What is an Online Master of Public Administration (MPA)?
An online master’s degree of public administration primes public service professionals to become influential leaders on a local, state, and federal level. While it is traditionally aimed toward government employees, the demand for MPA graduates from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofit organizations has been emerging over the years. This means greater practicality and versatility for those thinking of earning a master’s degree in public administration.
From executive, part-time and full-time to completely online master’s of public administration programs, there are many options to consider – some students prefer the feel of a physical classroom, but depending on their level of flexibility around time and location, many find online to be a better fit.
Broadly speaking, learning goals focus on enabling students to build public service organizations to meet the challenges of the world.
A concentration in nonprofit management can give you the range of skills to confidently lead and manage in the nonprofit sector.
The concentration generally provides the skills and increased knowledge about leading an organization serving the public interest, while building an appreciation and knowledge to succeed in the private sector.
A concentration in energy & environment management gives you the range of skills to confidently lead and manage environmental NGOs and energy sustainability NGOs.
The concentration generally provides an increased knowledge about how you can lead an organization in serving public interests specific to the environment, while building an appreciation and knowledge to lead green initiatives and energy sustainability in the private sector.
A concentration in policy formulation gives you the range of skills to participate and aid legislation in government agencies responsible for commerce, transportation, healthcare, taxation and spending, energy, the environment, criminal justice, and national security.
The concentration takes full advantage of the communication and interpersonal skills as well as the policy process knowledge that are provided by the degree.
A concentration in information & technology management gives you the range of skills to confidently lead and manage technology-related NGOs, to harness the power of innovative new technologies and put them to use for common causes.
The concentration generally provides skills and increased knowledge about leading an information & technology organization and encouraging the growth of new ventures.
Online MPA Curriculum
The curriculum of an online master’s of public administration is nearly identical to that of a traditional program pursued on campus. Coursework focuses on the key competencies in organizational leadership and the strategic planning necessary to run agencies and various departments throughout the public sector with refined purpose and efficiency. The curriculum is also geared toward specific industries and non-profit areas (like the concentration areas listed above).
A Master of Public Administration degree equips students with the foundational knowledge, hands-on work experience, and management strategies to become executives, improve organizational success, and be an effective leader in the private, public, and non-profit sectors.
Core classes in online master’s of public administration curriculums explore:
Public administration - Development of foundational ideas and issues in public administration; functions of public administrative institutions; and public policy processes.
Communications - Development of required communication skills as public service leaders; learning how to deliver accurate information to the appropriate audience in the suitable format in a timely manner.
Public sector accounting and auditing - Introduction to the principles of accounting and financial reporting in governmental and nonprofit settings.
Policy analysis - Understanding the foundations of public policy analysis within its organizational and political contexts, and the roles of various actors in the decision-making process.
Organization theory - Introduction to the basic themes and concepts of management and organizational operation; and the evolution of organizational design and behavior.
The curriculum typically culminates with a capstone, which can take the form of a dissertation or research project.
A master’s of public administration degree offered online should have offline components for students to gain practical experience, such as internships in a non-profit organization or government agency. In addition, some programs offer on-campus immersions and networking opportunities to support the online curriculum.
Disclaimer: Each online MPA program is unique, with the governing institution stipulating its own prerequisites, courses, hours, credit requirements, and other particulars. For information regarding a specific program, be sure to contact the administering school.
Some schools require that you have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA, have taken the GRE/GMAT and have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university.
A personal statement is generally required in your application packet. A personal statement should synthesize your CV experiences, and form a compelling, future-oriented story that connects your background and aspirations to your pursuit of a graduate degree. Check out this article for additional help writing your personal statement.
Executive MPA programs typically require 5-7 years of previous work experience in the private or public sector.
If you are unsure of the program requirements, it is a good idea to review the website of the online program you are pursuing to ensure you don't miss anything.
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Online or Traditional: Which Program is Right for You?
The answer to that question depends on a number of other questions: What are your current responsibilities and obligations? Are you able to quit your job to attend school or do you need to keep it? Do you have children or other family members whom you must be near? Do you have your heart set on a certain school or program? Are you comfortable using technology?
These are all questions to ask yourself when determining whether you should pursue your Master of Public Administration online or on-campus, because neither can be the perfect answer for everyone.
Benefits of an Online MPA Degree
A growing number of colleges and universities now offer online graduate degrees in public administration. For busy professionals who are unable to enroll in a traditional brick-and-mortar graduate program, online degree programs offer several advantages, including:
Flexibility: Online master’s in public administration programs remove the time and place constraints that are associated with a traditional campus setting. An online degree course allows students to log in to classes at their own convenience, anytime. In addition to eliminating the need for commuting, many students find that breaking up class time by logging in whenever it's convenient throughout the week allows them to fulfill personal and professional responsibilities with far less strain.
Accessibility: Online master’s of public administration degrees provide increased access to class materials, allowing students to revisit and review class lectures, presentations and discussions at any time. This aspect of online learning offers a clear advantage over traditional classrooms, which usually only leave students with the notes they themselves have taken along with any handout material provided by their professors.
Connectivity: In high-quality online MPA programs, every effort is made to establish a deep connection between individual students, their peers and faculty members. Class sizes are kept small and networking between students is highly encouraged. Increasingly, state-of-the-art technology is being leveraged to bring online graduate degree programs to the same level, if not higher than, competing brick-and-mortar programs.
A key difference between traditional and online graduate-level public administration programs is the coursework experience. The best programs shouldn’t differ drastically in terms of their coursework. Much like the distinction between in-class assignments and homework in a traditional on-campus program, online programs have synchronous and asynchronous elements.
Synchronous elements require real-time interaction through tools like text chat, voice chat and video conferencing.
Asynchronous elements can be addressed at your leisure, like reading documents, viewing presentations, listening to audio files or watching videos.
E-mails, discussion boards, social networks, collaborative documents and e-portfolios are also asynchronous elements. Like homework in a regular classroom, these offline components support the online curriculum. You’ll be expected to have watched lectures and completed homework assignments prior to attending live class sessions so you’re ready to participate in discussions and other in-class activities.
According to an alumni survey conducted by the NASPAA, MPA/MPP graduates find jobs in a variety of workplaces, but are especially attracted to the public and nonprofit sectors. The following infographic provides a comprehensive breakdown of where public administration degree holders land job opportunities:
According to the NASPAA, MPA/MPP degree graduates earn starting salaries between $35,000 - $40,000, and see a salary increase up to $45,000 - $55,000 in their first year.
Median salary for most current MPA/MPP degree holders settles between $65,000 - $80,000.
With a workforce of nearly 3 million people, it is the largest employer in the nation. Salaries for federal employees are very competitive, with the average annual salary for full-time federal employees exceeding $81,000.
Non-Profit Management - Environmental, Education, and Technology NGOs
Director of Development - Median Salary: $61,855
Executive Director - Median Salary: $64,329
Community Outreach Manager - Median Salary: $52,602
Director for Central Asia - Median Salary: $128,904
Assistant Director, Policy - Median Salary: $113,711
Assistant General Counsel for Policy - Median Salary: $130,518.78
Choosing a concentration surrounded by specific sector both private or public will help narrow down future job choices, yet offer flexibility across work environments.