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Best Online Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) Programs for 2024

Interested in taking your public administration career to the top levels of your profession? Then it’s time to consider earning your Doctor of Public Administration through one of the many excellent online DPA programs available today. We’ll introduce you below to standout schools and resources to help you succeed.

Author: Michael Hoffman
Editor: STEPS Staff

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A man in a blue suit and tie is talking to a woman in an indoor business setting with large windows. The background shows an urban environment with tall buildings. Both appear engrossed in a serious conversation about public administration and the potential pursuit of a DPA.

How does reaching the pinnacle of your public administration career path while making well into the six-figure range sound? A Doctor of Public Administration may be your ticket into top-tier executive, administrative, and leadership roles throughout the public sector with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and more. And earning your doctorate in public administration will likely mean more money in your pocket — sometimes a lot more. According to recent figures from ZipRecruiter, the national average annual salary for DPA-related jobs in the U.S. is $165,527. Further, those working in the top 5 percentile of DPA jobs are bringing in as much as $294,000 annually.

Ready to get started? Then let’s explore paths to your future DPA degree. There’s no more convenient and affordable way to do that than through one of the many high-quality accredited online Doctor of Public Administration programs available today. We’ll introduce you below to the best of those programs and show you how to locate the one that’s the right fit for you. Keep reading to discover how you can reach the top of the public administration profession through one of the best online DPA programs for 2024.

Spotlight on 3 Top Online Doctorate Degrees in Public Administration (DPA)

To start you on your program search, we’re spotlighting three of the very best Doctor of Public Administration online programs available today. We’ve considered a number of factors in making our selections, including proper accreditation, academic quality, study flexibility and curriculum options, access to important student support services, and more. All three programs are also offered entirely online, but if you can’t find a fully online DPA program that meets your unique academic and career goals, there’s likely a partially online or campus-based program that will. In the meantime, here are three schools leading the way in quality online Doctor of Public Administration programs for 2024.

You’ll find several private colleges and universities offering quality online DPA programs, but these programs often come with a substantially higher price tag than their public-school counterparts. One exception is the Doctor of Public Administration program offered by Christian-affiliated Liberty University. The current per-credit tuition rates for the program are $595 for full-time students and $650 for part-time students. Students can transfer in up to 50% of the credits needed to earn the degree, thus providing them with the potential to significantly lower their total program cost.

Another major feature of Liberty’s online DPA program is study convenience. All coursework is delivered in an asynchronous format that allows students to log in and attend to their coursework according to their own schedules. The 48-credit program consists of six core courses (in subjects such as human resources, urban planning, information management, and organizational leadership), four courses in research methods and tools, and four capstone project courses.

Delivery:

  • Online
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time

Specialization Options:

  • None

Affordability is also a key feature of the Doctor of Public Administration program offered by the University of Illinois Springfield. The current per-credit tuition rate (not including fees) for online courses is $367.50 for all students, regardless of resident status.

Study flexibility is another noteworthy feature of the program. Students have the option of completing their studies fully online, entirely on campus, or in a hybrid format combining both online and on-campus components. The part-time curriculum consists of 40 credit hours of coursework and 12 hours of dissertation credits. Online courses are delivered in a synchronous format and typically scheduled in the evenings to accommodate working professionals.

Students choose from three areas of specialization: Data Modeling & Analytics, Organizational Leadership & Management, and Policy Analysis & Program Evaluation. The program is offered in a 12- to 15-student cohort format, and total time to degree completion is three to four years.


Delivery:

  • Online
  • On-Campus
  • Hybrid
  • Part-Time

Specialization Options:

  • Data Modeling & Analytics
  • Organizational Leadership & Management
  • Policy Analysis & Program Evaluation

Another excellent public program choice is the fully online Doctor of Public Administration offered by West Chester University in Pennsylvania. In this interdisciplinary program, you’ll complete 45 credit hours of coursework designed to develop core skills in policy advocacy and leadership, economic and financial decision-making, and strategic management.

Students can tailor their education to their interests by selecting a concentration through their choice of elective courses from WCU’s departments of Criminal Justice, Public Policy & Administration, Geography and Planning, and Graduate Social Work. The program culminates with the writing and defense of a doctoral dissertation.

Coursework is completed online with classes delivered in a synchronous format. Both three-year, full-time (nine credits per semester) and four-year, part-time (six credits per semester) options are offered. The current tuition cost (including fees) is $878.55 per credit. A wide range of financial assistance resources are available to qualifying DPA students, including grants and graduate assistantships.

Delivery:

  • Online
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time

Specialization Options:

  • In consultation with an advisor, students can choose a concentration from these departments:
    • Criminal Justice
    • Geography and Planning
    • Public Policy & Administration
    • Social Work

Earning a Doctorate in Public Administration (DPA) Online

An online Doctor of Public Administration program offers a tremendous amount of convenience to any student, but particularly to those already established in professional careers. But online study isn’t for everyone. We’ve put together the following answers to questions frequently asked by prospective online doctoral students to help you decide whether pursuing your DPA online is the right learning format for you.

