2021 Best Online MPA Programs [Master of Public Administration]

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Online MPA programs offer a convenient way to develop practical administration, management, and leadership skills.

Best Online MPA Programs

Public administration professionals often work in government and other public sector or nonprofit organizations at the local, state, and federal levels.

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If you’re interested in public policies and public service, an MPA degree could be a strategic way to develop your administration and organizational leadership skills in this rewarding field.

MPA Programs Online

MPA Programs Online

A Master of Public Administration can help you gain the expertise and qualifications for management or leadership positions in a variety of sectors.

Organizations such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services benefit from the leadership of public administration professionals.

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Experts in the field can also work for any number of local, regional, or state government programs. MPA programs are designed to give you solid training in public sector administration methods. They can teach you how to navigate the world of public policy as it applies to effective program administration.

Most MPA degrees online cover course topics such as:

  • Public administration methods
  • Public policy research and analysis
  • Public relations and communications
  • Public financial management and accounting
  • Public works programs and operations
  • Ethical leadership and informed decision making

The public administration field also offers a range of specializations and professional certifications. These are often related to public works administration, healthcare sector leadership, and public financial management.

Common Public Administration Master Degree Specializations

Public Administration Master Degree

As public policies and technologies evolve, so do some specializations in the field of public administration. Here are five specializations you can consider while pursuing a masters in public admin:

  • Public Sector Business Administration. You can learn a range of dynamic business administration skills that can help prepare you for working in arenas rich in private and public sector partnerships, such as healthcare administration. Professionals can also help manage public utilities or transportation networks or facilities.
  • Public Policy and Program Administration. Program administration, evaluation, and reform efforts often rely on leaders who can combine strong organizational and operational analysis and leadership skills with public policy expertise.
  • Regional Planning and Urban Development. An MPA degree might help you boost your qualifications for jobs related to regional zoning enforcement, park and open space management, and urban planning and transportation efforts. These kinds of roles often require public administration abilities paired with environmental planning or spatial mapping skills, fiscal planning expertise, or program evaluation skills.
  • Public Sector Communications. Public agencies often need public relations leadership and support for a range of public policy, public outreach, and public or community service messaging initiatives. Nonprofit organizations also need public-interest-focused communications and fundraising expertise.
  • Fiscal Planning and Budget Analysis. Public sector financing and budgeting often involve complex procedures, regulations, and compliance-monitoring requirements. Specialized expertise in fiscal planning and budget analysis is always needed in publicly funded agencies and organizations.

An MPA degree can help open doors to a wide range of specialized job functions in the public sector, depending on your own aptitudes, background, and interests.

Master’s in Public Administration Careers & Salaries

Master's in Public Administration Careers & Salaries

When you combine public policy analysis skills with strong public sector administration skills, you may be able to provide valuable services in a range of well-paid careers. For example, an MPA degree is a professional degree that could help you qualify for political science roles. This can involve legislative policy research and development.

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public admin careers offer opportunities for professional challenges, promotions, and higher than average salaries.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Political Scientists $125,350
Compensation and Benefits Managers $125,130
Human Resources Managers $121,220
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $118,430
Top Executives $107,680
Medical and Health Services Managers $104,280
Administrative Services and Facilities Managers $98,890
Operations Research Analysts $86,200
Urban and Regional Planners $75,950
Social and Community Service Managers $69,600

Professionals in medical and health services management may have MPA training and relevant healthcare sector knowledge and experience. This occupation is expected to grow 32% over the next ten years, which is much faster than average (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Specializing in organizational leadership and administration skills could also help you pursue management positions in human resources. Earning an MPA is a chance to get an immersive learning experience with highly qualified faculty and to focus on the most up-to-date workplace methods and practices in the field.

Public Administration Masters Curriculum & Courses

Public Administration Masters Curriculum

Courses will differ by program and areas of concentration offered, but most MPA programs will cover the core aspects of government agency networks and public administration principles and methods. Here are some example MPA courses:

  • Fundamentals of Public Administration: This course is an overview of management methods in the context of public policy and public service networks.
  • Public Policy Research and Analysis: This course equips you with an understanding of resources and methods you can use to stay up to date on public policy and related administrative laws and regulations.
  • History of Public and Social Service Policy: You’ll learn about landmark developments in US public service legislation, policy, and debate over the past 100 years.
  • Community Health: This course focuses on methods for the development of local and regional health education policy, regulations, and services.
  • Policy Implementation and Program Evaluation: You’ll learn methods for researching, designing, conducting, and reporting on thorough, policy-informed program evaluations.
  • Public Administration Finance and Budgeting: You’ll learn about relevant economic factors and financial regulations, concepts, and methods for efficient financial planning and budgetary analysis and oversight.
  • Governmental Relations: This course provides future public administration professionals with a road map of administrative, legal, operational, and communications hierarchies across federal, state, and local government networks.
  • Strategic and Ethical Leadership: You’ll learn about organizational behaviors, decision-making dynamics, and how to align leadership best practices with other core organizational goals and objectives.
  • Public Administration Policy Analysis: This course is an introduction to public policy development and analysis skills you can apply in public administration.
  • Informational Technology for Managers: This course is an overview of key software tools that can be utilized in accounting, project management, and other administrative tasks.

