A master of public administration degree (MPA) is a terminal professional designation that leads to managerial and executive careers in all levels of government. An MPA also qualifies degree-holders for similar positions with non-government organizations (NGOs) and public policy-oriented nonprofit agencies. Some stakeholders characterize the degree as an MBA for public sector professionals.
The MPA overlaps with another common graduate-level designation, the master of public policy (MPP). Unlike MPP programs, which focus more on the theory of policy design, MPA degrees prepare students to meet the challenges associated with implementing and improving public policies.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), numerous public policy professions appear poised for strong growth in the years ahead. For example, the BLS anticipates a faster-than-average growth rate of 6% for administrative services managers between 2019 and 2029. The content on this page discusses what to expect from an online master of public administration and ranks the top online MPA programs.
RECOMMENDED ONLINE MPA PROGRAMS
WHAT IS PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION?
Public administration emerged as a distinct academic discipline in the early 20th century. In 1914, the University of Michigan began offering the first master of public administration degree to improve the delivery of public services and reduce government corruption.
During the Great Depression (1929-1939), the U.S. federal government embraced an expanded mandate in the provision and delivery of public services. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous New Deal marked a watershed moment in this trend, increasing demand for specially trained government service managers and executives. Public administration education flourished as a result.
Today, public administration professionals work in all branches of local, state, and federal government. Global institutions like the United Nations also employ these professionals, as do national and international NGOs and public service agencies. Most public administrators work in office settings, though some positions require varying levels of interactive fieldwork.
Public service accounts for a large percentage of the U.S. labor force. According to the Brookings Institution, nearly 24 million people held public sector employment in the United States as of May 2020. The institution’s tally counted workers in all levels of government, along with the military and other public organizations.
The Brookings Institution also notes that about one-third of the federal government’s current labor force will reach retirement age by 2025. This makes now an excellent time to train for and launch a career in public administration, as jobs appear ready to open up in large numbers.
Why Get a Public Administration Master’s?
An online MPA offers excellent value to those aspiring to impactful positions in government and public service. As an MBA analogue for the public sector, MPA degrees give job-seekers instant credibility. Many experts consider this terminal credential an essential qualification for career advancement.
In addition to its marketability, online master of public administration degrees offer numerous other important benefits:
1. University of Central Florida
Public university in Orlando, FL, accredited by SACSCOC and NASPAA
Founded in 1963 to train talent for the United States space program, UCF now offers more than 230 programs across its 13 colleges. The university awards over 17,000 degrees annually.
2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Public university in Chapel Hill, NC, accredited by SACSCOC and NASPAA
Among the United States’s oldest public universities, UNC-Chapel Hill has educated students since the late 18th century. The university’s historic campus boasts architectural highlights such as the Old Well and the Morehead-Patterson Bell Tower.
The Online MPA
UNC-Chapel Hill’s MPA program prepares graduates for diverse government, nonprofit, and private-sector careers. Catering to working professionals and military service members, the fully online program incorporates hands-on learning experiences. Enrollees enjoy online access to academic support, career services, and student organizations.
3. Penn State World Campus
Public university in University Park, PA, accredited by MSCHE and NASPAA
Penn State World Campus has educated students online since 1998. The Pennsylvania State University System’s second largest campus, Penn State World Campus serves over 20,000 students.
Master of Public Administration
Offered in partnership with Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Public Affairs, the online MPA program trains current and future public leaders seeking professional advancement and diversified career options. MPA candidates can pursue a concurrent certificate in homeland security, public sector human resources management, or public budgeting and financial management.
4. Florida International University
Public university in Miami, FL, accredited by SACSCOC and NASPAA
Established on a deserted airfield in 1969, today FIU enjoys a reputation as a top-tier research institution. An air traffic control tower — now known as the Ivory Tower — still stands on campus.
Online Master of Public Administration
FIU’s MPA program welcomes students from diverse academic and career backgrounds. Learners without public administration experience can supplement their coursework with a 300-hour public service internship. Enrollees benefit from resources such as FIU’s alumni mentorship program and MPA-specific institutional scholarships.
5. Texas A&M University
Public university in College Station, TX, accredited by SACSCOC and NASPAA
Founded in 1876, Texas A&M is the state’s oldest public higher education institution. Today, the university enrolls over 71,000 learners annually across its Texas campuses, online division, and branch campus in Qatar.
Executive Master of Public Service and Administration
Housed in the Bush School of Government and Public Service, the executive MPA program fosters management, problem-solving, and critical analysis skills. Designed for experienced public service professionals, the program features homeland security, nonprofit management, and public management tracks.