Is the Online DPA Right for Me?

Deciding whether or not an online Doctor of Public Administration is right for you is really a two-step process. The first step is determining if a DPA is the right degree to get you to where you want to go in your career. The second step is deciding if online study is the right format choice for earning your DPA.

When considering the first step, keep in mind that earning your doctorate in public administration will help you advance in applied administrative and leadership positions with government and non-government public agencies, non-profits, and private consulting firms — think city manager roles, policy analysts, and managers of government relations. DPA graduates establish long-term careers in fields like education, health care, engineering, public affairs, and more.

As for step two, the following questions and answers may help you determine if an online program is your best option. But if maximum study convenience and flexibility are important, and if you enjoy working online, then an online DPA program is likely a great fit. Plus you can find scholarships specifically for online students to help pay for your degree.

Are DPA Programs Fully or Partially Online?

Both fully and partially online Doctor of Public Administration programs are available, so it’s critical that you understand just how a program’s content is delivered — and how you learn best. For example, some partially online programs (like the University of Baltimore’s Doctor of Public Administration program) require campus attendance for some classes but also incorporate online assignments, communication with faculty members, etc. Others may feature fully online classes but include short-term residencies attended in person on the school’s campus — like the online DPA program at Valdosta State University. Finally, while many online DPA programs offer synchronous coursework requiring attendance at scheduled times, some feature asynchronous classes, meaning you can access them at any time convenient to your schedule. Cal Baptist University is one such program offering asynchronous coursework.

Can I Get into an Online DPA Program?

Admissions requirements for Doctor of Public Administration programs vary somewhat from program to program. There are, though, a number of requirements common to most programs, including:

  • A master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Many programs accept master’s in any major.
  • A minimum GPA on previous graduate-level coursework. Specific minimums vary by program, but 3.0 or 3.25 is common.
  • Professional work experience. Again, the specific amount and nature of professional experience required varies by program, and many programs evaluate the type and amount of experience on a case-by-case basis.
  • Other typical application submittals include a professional resume, letters of recommendation, and a statement of academic and professional goals.

Can I Specialize When Earning my DPA Online?

The short answer is yes, you absolutely can specialize your DPA studies to focus on one (or more) areas of practice within the larger public administration field. But the ability to do so will depend heavily on the particular online DPA program you choose. Some programs offer specialization or concentration options, while others allow you to tailor your studies through your choice of elective courses. Still other programs offer a more generalized approach without specialization. Here are six common specializations you may find through your DPA research.

  • Public Policy Analysis and Evaluation: Students in this specialization explore the means and methods for identifying, evaluating, and determining the consequences of public policies in all areas and levels (local, state, regional, national) of the public sector.
  • Public Management and Leadership: This specialization prepares graduates to fill top management positions in the public sector through the development of skills in human resources, finances, organizational structure, strategic planning, ethics, and more.
  • Nonprofit Management: This specialization is like public management and leadership, except with a specific focus on the unique issues and challenges encountered in the administration and management of nonprofit organizations.
  • Public Finance and Budgeting: In this specialization, students develop skills in the effective management of public sector funds. Specific topics include budget creation and implementation, the use of financial methods and tools, asset management, business ethics, and more.
  • Urban and Regional Planning: Students opting for this specialization are introduced to the theories and practices associated with the strategic development and use of public lands and physical facilities in cities, metro areas, counties, and other public jurisdictions.
  • Social Policy: This is an excellent choice for students interested in administrative careers in education, social work, and public policy creation. You’ll learn about wealth distribution and economic inequality, social mobility, educational access and inequality, race and ethnicity, and barriers to political access.

What’s the Difference Between an Online DPA and a PhD in Public Administration?

You’ll discover during your DPA program search that several schools offer a PhD in Public Administration, so it’s important to understand the basic differences between these doctorates. We’ve listed some of the highlights in the table below, but in the broadest of terms, the DPA is designed for students interested in applied or practical roles in government agencies and non-profit organizations. A PhD in Public Administration, on the other hand, is geared more toward those seeking careers in research and academia.

It is also critical to appreciate that these are general differences and that there are no distinct lines between these degree types — you’ll find some DPA programs with elements more associated with PhD in Public Administration programs and vice versa. This underscores your need to investigate the specifics of each public administration doctoral program you’re considering before you make your choice.

DPAPhD in Public Admin
Academic focusEvidence-basedResearch-based
Career trackClinical/professionalAcademia
Program type (common)Part-timeFull-time
Program length4-5 years5-7 years
Primary studentsMid-careerEarly career

PhD sound like the better fit? Read our full page about blended and online PhDs in public Administration. (Page in progress, will link in editing.)

What Is a Capstone Project? Is It Different from a Dissertation?

