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Best Online Graduate Certificates in Public Administration Programs for 2024

An online public administration certificate may be the right choice to quickly upskill and boost your access to higher-level roles and earnings. Find out how you can become an expert in certain public administration areas while enjoying the flexibility of online learning.

Author: Kenya McCullum
Editor: STEPS Staff

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Three people are engaged in a business meeting in a modern office. The woman in the middle, wearing glasses and sporting curly hair, is attentively listening. Another woman to her left is looking ahead, while the third person—whose back faces the camera—speaks about Graduate Certificates.

If you are in a public administration job and aspire to rise to a managerial position, then an online public administration certificate may be a good choice for you. It’s also ideal for people who aren’t pursuing a master’s degree but want to quickly gain expertise in a specific public administration subject. Either way, it’s a safe bet to advance in a field that is 7.49 million workers strong.

Earning a public administration certificate online allows busy professionals to advance their education while taking advantage of virtual learning’s flexibility. These programs can also be completed relatively quickly, certainly faster than a master’s degree program. This can save you time and money as you meet your career objectives.

Continue reading to find out how an online public administration certificate can benefit you. On this page, you’ll learn about some top programs and the steps to take to earn these certificates. We round out the guide with different types of specialty focus areas.

Spotlight on 3 Top Online Graduate Certificate Programs for Public Administration

An online public administration certificate is a great option for busy professionals who want to advance their careers by upskilling and building expertise in a specific area. If you’re concerned about making time to travel to a campus for classes, know that you don’t have to carve out that extra time into your schedule thanks to virtual education options. The following are some examples of public administration certificate programs offered online that provide the quality education and convenience you expect.

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia offers an online public administration certificate program that can be completed in 12 to 18 months. The 15-credit curriculum emphasizes how the service sector overlaps with the private sector. Students begin with coursework designed to familiarize them with the public administration role, such as how public organizations are run, policies are implemented and analyzed, and finances are managed. They can go on to take elective courses covering topics like environmental policies and practices, or the ethics of working in the public sector.

Students take classes in a synchronous format that gives them live access to the program’s expert professors. Tuition is $611 per credit, which is the same amount whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student. To help pay for the program, people may be able to receive scholarships such as the Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship, which is designed for Virginians who can demonstrate the impact that slavery has on their lives.


  • Online
  • Full-Time

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota’s online public administration certificate can be completed in one to two years. To provide flexibility, the school has application deadlines in the fall, spring, and summer. Also, the program is offered entirely online with classes taking place in the evening, so working students can effectively juggle their education with their full-time jobs.

This certificate is designed for those in the public sector who want to receive formal management training to advance in their careers. The curriculum provides the knowledge and skills needed to understand how public policy is made, critical thinking skills to analyze the usefulness of policies, and effective verbal and written communication of rules. Students also learn advanced fundraising, project management, public relations, and event planning skills. After completing this public administration certificate online, graduates go on to work for government agencies, healthcare facilities, and private companies.


  • Online
  • On-Campus
  • Full-Time

Indiana State University

The public administration certificate provided online by Indiana State University can be completed in one year after students take four courses. This program is designed for people who want to lay the foundation for earning a master’s degree, as well as mid-career professionals who want to sharpen their skills to reach the next level.

For example, the Budgeting in Government Agencies course focuses on state and local government strategies when creating and implementing budgets. The Public Personnel Administration course covers how recruitment and manpower analyses are conducted by public agencies and nonprofit organizations. Another class, Organizational Behavior in Public Agencies, shows how to handle conflict management, interpersonal relationships, and professional socialization.

Indiana State University charges $462 per credit to residents and $601 to students from other states.


  • Online
  • Full-Time

Graduate Certificate or Master’s Degree: Which Should You Choose?

When you think about a graduate school education, you may automatically assume that your best option is to earn a master’s degree in public administration rather than spending your time and tuition dollars on an online public administration certificate. However, this really depends on what you want to get out of your education. An MPA may be right for some, while a certificate is right for others.

