Online Master’s Programs In Public Administration

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Online Master’s in Public Administration Rankings, Salaries & Courses

If you’re interested in a high-impact role in leadership or management, a career in public administration might be a good next step. With a master’s in public administration (MPA), you can pursue a professional career in public service that can have a big impact on a large number of people. A public administrator gains a nuanced understanding of the interrelationship between government and the private sector, skills that are essential to anyone who wishes to work in a managerial or administrative position or in fields that can drive positive change. Find out what you’ll learn in an MPA program and which schools offer the best online master’s in public administration degrees.

Top 10 Online Master’s Programs in Public Administration

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Best Online Master’s in Public Administration

METHODOLOGY

Since a public administration master’s is a multi-disciplinary field that covers a wide range of topics, a good master’s in public administration program will offer a wide variety of courses yet a clear path to specific jobs. To rank the best online MPA programs, we use data from the Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDs) and each university’s own published materials. All of these schools are fully accredited.

  1. Belhaven University
    Location

    Jackson, MS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    With over 30 online degree offerings, Belhaven University has an online Master Public Administration program that requires 36 credit hours for graduation. This Christian liberal arts institution boasts a comprehensive MPA program that prepares graduates for work in both the public and private sectors. Belhaven offers a general track and a concentration in Human Resources, both of which are available online. Distance learners take required courses such as Public and Administrative Law, Economics and Public Policy, Organizational Behavior and Ethics and Society. Master's students must also complete a Capstone project. For admission, students should have a baccalaureate degree with a 2.5 cumulative GPA. Incoming students can transfer a maximum of 6 credit hours of accredited graduate coursework toward their MPA degree, provided the courses have a "B" grade or higher. Those who do not meet the standard admission requirements can receive admission on a conditional basis. Online students can take advantage of Belhaven's Center for Career and Calling, which helps learners practice their faith while in school, find internships and explore future career options through workshops and career fairs.

  2. Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Offered through Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the Master of Public Administration degree is a 48-credit hour online program consisting of core courses, advanced electives and an "experiential component." The experiential component is typically an internship but may be waived for students with prior professional work experience. IU offers specialty areas in Public Management, Nonprofit Management, Financial Management, Policy Analysis or Public Budgeting. Master's students choose a specialty area to help determine their elective courses. Online students also work with the faculty director to configure a degree program, using at least 6 electives, that best fits their professional goals. Popular electives for online students include Seminar in Revenue Theory and Administration, Public Program Management and Contracting, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector, Benefit-Cost Analysis and Public Policy Process. Applicants submit a personal statement, professional resume and contact information for 3 recommenders. The department also requires interested students to submit two essays answering questions on the department admissions website. GRE or GMAT scores are optional and not required for admission to IU.

  3. St. Joseph's College-New York
    Location

    Brooklyn, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Established in 1916, St Joseph's College New York is a liberal arts institution with approximately 4,700 students. Online students at SJC can pursue a Master of Science in Human Services Leadership. The degree consists of 30 credit hours, or 10 courses, and teaches students the essential historical, political and financial components of the modern Human Services industry. Incoming students may be eligible to transfer up to 6 credits from another accredited graduate program pending approval of the department chair. Prospective students for this program must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Competitive applicants have documented, full-time work experience in the field that displays specialized training and reflects their ability to handle important responsibilities. Applications should include a current resume with descriptions of previous and current employment and a list of one's responsibilities in those roles. Additionally, interested students should submit their official transcripts and letters of recommendation from both an academic source and a professional source. SJC also requires that all prospective students participate in an interview as part of the admissions process.

  4. Park University
    Location

    Parkville, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Accredited by the Council for Business Schools and Programs, Park University is host to an online program to complete a Master of Public Administration. The degree requires 36 credit hours in classes such as Research and Analysis, Public Affairs Methodology and Ethical Foundations of Authority and Responsibility. Students will select concentrations in disaster and emergency management, global governance, management information systems, project management, public management or criminal justice. You must pass all coursework with a minimum 3.0 grade average. Those with work experience are eligible to waive the requirement for an internship. Online learners can access the Academic Support Center, which connects students to citation tools, peer mentors, tutoring services and resources for stress management. In order to qualify for this option you must possess an undergraduate 2.75 grade average, as well as submit a resume. Graduates enter roles as city managers, police commissioners, urban planners or elected officials.