6. Villanova University
Private university in Villanova, PA, accredited by MSCHE and NASPAA
A Catholic, Augustinian university founded in 1842, Villanova takes its name from St. Thomas of Villanova. The university’s values embody the saint’s legacy of scholarship and community assistance.
Master of Public Administration
Emphasizing strategic planning and management, Villanova’s online MPA program prepares graduates for government and nonprofit leadership roles. Students develop theoretical knowledge and hone research abilities though core courses in subjects such as public administration theory and applied data analysis.
7. University of Southern California
Private university in Los Angeles, CA, accredited by WSCUC and NASPAA
At its founding in 1880, USC enrolled only 53 students. Today, the university’s total student population stands at 46,000, including 19,500 undergraduates and 26,500 graduate and professional learners.
Master of Public Administration
USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy delivers a flexible and rigorous online MPA program. Enrollees participate in live lectures and discussions conducted over videoconferencing. Alumni cohort coaches provide guidance through the intricacies of graduate-level studies. Students also enjoy access to career services, technical support, and academic resources.
8. San Diego State University
Public university in San Diego, CA, accredited by WSCUC and NASPAA
Established in 1897 as a teacher training facility, SDSU now offers a variety of degree programs. The university’s mission embraces global problem-solving through exemplary academics, research, and service.
Master of Public Administration Online
SDSU’s School of Public Affairs has offered an MPA program for almost 50 years. The fast-track online program admits applicants with managerial experience in public administration and related fields. Designed to accommodate working professionals’ schedules, coursework features asynchronous lectures and assignments. Two on-campus experiences bookend the curriculum.
9. Marist College
Private university in Poughkeepsie, NY, accredited by MSCHE and NASPAA
Founded in 1905 as a men’s seminary, Marist operates today as a coeducational, nonsectarian institution with campuses in New York and Florence, Italy. The college offers 47 undergraduate majors and 15 graduate programs to over 6,000 students.
Master of Public Administration
Marist’s MPA program offers a customizable degree to fit students’ schedule needs and professional interests. The program features hybrid and fully online classes, and students can enroll full or part time. Enrollees with adequate experience can opt out of internship requirements and some foundational courses. Concentrations in public management, ethical leadership, analytics, nonprofit management, and healthcare administration allow students to tailor their degree to their career goals.
10. Georgia College and State University
Public university in Milledgeville, GA, accredited by SACSCOC and NASPAA
In 1891, the first Georgia College students attended classes in a building freshly constructed on the previous site of the Georgia State Penitentiary. Today, the school educates over 6,600 learners in this unique historic location.
Public Administration M.P.A.
Housed in the Department of Government and Sociology, Georgia College’s online MPA program caters to practicing public sector employees. Enrollees learn alongside cohort peers and network with industry professionals.
WHAT JOBS CAN A PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION DEGREE GET YOU?
A terminal MPA degree signals job-seekers’ readiness for roles with strong upward mobility. The best online MPA programs deliver management and leadership training, plus insights into the practical applications of government policy. Given strong employer demand for candidates with these proficiencies and the relatively short time investment required to earn an MPA, this study path offers outstanding value.
Public administration programs are interdisciplinary by nature, equipping students with versatile, transferable qualifications.
Because MPAs are considered the public sector “gold standard,” an online master of public administration can maximize career potential. Opportunities also extend well beyond government, encompassing roles with NGOs and in healthcare, education, and the nonprofit sector.
Why You Should Get Your MPA Online
Online delivery formats continue to make major inroads in higher education. Public administration counts among the many subjects particularly well-suited to the virtual classroom. Coursework maintains a lecture-heavy focus on applied theory, making distance learning an appealing alternative to physical attendance.
The key benefit of an online master of public administration derives from its scheduling flexibility. Degree-seekers do not adhere to rigid class schedules, as asynchronous online learning facilitates an “anytime, anywhere” approach to learning. Students can create their own schedules and attend virtual classes at their convenience.
Earning an MPA online can also help reduce costs. Many schools offer competitive tuition rates to online learners, and enrollees can avoid the costs of traveling to campus or moving to a new city.
Online programs also maximize educational options, allowing learners to enroll in programs at faraway schools that might otherwise be out of reach.
Several caveats counterbalance these advantages. Online learning demands high levels of self-discipline and independence. Learners who prefer in-person interaction should consider hybrid programs, which combine virtual and physical learning formats.
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