Although you can focus your public administration studies on earning a master’s degree or a public administration certificate online, there are significant differences between the two. One important difference is the time it takes to complete each program. While a certificate program can be finished in one year or less, it will take up to three years for a master’s degree. The time commitment will also influence the cost, so certificate programs are significantly less expensive. No matter which program you choose, you may be eligible to receive financial aid, including grants and scholarships.

The scope of course content is also different. Since a certificate program is so short, it can be highly focused on one area of public administration. The curriculum of a master’s degree program is broader in comparison, so students receive a more comprehensive education. Think about your goals when making your choice between them. For those who want to eventually earn a doctorate, for example, acquiring the more comprehensive knowledge from a master’s degree would be the best choice.

There is also a difference in the admissions process between an online public administration certificate and a master’s degree. If you don’t want to take the GRE, certificate programs generally don’t have this admissions requirement. In some cases, you can get into an MPA program without taking the GRE, but there are many schools that do expect it.

As you consider whether earning a public administration certificate online is a better choice for you than a master’s degree, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much time am I able to dedicate to my studies?
  • How much money do I want to spend on a graduate program?
  • Am I interested in eventually earning the highest-level degree?
  • Do I want a broad public administration education, or do I want to specialize?
  • Have I taken the GRE already? If not, do I want to invest time and money in taking the GRE to be admitted into a program?

Steps to Earning a Graduate Certificate in Public Administration

Earning an online public administration certificate can be beneficial, but you have to go about it in the right way. To help you get through the process and ensure you don’t waste time focusing on steps that won’t help you, we put together the following guide. From research to completing the requirements to earn a certificate, we go step-by-step through the process so you know exactly what to expect.

Step 1: Research Certificate Programs

Just as you would do with any other education program, you want to perform due diligence when choosing an online public administration certificate. That means doing your homework. Be sure to look into the schools that interest you, including whether programs are entirely or partially online and if courses are delivered on a synchronous or asynchronous basis.

Also, spend time considering what type of concentration you want to focus on and if professors in a program have that experience. What has been your past work experience? What new skills do you hope to learn by earning a certificate? What parts of public administration interest you most? Ask yourself these types of questions as you research schools.

Step 2: Make Sure You Qualify

Schools that provide public administration certificates still expect excellence, although the admissions standards may not be as stringent as MPA programs. Every program has its own admissions requirements. For example, Indiana State University expects applicants to its public administration certificate program to have a bachelor’s degree with a grade point average of at least 2.75. Similarly, Valdosta State University asks prospective students to have a bachelor’s degree and a 2.50 GPA.

Step 3: Apply for the Certificate Program You Want to Complete

Once you know what the admissions criteria are for the schools in which you’re interested, it’s a good idea to make a checklist of everything you need to submit so you don’t forget anything. Be sure to completely fill out the application form, which can generally be found on schools’ websites. Also, double-check that you have all of the relevant documents. Programs may ask for letters of recommendation, school transcripts, and a statement of purpose. Give yourself enough time to put everything together so you submit your application and supporting documents by the due date.

Step 4: Complete the Required Coursework and Practical Experience

Once you begin public administration certificate online studies, you need to make sure you’re aware of all program requirements. Generally, the curriculum includes courses such as introduction to public administration, organizational theory and behavior, public policy analysis, ethics and public administration, and public budgeting and finance. Also, you may be able to take elective courses so you can learn more about the areas of public administration that interest you most. You’ll be expected to complete 12 to 18 credits of coursework within about one year to 18 months.

Step 5: Complete Final Project or Capstone & Apply for Graduation

While some public administration certificate online programs may only require that students finish coursework, you may still have to complete a capstone project or a final paper. For example, the program offered by the University of West Georgia requires that students complete a project that applies public administration theory to a problem faced by an organization. This allows students to take what they’ve learned in class and relate it to a real-world issue that public administration professionals may face. When you’re finished with all of your requirements, it’s time to apply for graduation.