  5. University of Illinois at Springfield
    Location

    Springfield, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    In order to receive a Master of Public Administration at the University of Illinois in Springfield, students must fulfill 36 credit hours with a grade B or higher. While exploring subjects such as human resources, public policy and organization dynamics you will become equipped to enter managerial roles within the fields of social services, administrative law and public financial management. Classes are executed in an online format through the web platform Blackboard Learn. Prospective students must hold a minimum 2.5 GPA and be able to navigate computer spreadsheet applications. Applications will also include GRE scores, a resume and a statement of goals demonstrating competent writing skills. Once admitted, you will be connected with an academic adviser to assist in creating your plan of study. The Department of Public Administration encourages learners to connect with the Career Development Center or join the American Society for Public Administration for networking and employment opportunities.

  6. Northern Michigan University
    Location

    Marquette, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students can specialize in criminal justice, human resources, government or public management at Northern Michigan University's fully online program to complete a Master of Public Administration. Depending on academic and professional history, you will satisfy 34-36 credit hours with a minimum 3.0 grade average, along with fulfillment of a capstone project, in order to graduate. Those with 1 or more years of field-related work experience aren't required to complete an internship. Core and elective curriculum familiarizes enrollees with grant writing, municipal management, nonprofit agency evaluation and the politics of higher education. Applications must include evidence of a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate work, transcripts and a resume or cover letter. Once registered, online learners can post their resumes and search for jobs through Cat Career Tracks/Handshake. You can also receive academic assistance by making an appointment at the Virtual Advising Center or submitting assignments to online tutoring services for feedback.

  7. Lindenwood University
    Location

    St. Charles, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Lindenwood University is host to a 100% online Master of Public Administration. The program, which is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and approved by the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, delivers online courses through the learning platform Canvas. In order to graduate, students must maintain a 3.0 grade average while satisfying 36 credits hours in core curriculum covering public finance and economic analysis, as well as elective classes including management information systems and leadership theory. While enrolled you can take advantage of resources such as Career Services to assist in job exploration and resume writing as you enter into managerial roles at government entities or international organizations. Enrollees also have access to the online Writing Center and tutoring services through the web application Smarthinking. Prospective students will include a resume and letter of intent in their application. There are school-funded scholarships and grants to help cut down on costs.

  8. Central Michigan University
    Location

    Mount Pleasant, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The hybrid program for earning a Master of Public Administration at Central Michigan University offers students opportunities that extend beyond the classroom. For example, you can participate in management simulations through the Transnational Initiative on Governance Research and Education Network, which is a project sponsored by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in South Korea. Program admissions calls for a minimum 2.8 GPA in undergraduate studies, 3 reference letters, a resume, personal essay and satisfaction of a statistics or research methods class. Once enrolled, you must maintain a 3.0 grade average while working through 37 credits in Strategic Leadership, Grant Writing and Management, Public Service Competencies and Public Policy Process. Online classes are accessed through the web platform Blackboard Learn and the Online Resource Center provides a number of resources to assist in navigating the virtual classroom. Additionally, online learners can utilize academic advising, career guidance, the library and counseling services.

  9. Texas A & M University-College Station
    Location

    College Station, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students pursuing concentrations in homeland security, nonprofit management or public management can apply to Texas A&M University to pursue an Executive Master of Public Service and Administration degree. Accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration, the program lasts for around 2-3 years and includes 39 credit hours in core and elective topics such as economic analysis, policy design and quantitative methods. All coursework is available in an online format. However, students are expected to engage in 2 weeklong campus visits during the summer semesters. You will also need to pass a capstone class by working with a government or nonprofit agency to complete a public administration project. Prospective students will submit transcripts, a resume, a statement of purpose and GRE or GMAT scores. The Bush School of Government & Public Services works with online learners to place jobs and create networking opportunities. Alumni have found positions within the U.S. Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency and American Heart Association.

  10. University of Nebraska at Omaha
    Location

    Omaha, NE

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Campus faculty at the University of Nebraska Omaha also instruct online courses for students interested in completing a Master of Public Administration through distance education. Over the span of 2 years, you will satisfy 39 total credit hours by taking just 2 classes per semester. Core curriculum looks into decision-making, policy implementation and nonprofit budgeting. Electives are based off of concentrations such as emergency management, criminology, aviation or local government. In order to qualify for the program, as well as complete the graduate degree, you must possess a 3.0 grade average. Non-resident online learners are eligible for the Advantage Scholarship, which is funded by a collaboration between the School of Public Administration and the College of Public Affairs Community Service. Additional supports include access to academic advising, career resources and library services. Prospective students will submit work experience, a statement of purpose, 2 references, transcripts, a resume and GRE scores.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Public Administration Program?