A Master of Public Administration can offer intensive professional preparation and development. Your coursework can help you become more confident and knowledgeable in the field of  public service or public administration.

How to Choose an MPA Online Program

MPA Online Program

Everyone wants to choose the best school for their learning goals and interests, but it can sometimes be daunting to know what to look for and how to get started. So, here’s a list of considerations to get you started:

  • Subject matter concentrations. Curriculum designs and capstone requirements often vary from program to program. Do you want a program that emphasizes practical management skills, active policy reform and advocacy, or fiscal planning and management? You may also want to decide if you prefer a program that requires a master’s thesis or a more practice-based capstone activity.
  • Career support services and networks. If your MPA goals include building your career opportunities and prospects, you may want to check out what kinds of career support services or recruiting programs are offered by different schools.
  • Online or hybrid offerings. There are public administration masters programs online that offer a range of study designs with varying degrees of flexibility. Some programs are 100% remote, and others implement hybrid designs that combine online and in-person learning.
  • Accreditation. Some MPA programs boast specialized accreditation conferred by a professional organization, such as the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). If you like the idea of enrolling in a program that has earned accreditation based on explicit professional values, ideals, and standards, you may want to keep programmatic accreditation on your school search checklist.

You can also think about what else you most want to look for when comparing MPA programs. That way, you can better determine which program is right for you.

MA in Public Administration Admissions Requirements

MA in Public Administration Admissions

Requirements will vary, but here are common admissions requirements for online masters degree in public administration programs:

  • GRE or GMAT scores (only some schools require them)
  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent
  • Satisfactory college GPA
  • Letters of recommendation

In addition, some programs may require an admissions interview, a statement of purpose, and a resume of relevant professional experiences.

Accreditation

MPA Programs accreditation

Picking a school with regional accreditation is a strategic way to ensure that you’ll get rigorous instruction from fully qualified faculty and training that meets high professional standards.

By choosing a fully accredited school, you can increase the odds of your course credits being eligible to transfer to other schools or programs. Accreditation can also be a precondition for some forms of financial aid and professional certification.

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The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has more information about regional accreditation and finding accredited schools.   

Public Administration Licensure and Certifications

Public Administration Licensure

Some public administration graduates supplement their master’s degree with additional professional certifications. Earning a certification for a specific area of public administration practice could be a strategic way to boost your professional profile.

The Certified Public Manager certification is designed to help you prepare and qualify for jobs in city government, city management, and public works administration. If you want to work in educational leadership and administration, you could pursue a K-12 School Administrator Certification.

Becoming a Certified Public Finance Officer could be beneficial for those who want to specialize in a role related to public finance, budget administration, or budget analysis.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

MPA Programs financial aid

If you anticipate needing help to cover tuition costs and related school expenses, you may want to consider taking advantage of financial aid options.

Common forms of financial aid include federal and state aid, employer-based programs, school scholarships, and student loans. Terms of financial aid offers can vary, so reviewing offers before proceeding can be helpful.

If you’re considering applying for need-based aid, you can start by filling out the Free Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Public Administration Professional Organizations

Public Administration Professional Organizations

If you’re not already connected with a professional organization in the field, there can be many benefits to joining one. Here are some examples of public administration professional organizations:

Joining one or more relevant organizations can be a strategic way to learn about professional development activities and current trends in your field while building your professional network.

What Is an MPA Degree?

MPA Degree

A Master in Public Administration (MPA) degree is a degree that equips people for service in administrative, policy analysis, management, and executive leadership roles. Some professionals with an MPA serve in leadership roles with NGOs, community service nonprofits, or local, state, or federal government agencies.

An MPA degree program can help you understand how government services are structured and administered, and it can provide training in public policy analysis, economics, and public finance and management.

What Can I Do with a Master in Public Administration?

With a master’s degree in public administration, you can be more qualified to pursue public service careers that require management, finance, administration, and organizational leadership skills.

Professionals with an MPA degree often work in government or nonprofit service organizations. Common careers include administrative services and facilities manager, social and community services manager, city manager, public relations or fundraising manager, and HR manager.

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Some professionals go on to work as political scientists, conducting public policy research and analysis. Those interested in pursuing a career as an urban and regional planner can specialize their MPA degree to focus on regional planning and urban development.

How Long Does It Take to Get an MPA Degree Online?