Graduate Certificate Options in Public Administration

Public administration is a vast field. It’s not surprising that those who earn a public administration certificate online have several options for study concentration. Do you want to work for a nonprofit organization? Are you interested in having a direct influence on public policies? Do you want to ensure that the agency you work for is managed in an ethical manner? There is an online public administration certificate option that will give you the expertise you need for any of those scenarios. Below are descriptions of some specializations schools offer.

Ethics and Leadership in Public Administration

In order to be effective, public sector organizations need to be run in an ethical manner. Professionals completing a public administration certificate online can learn ethics and leadership through programs like the one offered by Florida Atlantic University. The curriculum focuses on the ethical leadership skills public administrators need to run organizations and the legal principles they’re also required to know. In addition, students become familiar with conflicts of interest that may arise and how to successfully navigate them.

Human Resources Management in the Public Sector

This specialization focuses on how human resources practices such as recruitment, retention, and labor relations strategies can be applied to the public sector. For example, the certificate program offered by Valdosta State University has a curriculum that fosters critical skills human resources professionals need in the public sector, including communication, problem-solving, and leadership. Likewise, Pennsylvania State University has a certificate program with coursework in organizational behavior, strategic planning, and organizational change and development.

Law and Government

This specialization explores the relationship between the law and public policy on the local, state, and federal levels. When students earn this certificate from the University of Southern California, they learn the role that government agencies on different levels play in policy creation and how legal rules impact policies from public administration professionals. Also, students gain valuable abilities needed to work in government agencies, such as communication, problem-solving, analytical, and collaboration.

Local Government Management

Working in local government comes with its own set of challenges. Students who enroll in a local government management certificate program learn how to navigate crucial roles, including urban planning, community engagement, and municipal finances. In order to help professionals gain the necessary skills, the program at Florida Gulf Coast University has a curriculum that focuses on intergovernmental administration, local economic development, urban planning, and state and local politics. Also, students learn proposal writing, budgeting, and grant writing strategies.

Nonprofit Management

People who want to dedicate their careers to nonprofit organizations can learn skills related to managing volunteers, fundraising, and governance. During the Arizona State University certificate program, students learn the history of nonprofit organizations and the innovations they contribute to communities. Additionally, students gain expertise in managing employees and volunteers, finances, and relationships with government agencies. This certificate program also familiarizes students with social entrepreneurship and how innovation is created and implemented in nonprofit settings.

Public Administration and Public Management

If you want to take a managerial role in public administration, this certificate program will hone your leadership skills and help you understand organizational behavior. For example, Texas A&M University’s public management certificate emphasizes the role of public service organizations in a community and how administrators can run them in effective and ethical ways. Similarly, the program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell covers the use of data when managing public service organizations, as well as financial management and budgeting. The program also includes coursework on how public management principles are applied in justice organizations.

Public Finance and Budgeting

Public administration professionals need to effectively handle money to truly help a community. In this specialization, students learn financial management in the public sector, including making sound fiscal policies, conducting financial analyses, and creating and adhering to a budget. The certificate program at Pennsylvania State University helps students learn how to do this effectively through coursework that covers financial management and accounting in government and fiscal decision-making methods.

Public Policy Analysis and Evaluation

A great deal of work goes into good policies long before they’re actually executed. This concentration looks at the journey of successful and unsuccessful policies, from analysis to evaluation to assessment to implementation. The certificate programs at the University of North Dakota and Colorado State University provide a deep dive into this journey. They focus on the quantitative methods used to evaluate a policy and how effective analysis can help local and state governments solve their problems.

Public Sector Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is generally associated with the private sector. However, students in this program learn how entrepreneurial techniques and innovation practices help address challenges in the public sector. Whether someone is running an organization, fundraising, or managing finances, this certificate program can help them learn the principles of innovation and entrepreneurship so they can apply it to their specific jobs.

Urban and Regional Planning

This specialization is for people interested in planning and development issues that take place in urban and regional contexts. The certificate program may address transportation, community development, and land use policies. For example, the urban planning certificate program at California State University, Northridge focuses on how planning is conducted in order to meet the needs of urban communities while considering sustainability, zoning principles, and the economic and social characteristics of an area.