Students in a master’s in public administration program can gain expertise in areas such as policy analysis, statistics, economics, finance, sociology, accounting, management and more. Master’s in public administration students learn practical solutions to real-world problems, not just theory. Through internships and capstone projects, master’s in public administration students become competitive in the workforce. Many pursue specializations such as human resources management, nonprofit management, health care administration, criminal justice jobs and other high-level administrative jobs.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in public administration program?

While every program might offer slightly different variations on the same topics, here are examples of courses you will find in an online master’s in public administration program.

Public Administration Theory

This course explores the tension between bureaucracy-democracy and theories about the nature and development of public administration in the United States.

Financial Management

This course will offer the skills and ability to analyze an organization’s budget and provide alternative courses of action in financial decision making. Topics include the budgetary process, revenue policy, financial controls, debt management and capital budgeting.

Leadership Ethics

This course examines assumptions implicit in various organizational designs with highlights including the importance of fidelity to value-based decision making.

Urban Politics and Government

The study of city and suburban governments in metropolitan areas, with special emphasis devoted to such topics as governmental form, city-suburb relations, race and ethnic relations and economic change.

Effective Nonprofit Management

Examination of nonprofit civic and political involvement, ethics and accountability, leadership and board development, human resource practices, financial management and performance measure, philanthropy and fundraising, volunteer management and marketing and communications.

Managing Public Networks

Explores theories of federalism, intergovernmental relations, intergovernmental and intersectoral networks, collaborative decision-making approaches and negotiating skills.

Effective City Management

Learn how to relate better to the community, promote its future and work with the governing body. Discover ways to create an organizational climate of excellence while overseeing the delivery of services, conducting relations with other governments and maintaining personal effectiveness.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Most master’s in public administration programs require a capstone course toward the end of the MPA studies, which draws upon the sum of a student’s learning in the program. While each program may structure their capstone course project differently, many take the form of independent research study, and others focus on team collaboration. The results of the capstone project can be used in a professional portfolio.

To graduate, students must take The MPA Comprehensive Exam, a multi-hour test, typically taken on one day, which will cover a comprehensive set of questions dating back to the very first courses a student takes when beginning the degree. It will cover general theories, as well as practical concepts and techniques of public administration.

What specializations are available in a master’s in public administration program?

Under the master’s in public administration program umbrella, there are numerous specializations that students can pursue depending on their interests. Here are several of the most common specializations, all within the master’s in public administration degree:

Public Management Specialization

This is for students who wish to work as managers in public and nonprofit sectors. It provides skills in administration, budgeting and finance, as well as communications, information systems, law, leadership, personnel and policy analysis. All of these subjects and skills are necessary for management in local, state and federal agencies, as well as leadership in the nonprofit sector.

Public Health Administration

A master’s in public administration degree also translates well to those who want to work in policy administration within the healthcare field, whether that be through community health organizations or government bodies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Topics covered will include health information systems, legal issues related to healthcare delivery, quality of care concepts, hospital administration, and large picture issues and problems in healthcare.

Nonprofit Management

For those students who are passionate about the nonprofit sector, a master’s in public administration degree offers the skills and experience to launch into this important, impactful field. Students will expect to take such classes as civic engagement in governance, financial management of nonprofits, nonprofit management and leadership and philanthropy.

What Can I do with a Master’s in Public Administration Degree?

A master’s in public administration degree is a versatile degree that translates across a wide variety of careers from administrative leadership roles within government agencies to emergency management. Here are some examples of careers available within the master’s in public administration degree:

City Manager

The city manager in every town is the executive officer of a city, who implements and oversees policies drafted by the city council. The city manager reports to the mayor and city council and is in charge of all of the city’s administrative business. They supervise city departments, manage city budgets and research key issues to advise the mayor and city council. Students interested in pursuing this career should be sure to find a program with courses in public finance, policy analysis, non-profit administration, as well as legal and political issues and personnel supervision.

