The MPA Accreditation Process

The process involved in accrediting an MPA program is rigorous. Before evaluation can occur, there are several preconditions the university must meet to be eligible to apply. After these preconditions are met, there is an in-depth 1–2 year period of application and self study. Because of the intensity of the process, MPA accreditation guarantees the quality of a program to students and their future employers. Many students look for accredited programs because they want to know that the program meets high standards, and employers look for accreditation to ensure their employees are well educated in the field.

The organization charged with accreditation is the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). The actual peer review in the accreditation process is conducted by the Commission On Peer Review and Accreditation (COPRA). NASPAA is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). NASPAA is a member of the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors and the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education. NASPAA has 280 members, but not all of them are accredited. In fact, becoming a member of NASPAA is just a precondition for accreditation. Currently, there are 170 brick and mortar MPA programs accredited in the United States, and one in Beijing. Additionally, there are 24 accredited online MPA programs.


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The Process


Before a university can entertain the possibility of applying for accreditation eligibility, it must meet several preconditions.

  • The program must ready for evaluation.
  • The university must go through a process of documentation, so that it has data available that can be properly reviewed.
  • The program must exist as a university that is itself accredited.
  • The program must require 36–48 semester credit hours of study. However, there are exceptions for dual degrees and other similar types of programs.
  • The main objective of the program must be professional education, with an emphasis on public service values. It must strive to prepare students to be leaders, analysts, and managers in the public administration sector.
  • Finally, the program must practice truth in advertising. If the program meets all of these requirements, it is ready to apply for eligibility.

Eligibility and the Self-Study Process

To apply for eligibility, the program must complete a number of preparatory steps.

  • It must first be a member of the NASPAA.
  • Then, as preconditioned, it must gather data on its operations so they can be reviewed. Questions on the self-study application may require three years worth of data.
  • After the data collection has begun, some program members must attend an Accreditation Institute Session. The program can then apply for eligibility through the NASPAA and submit an eligibility application.
  • After an eligibility application has been submitted, the self-study process begins. COPRA sends a mentor to the institution to assist with the complicated self-study process. The self-study process can last about a year. During this time, COPRA decides whether or not it requires additional information from the institution. At this point, COPRA may decide the institution isn’t ready for accreditation. If COPRA ultimately suggests that the program move forward, a self-study application may be submitted by the following 15th of August after the self-study process is complete. The application must be submitted along with required fees and contain all the collected data from the self-study year. After the submission of the self-study application, members of COPRA review the program.
  • COPRA meets in October to form interim reports and pick site visitors to view the programs in action. The interim reports are sent to the MPA programs applying for eligibility, and they are given the opportunity to request site visits if they wish to move forward and respond to the interim reports.
  • After this, site visits are held from January to March so that COPRA can observe the programs. The site visit team drafts program reports and deliberates.
  • Once the deliberation is complete, a list of newly accredited universities is published in August.
  • If a program is accredited, the process still isn’t over. To stay accredited, universities must provide an annual report to announce changes in the program and share results. This ensures that the program is still meeting the standards of NASPAA and remains a quality program throughout its accreditation.

What Information Is Collected During Self Study?

What the self-study process does is ensure that the program lives up to seven standards set by NASPAA. These standards seek to ensure that the program prepares students to work in the public administration sector by offering a rich program that is well staffed by quality professionals. These standards are as follows.

Standard 1: The first standard involves the strategic management of the program. In order to meet this standard, the program must have a mission statement that outlines the expectations of the program. This mission statement must include the following:

  • Program purpose
  • Public service values
  • The number of students and professionals involved in the program
  • The program’s intended contributions to knowledge and research in the field

Furthermore, the program’s mission and outcomes must be measurable or observable so that information can be collected and studied regarding its success.

Standard 2: The program must be led by a sufficient amount of quality administration. At least five faculty members should be in charge of the program, but a larger school may require more.

Standard 3: The remaining faculty members must have adequate qualification, and they must be actively involved in the field through work or research. They must also promote diversity.

Standard 4: The student body must be well served. The method the program uses to recruit and admit students should be compatible with the program’s mission and be clearly understood. The program must have student services such as job placement and counseling. In addition, the program must promote diversity.

Standard 5: The mission of the program must include competencies that live up to various criteria.

  • The competencies must include the five domains of public service. According to the NASPAA website, these are, “the ability to lead and manage in public governance, to participate in and contribute to the policy process, to analyze, synthesize, think critically, solve problems and make decisions, to articulate and apply a public service perspective, and to communicate and interact productively with a diverse and changing workforce and citizenry.”
  • Other required competencies must be included in relevance to the program.
  • The various elective sections of the program must have their own additional competencies.
  • There must be competencies and objectives that ensure students put what they have learned to use in the professional field.

Standard 6: The program must have enough resources and funds to carry out its mission.

Standard 7: The program is accountable for providing current information on its goals, operations, and outcomes so that students, teachers, NASPAA, and other relevant parties can make decisions with sufficient information.

How Much Does Accreditation Cost?

There are a few different costs involved in the accreditation process. The eligibility process costs $1,000. Initial accreditation costs $5,440. Depending on whether the program serves fewer or more than 100 students, annual fees are $380 or $580. Finally, the site visit varies in price, but usually costs between $1,500 and $3,000. After initial accreditation, each additional re-accreditation costs $4,440. Accreditation must be renewed after seven years.