an employer-contracted MPA program can be on-site (face-to-face), online, or a combination of both. The Robert M. Odell endowed scholarship ($2,000 annually) was established by the California Society of Municipal Finance Officers to support students who are enrolled full-time in a public administration program.
The School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas in Dallas offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Public Affairs degree. Students pursuing this degree can take advantage of the Fast Track option, which lets them complete their BS degree and earn a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree in five years. The MPA program is also offered as a stand-alone program and is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) through 2017. Areas of MPA specialization include: Local Government Management, Nonprofit Management, and Policy Analysis. The school has a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program with the following concentration areas: Policy Analysis and Evaluation, Human Capital, and Nonprofit Management.
Students accepted to the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at Cal Poly Pomona have the option of choosing an area of concentration by taking a series of electives in the following areas: finance and accounting, education administration, community development and urban planning, environmental issues and administration, and information management and technology. Students who do not have at least two years of professional experience in the field of public administration will be required to complete an internship in order to earn their MPA. The culminating component of the program is a final exam or a project/thesis. The Robert M. Odell Scholarship ($1,800) supports qualified students pursuing an MPA degree, with special consideration given to students concentrating in finance and accounting.
The School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University Purdue offers a Bachelor of Science degree in public affairs. Students accepted to the program can select from the following areas of specialization: civic leadership, management, media and public affairs, policy studies, and sustainable management and policy. There is also a 15-credit hour Public Management Certificate available, which can be pursued both online and on campus. On the graduate level, the university offers a Master of Public Affairs degree with concentrations in nonprofit management, urban sustainability, criminal justice, and policy analysis and public management. At the current time, SPEA offers two dual degree programs: Master of Public Affairs/Doctor of Jurisprudence and Master of Public Affairs/Master of Arts in Philanthropic Studies.
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree offered at the University of Texas in Arlington is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Students accepted to the program are required to select an area of emphasis from the following: public budgeting and financial management, local government management, urban non-profit agency management, strategic human resources management and economic development management. The MPA program is available on campus or online. The on-campus MPA can be pursued on a full-time or part-time basis. Full-time students can complete the program in two years. The online MPA is a part-time program that can be completed in seven semesters. A Doctor of Philosophy in Public and Urban Administration degree is also available.
Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville offers a 39-credit Master of Public Administration (MPA) program that can be completed on a full or part-time basis. The MPA program, which is offered through the Department of Public Administration and Policy Analysis, requires seven core courses and six elective courses. The program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) with emphases offered in public management and nonprofit administration. Students can also create an individualized area of emphasis with the approval of their adviser. The MPA program at SIUE offers internships that include a tuition waiver and allow students to earn up to three credits of graduate tuition.
SDSU's School of Public Affairs offers a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration degree with an optional emphasis in city planning. The school also offers a Master of Arts in Public Administration (MPA) degree that can be pursued on campus or online. The MPA program offers concentrations in city planning and in criminal justice administration. Students have the option of earning a Master of Arts degree in Latin America studies at the same time as their MPA degree. The school's MPA program is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). Undergraduates can apply for the Ken Perry Endowed Scholarship ($1,000), while graduate students can apply for the John Fowler Graduate Endowed Scholarship in Public Administration ($1,500).
Public Administration is offered as a Minor in the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Health Sciences program offered at UCF's School of Public Administration. On the graduate level, the school's Master of Public Administration (MPA) program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). The program takes a multi-disciplinary approach that allows graduates to pursue careers in non-profit organizations, local, state, or federal agencies, and special service sectors. Students admitted to this program participate in an internship program where they have the opportunity to apply their skills and training while working for organizations and government agencies in the Tampa Bay area.
Old Dominion University's School of Public Service offers a Master of Public Administration that can be completed in-person, online or through a combination of in-person and online learning. The MPA program, which is accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, requires 39 credits of coursework, including an internship for students without extensive professional experience. ODU also offers an MPA bachelor's to master's program that allows students to complete up to 12 graduate credits their senior year. ODU's PhD in Public Administration and Urban Policy is a 45-credit program that gives students the opportunity to choose either a public administration or public policy track. Graduate students are eligible for assistantships or fellowships, which provide awards ranging from $10,000 to $15,000.
The School of Public Affairs at the UC Denver offers both Bachelor of Arts in Public Service and Master of Public Administration (MPA) degrees. The MPA program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). The following MPA options are available: traditional (full-time or part-time attendance), accelerated (degree completion in just one year), executive (weekend classes only), and online (no residency requirement). MPA students can concentrate in one of the following areas: gender-based violence, emergency management and homeland security, environmental policy, management, and law, local government, and nonprofit organizations. UC Denver offers the following dual degree options: MPA/Master of Criminal Justice, MPA/Master in Economics, MPA/Master of Public Health, and MPA/Master of Urban and Regional Planning.