Financial Manager

Nonprofit organizations and numerous government agencies need financial managers to strategize, develop and manage an organization’s long-term financial goals. Students who wish to pursue this career should look for MPA programs with concentrations or courses in financial management, public financial administration, economics and quantitative analysis, economic development and financial policy.

Public Policy Analyst

This specialization is geared toward students who want to work in policy analysis positions in the public sector or the government to evaluate public programs or look at the impacts of public policies. Students interested in this career path may need to take such courses as health policy, research methods in urban and public policy, decision tools for policy analysis and public policy analysis.

Whatever specialization students choose to pursue, anyone can benefit from joining up with professional associations that offer resources, opportunities for networking and job insights such as the following:

American Society for Public Administration

The ASPA is highly recognized for public administration professionals. They host an annual conference with informational sessions and networking opportunities and publish books and periodicals on topics relevant to public administration.

Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

The APPAM was originally founded at Duke University in 1979 as a way to connect analysts, scholars and policymakers at their annual conference. They promote research and education on topics of interest to public administration.

American Public Works Association

The APWA strives to connect professionals in higher level public service such as city managers, public works directors and transportation managers with one another.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Public Administration?

Since public administration is such a broad field, there are a wide variety of career possibilities for those with an MPA. Here is a small selection of roles students can pursue, but they should keep in mind that each career may require a different specialization, additional experience or certification and that those differences in experience and education may translate to different salary potentials.

CAREERLOWEST 10% EARNED ANNUALLYMEDIAN ANNUAL SALARYHIGHEST 10% EARNED ANNUALLYJOB GROWTH 2016-2026
Emergency Management DirectorLess than $38,270$72,760More than $141,620+8%
Medical or Health Services ManagerLess than $58,350$98,350More than $163,480+20%
Administrative Services ManagerLess than $52,750$94,020More than $160,000+10%
Financial ManagerLess than $66,480$125,080More than $208,000+19%
Political ScientistLess than $56,150$115,110More than $161,890+3%
Social and Community Services ManagerLess than $39,730$64,100More than $109,990+18%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

As you can see by the data above, there is a wide range of salaries available within the public administration field. However, most of these jobs show promising career and salary growth over time. Earning a master’s in public administration can make a difference in salary potential. Research from U.S. Census data show that individuals with a bachelor’s degree in public administration-related fields earn a median annual salary of $50,000, whereas the median for a master’s in public administration graduate is around $68,000.

Online Master’s in Public Administration Program Accreditation

The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) is considered the most respected accrediting institution for online master’s in public administration programs to ensure excellence in education and public administration at the master’s level. Accredited programs have to demonstrate a contribution to the “knowledge, research and practice of public service” and produce measurable goals and outcomes. They must offer degrees in public policy, affairs or administration.

Institutions seeking accreditation for a master’s in public administration have to be in practice for four years first and must have a core of five full-time faculty members. The mission of the program must emphasize public service values, and the degree’s primary focus should be preparing students to be leaders, managers and analysts in related fields.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Public Administration Degree

Once a student has settled on a master’s in public administration program, it’s time to think about how to finance it. While each program will have its own guidelines for financial aid and grants, there are a few scholarships available to students pursuing MPA degrees or in related fields. Below are several scholarship and funding options for graduate students:

  • Fellowships and GrantsGraduate students may be eligible for fellowships and grants in the field of public administration. The Foundation for Community Association Research awards the Byron Hanke Fellowship to graduate students who engage in research projects related to the development, management and governance of interest to communities and to their community association.
  • Public Administration ScholarshipsGraduate students may also be eligible for a scholarship from regional or national associations, as well as scholarships funded by specific universities. Some scholarship options to investigate include:
  • Government Finance Officers AssociationThis organization provides several yearly scholarships to students pursuing degrees in programs that prepare them for government finance.
  • The Harry S. Truman Scholarship FoundationThe Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation offers scholarships to up to 65 students per year pursuing a degree in public service.
  • The Open Society FoundationThis foundation offers several scholarships each year to individuals who pursue degrees that meet with their values of “building vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens.”
  • VA BenefitsAny veterans who are eligible for VA benefits through the post- 9/11 GI Bill, the Vocational Rehabilitation billDependents Educational Assistance Bill, or the Montgomery GI Bill, can use these funds for master’s in public administration programs.

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