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 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.
Best Online Master’s in Public Administration 2018-2019
Best Online Master’s in Public Administration 2018-2019
Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors
Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
Each college must have at least one online program 1
Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000
Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.
1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.
A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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. According to a report by Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, of 253 master’s in public administration graduates in 2017, 33.3 percent work in the public sector, 42.3 percent work in the private sector and 21.7 percent work in the nonprofit sector.
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 Grants
Graduate 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 Scholarships
Graduate 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:
This 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.”