Because most public administration programs are offered at the master’s level, associate degrees in this field are fairly rare. However, you may wish to pursue one in order to earn credits towards a bachelor’s degree in public administration. Ask if your academic credits will be accepted by your preferred university/college before you enroll.
A bachelor’s degree in public administration is a 4 year undergraduate program that prepares students for careers in public administration and public policy. A high school diploma or GED is required to apply.
Although the MPA has more clout, an accredited bachelor’s degree from a good school can provide you with a solid foundation for entry-level jobs in public service. Talk to your guidance counselor about your goals.
In your search for programs, you’ll see a lot of crossover between these 3 degrees. The trick is to define your goals (e.g. working in relief agency), and then choose the program that suits.
Like any other bachelor degree, the BPA is a combination of courses in your chosen major, electives and science/liberal arts requirements.
As part of your major, you might examine:
A capstone project or internship is often included in the curriculum.
BPA graduates can apply for entry-level jobs in the public sector, non-profit and non-governmental organizations, hospitals, schools, international agencies and more.
Examples of job titles might include:
Once you have a few years of experience under your belt and money in the bank, you may wish to consider an MPA. This will qualify you for management jobs with heftier salaries.
A master’s degree in public administration is a 1-2 year professional program that prepares graduates for management/leadership positions in public, NGOs and non-profit organizations. (Think of it as the public sector’s equivalent of the MBA.) An accredited bachelor’s degree is required to apply.
Like the MBA, the MPA is considered a terminal degree – you don’t need a doctorate in order to advance your career. It’s also a practical degree. Instead of focusing on academic research, MPA students examine day-to-day administrative and management challenges.
Accelerated 1 year programs are available to qualified professionals with prior work experience.
During your search for programs, you’ll also run into degree titles such as “Master of Public Service,” “Master of Public Affairs,” “Master of Government Administration,” etc. These are part of the same crowd. The NASPAA recognizes any degree that deals with public administration or policy. What’s more, in recent years, the MPA and MPP have begun to converge.
Interested in a particular field? You may wish to pursue a concurrent graduate-level degree in law, medicine, business or the like. Talk to your school about your options.
Each program is different. Some schools will allow you to pick and choose topics and concentrations; others will require you to complete large number of prerequisite courses.
There are MPA/MPP degrees targeted at military personnel, mid-career professionals, international development specialists, community organizers, civil servants (e.g. firefighters, police, civil engineers) and more.
With a generic MPA, your core curriculum may cover:
In addition, you will usually be allowed to select a concentration in your area of interest (e.g. urban policy, human rights, sustainability, healthcare, international affairs, criminal justice, etc.).
An internship, capstone project and/or master’s thesis may be required.
You may wish to earn your MPA in order to:
Since the MPA is a terminal degree, pretty much any door is open.
A doctorate in public administration is a 4-7 year program focused on advanced research. (The time it takes to finish depends on your choice of school). A master’s degree and significant work experience may be prerequisites.
In reality, the DPA and the PhD are regarded as academically equivalent and many programs have the same goals. Check with individual schools to see which program is right for you.
The standard curriculum for a doctoral degree is split into two parts.
Graduates with a DPA or PhD work as high-level managers in the government, NGOs, non-profits and the private sector; senior researchers in federal, state and local governments; and university professors.
A certificate in public administration is a non-degree program that takes ~3 months-1 year to complete. Most of these programs are offered at the graduate-level (i.e. Post-Baccalaureate or Graduate Certificates).
Students often pursue a graduate certificate in order to:
If you’re considering earning a certificate as a step towards a master’s degree, make sure your credits will be transferable.
We recommend your college or university has regional accreditation. This is a “seal of approval” granted to institutions (e.g. non-profit and public colleges and universities) by one of six regional accrediting bodies (e.g. North Central Association of Colleges and Schools).
You can learn more about the difference between regional accreditation and national accreditation in Accreditation: Understanding the Difference Between Real Schools and Diploma Mills.
Attending a regionally accredited school will make it easier for you to:
The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is a membership organization of 300+ graduate education programs in public policy, public administration, public & non-profit management and public affairs. It accredits master’s degree programs in public administration throughout the world.
NASPAA accreditation is a nice bonus, but there are plenty of excellent public administration programs – including ones offered by Ivy League schools – that don’t have it. It should only be one factor in your decision.
If you are considering a BBA or MBA, check if the business school has accreditation from AACSB, ACBSP or IACBE. AACSB is usually considered the gold standard, but we take a closer look at all 3 in our article on affordable MBA programs.
Unless you’re interested in becoming a budget analyst or government financial manager, there are no mandatory certifications for public administrators. However, there are plenty of project management credentials that your business colleagues will recognize. These include:
Offered by the Association of Government Accountants (AGA), the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) credential is targeted at government financial managers. The certification process covers governmental accounting, auditing, financial reporting, internal controls and budgeting at the federal, state and local levels.