In general terms, a capstone project is an interdisciplinary experience in which the student applies knowledge and skills gained in their degree studies to a specific, program-approved real-world problem or issue. In the case of a DPA program, the project might address an issue currently experienced by the student’s employer or related to their chosen specialization. The project typically results in the writing of a report that sets out the issue, reviews existing research, and offers one or more solutions. This differs from a dissertation, which typically involves conducting original research, then writing and defending a report designed to add to the body of academic knowledge.

DPA programs typically require a capstone or a dissertation; thoroughly research your program’s requirements to learn which option is available to you.

How Much Does an Online DPA Cost?

The price tag for earning your doctorate in public administration can vary substantially depending on the program you choose, as indicated by the current tuition costs for the five online DPA programs listed in the chart below. Keep in mind the availability of scholarships designed for public service students as well as loan forgiveness to help offset some costs associated with your degree.

Public colleges and universities are where you’re likely to find the most affordable online DPA options. Don’t let that keep you from considering a private school program, though. Many private programs offer generous financial aid packages to DPA students that make them highly competitive with public programs. Be sure to contact the school’s financial aid office to see what funding support is available.

School NameNo. of CreditsCost/CreditTotal Cost
Cal Baptist University60$830$48,800
National University54$442$23,868
Nova Southeastern University60$1,500$90,000
University of Baltimore (at The Universities at Shady Grove)48$1,071 (in-state);
$1,765 (out-of-state)
$51,408 (in-state);
$84,720 (out-of-state)
Valdosta State University54$293$15,822

What Type of Accreditation Should I Look for?

Proper accreditation is critical to ensuring that your online DPA program meets standards of academic quality. It’s also a requirement for most of the financial aid opportunities available to help you pay for your degree. There are two basic types of accreditations related to postsecondary degree programs: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation concerns academic quality of a school as a whole. Institutional accreditation of U.S colleges and universities is administered by independent accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Programmatic accreditation has to do with the vetting of degree programs in a particular discipline. It is typically handled by professional associations representing that specific discipline. An online DPA program offered through a school’s business department, for example, may be programmatically accredited through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. However, there are currently no professional associations that specifically accredit DPA programs in the United States. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) accredits master’s-level programs and is currently surveying DPA and PhD programs to learn how to better serve them.

You can check DPA program institutional and programmatic status by using this Department of Education search engine.

Additional Resources for Public Administration Students and Professionals

Finding the right Doctor of Public Administration program for you is just the beginning. Now it’s time to concentrate on your academic success. Below are links to 10 additional resources you can access for help in succeeding in your online DPA before, during, and after your studies.

  • American Political Science Association (APSA)
    With over 11,000 members in more than 100 countries, ASPA is the leading professional organization dedicated to the study of political science. Individual memberships are available to current professionals, students, and others providing a range of benefits such as access to publications, career resources, professional development opportunities, and more.
  • American Society for Public Administration (ASPA)
    This association of nearly 10,000 current and prospective public administration professionals has a goal to advance public service excellence in the U.S. and around the world. Student memberships are available to those currently working on their public administration related degrees. Membership benefits include access to networking opportunities, association publications (magazine, newsletters, etc.) and more.
  • National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA)
    Based in Washington, D.C., NAPA is a nonpartisan, Congressionally chartered non-profit that acts a resource to Congress and other federal, state, and local government agencies. The NAPA website offers access to a number of higher education resources including information on student awards and NAPA internship opportunities.
  • Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)
    NASPAA is a non-profit organization best known as the primary accrediting agency of public administration master’s degree programs. DPA students visiting the NASPAA website can access a number of helpful resources including a program database and career resource page.
  • Pi Alpha Alpha
    Sponsored by NASPAA, Pi Alpha Alpha is the national honor society for public administration students. Society chapters are active on nearly 200 college and university campuses today. Student member benefits include acknowledgement of academic achievement, networking and job search access, and the opportunity for involvement in ongoing public service activities.
  • Public Administration and Policy Academic Network (Facebook)
    This Facebook group of nearly 1,700 members includes professors, academic researchers, and doctoral students in the public administration and policy fields. You can join the group to participate in discussions, post announcements, ask questions, access job postings, etc.
  • Public Administration Student Resources, Scholarships, and Support Services
    This Steps guide offers information and links to online resources designed to help you succeed in your public administration studies and career. Included are descriptions of a wide variety of scholarship opportunities currently available to help you pay for your public administration education.
  • Public Administration Today
    Access this clearinghouse of public administration information for news, articles, webinars, and newsletters. The website additionally offers a robust blog with hundreds of informative posts.
  • USA.gov
    This federal government website is your one-stop resource providing detailed information and access to virtually all federal, state, and local governments. Included is this very handy index of U.S. government departments and agencies.
  • What Can You Do with a Public Administration Degree?
    This excellent guide provides you with answers to your questions about public administration careers. You’ll also learn all about the various college degree types available to help launch those careers.