Getting a master’s degree online will typically take 1 to 2 years. A program with a thesis requirement will often take longer to complete. There are some MPA programs that offer the option of completing a more practical, work-oriented, capstone project instead of a thesis.

Some online programs offer more accelerated study options with streamlined credit-hour requirements. A 36 credit hour program with no thesis requirement may be completed in 1 year with full-time, year-round enrollment.

MPA or MBA in Public Administration, Which Is Better?

Both a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) are valuable professional degrees for aspiring administrators.

MPA MBA
  • Involves the study of government relations and networks, which aren’t covered in an MBA program
  • Includes financial planning in relation to public and government accounting methods, rules, and principles
  • Can help you develop public policy research and analysis skills
  • More suitable for private sector management roles
  • Trains people for high-level management in complex and even global business settings
  • Can help you develop skills that are also applicable in some public organizations and NGOs

If you want to develop more growth-oriented business and leadership skills, an MBA could be a good fit for you. Specializing in public administration could help you gain insights into government structures and policy-driven administration methods.

What Jobs Can You Get with a Masters in Public Administration?

Masters in Public Administration jobs

The type of job you can qualify for will likely depend on many factors, including your relevant experience, certifications, and specializations. Where you live and which industry you pursue can also affect which jobs are available to you.

That said, professionals with an MPA tend to work as administrative services and facilities managers, human resources managers, or social and community service managers. Those with specialized training in public admin can also pursue careers as political scientists and urban and regional planners.

What’s the Difference Between an MPA vs. MPP?

Professionals who earn a Master of Public Administration (MPA) are typically trained for administrative roles. Meanwhile, professionals with a Master of Public Policy (MPP) tend to focus on developing and interpreting public policies.

MPA MPP
  • Trains professionals for roles in public sector management and administration
  • Can help you develop public policy research and analysis skills
  • Teaches you about organizational leadership and executive decision- making skills and practices
  • Offers intensive policy research and analysis training
  • Can lead to specializations in certain policy areas, such as economic, labor, or health and human services policy
  • Tends to lead to advisory and research roles rather than administration roles

If you’re really interested in public policy analysis, advocacy, or reform work, you might want to consider getting an MPP. If you want to develop strong administration and executive skills, then getting an MPA could be a good fit.

What’s the Difference Between a Masters Degree in Public Administration vs. Business Administration?

An MBA and an MPA will likely cover some similar management and budget analysis skills. These two degrees are not the same, though, especially since public sector organizations are often governed by complex public policy demands and budgeting principles.

MPA MBA
  • Studies government organizations and administrative structures
  • Emphasizes  public sector finance and budgeting methods and regulations
  • Studies organizational leadership and governance practices
  • Includes public policy analysis and how it applies in administration roles
  • May offer specializations in public works, public health and human services, public policy analysis, or nonprofit management
  • Studies business planning and entrepreneurial business development
  • Covers operational and financial analysis, management, and decision-making
  • Explores a range of dynamic, growth-oriented organizational leadership models and practices
  • May offer specializations in marketing, financial analysis, entrepreneurship, or executive leadership

MPA programs provide insights into public policy and government sector administrative methods that are typically not covered in MBA programs.

Is an MPA Degree Worth It?

Is an MPA Degree Worth It

Yes, an MPA degree is worth it for many professionals. Getting a public administration masters online could help you leverage your work experience and move into more senior public service and public administration roles in your field.

An MPA program can teach you up-to-date best practices in public sector financial and personnel management. You can also learn effective policy analysis and program evaluation skills, and you can receive training in ethical and informed decision making.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 5% job growth for management occupations over the next ten years. Public admin professionals with advanced training often work as administrative service managers, operational or budget analysts, social and community service managers, or public sector top executives.

Universities Offering Online Masters in Public Administration Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers an online Executive Master of Public Administration program. To graduate, students must complete 30 credit hours. Each of the 10 classes is 7.5 weeks long. Applicants must submit letters of recommendation, official transcripts, a current resume, and a personal statement when applying.

ASU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Arkansas State University

Arkansas State University

Arkansas State University offers a Master of Public Administration with a Public Management track. To graduate, students must complete 36 credit hours. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have 3 letters of recommendation, a GPA of 3.2 or higher, and official transcripts from a previously attended college or university.

Arkansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Belhaven University

Belhaven University

Belhaven University offers an online program for a Master of Public Administration. The program consists of 12 courses that are 7 weeks long and has two concentrations: Finance and Human Resources. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 2.5 or higher.

Belhaven University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

California State University – San Bernardino

California State University Chico

California State University-San Bernardino offers a Master of Public Administration degree. Students are allowed to earn the degree at their own pace through the online program. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

California State University, San Bernardino is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

DePaul University

DePaul University

DePaul University offers a Master of Public Administration. Students are able to add specializations in Emergency Management, Public Management, Metropolitan and Urban Affairs, or International Public Management.

To graduate, students must complete 13 courses. Applicants must submit official transcripts, a personal statement, and a resume when applying.

DePaul University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

Florida International University

Florida International University

Florida International University offers an online Master of Public Administration program. To graduate, students must complete 42 credit hours and maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, three letters of recommendation, a writing sample, GRE or GMAT test scores, and a GPA of 3.25 or higher.

Florida International University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Indiana State University

Indiana State University

Indiana State University offers a Master of Public Administration. Students must complete 36 credit hours and a final capstone project to graduate. The program offers concentrations in Criminology, Human Resources, and Public Health. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 2.75 or higher and submit a statement of purpose.

Indiana State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Kent State University

Kent State University

Kent State University offers an online Master of Public Administration program. Students must complete 36 credit hours and a final capstone project to graduate. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, 3 letters of recommendation, official transcripts, a statement of purpose, and a writing sample.

Kent State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers an online Master of Public Administration program. To graduate, students must complete 36 credit hours. Each class is 8 weeks long. The program allows students to add 1 of 7 concentrations to their degree. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Marist College

Marist College

Marist College offers a Master of Public Administration. Students may add a specialization in Public Management, Ethical Leadership, Analytics, Nonprofit Management, or Healthcare Administration. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and need to submit transcripts, a personal statement, GRE scores, and a current resume.

Marist College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

National University

National University

National University offers a Master of Public Administration. The program can be completed online, and each class is 4 weeks long. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher from a bachelor’s degree program and need to submit an application for admission.

National University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University

Northwestern University offers a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration. Students can add a specialization in Public Policy, Global Policy, Global Health, or Data Analytics for Public Policy. Applicants may apply online with a statement of purpose, a resume, 2 letters of recommendation, a writing sample, and official transcripts.

Northwestern University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University offers a Master of Public Administration. To graduate, students must complete 39 credit hours and a final capstone seminar. To be eligible for the program, applicants may apply online through the school’s website with official transcripts, an academic essay, and 2 references.

Old Dominion University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Pennsylvania State University

Pennsylvania State University

Pennslyvania State University offers a Master of Public Administration. To graduate, students must complete 39 credit hours, including an internship and a capstone project. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and submit GRE or GMAT test scores, 3 references, and official transcripts from all schools attended.

The Pennsylvania State University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Regent University

Regent University

Regent University offers a Master of Public Administration with an emphasis in General Public Administration.

To graduate, students must complete 36 credit hours. Each class is 8 weeks long. Applicants must submit an admissions questionnaire, official college transcripts, and copies of their government-issued ID when applying online through the school’s website.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

San Diego State University

San Diego State University

San Diego State University offers a Master of Public Administration online program. The program can potentially be completed in 16 months and requires students to complete a final capstone project. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0, 2 letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose.

San Diego State University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Texas A and M University

Texas A and M University

Texas A&M University offers an online Executive Master of Public Service and Administration program. Students may choose one of three different tracks: Homeland Security, Nonprofit Management, or Public Management. Applicants must submit official transcripts, a resume, a statement of purpose, and 3 letters of recommendation.

Texas A&M University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Central Florida

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida offers an online Master’s in Public Administration. To graduate, students must complete 42 credit hours. When applying, applicants are connected with success coaches to help with the process. GRE or GMAT test scores and official transcripts must be submitted when applying.

The University of Central Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Illinois – Springfield

University of Illinois Springfield

The University of Illinois—Springfield offers an online Master of Public Administration program. It requires students to complete 36 credit hours to graduate. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have an undergraduate GPA of 2.5 or higher and submit official transcripts, a personal statement, and a current resume.

UIS is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of Southern California

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California offers a Master of Public Administration. The program is designed to last for a year and requires students to complete 2 on-campus residencies and a capstone project. Applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and submit 3 letters of recommendation and GRE or GMAT test scores.

The University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Getting Your Masters in Public Administration Online

Masters in Public Administration Online

Management and leadership roles in the public sector can be both professionally challenging and intrinsically rewarding. These types of positions tend to offer opportunities for increased responsibilities as well as increased pay.

If you’re ready for new challenges and rewards, getting a Master of Public Administration from an accredited school could help you develop advanced expertise and qualifications in the field.

Online public administration degree programs can also offer you greater options when it comes to convenience and flexibility. This is usually the case whether its an online masters or an online Doctor of Public Administration degree program.

You can start exploring accredited schools today to find the MPA degree program that best fits your goals and interests.

Ready to start your journey?
Keith Nickolaus
WRITTEN BY
Keith Nickolaus
Keith has a Ph.D. and Master's in Comparative Literature from the University of California - Berkeley and a Bachelor's in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A retired educator, Keith lives in Berkeley and researches and writes about trends in innovation, policy, and education leadership.