Guide to Earning Your Master’s in Public Administration Online

People who want to take leadership roles in government agencies and nonprofit organizations can prepare for the responsibilities of these important positions by enrolling in online MPA programs. These degrees teach students to recruit and manage employees, make data-driven and ethical decisions, and oversee finances. Learn more about the curriculum, jobs graduates qualify for, and where to find the best online MPA programs.

Last Updated: 05/11/2022

The Best Online MPA Programs of 2022

In order to find the right online MPA program for your needs, you’ll want to consider several factors, such as total cost, available concentrations, program format and length, and admissions requirements. To help you find a program that will give you the best return on your investment, we have created the following rankings that provide details on the best online MPA programs from around the country. Browse the list, then sort and filter programs by the qualities that are most important to you to find your ideal school match.

About the ranking

Methodology for the STEPS Best Online Programs in 2022

Generate List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

Assign Impact of Data Points

After generating the list of eligible schools, the STEPS data team then assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability. Online program availability and overall affordability received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. When unable to verify this number, a star-based system was used to signify the number of programs relative to peers.

Affordability

  • Cost:
    Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid:
    Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

All STEPS rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 76%
Online Students 7,194
2
Indiana University-Bloomington

Bloomington, Indiana

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 61%
Online Students 3,367

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 68%
Online Students 2,743
4
Governors State University

University Park, Illinois

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 11:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 36%
Online Students 329
5
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Charlotte, North Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 20:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 42%
Online Students 2,371
6
Texas Southern University

Houston, Texas

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 42%
Online Students 588

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 50%
Online Students 2,785
8
Belhaven University

Jackson, Mississippi

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 8:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 94%
Online Students 42
9
Drake University

Des Moines, Iowa

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 10:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 728
10
University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Pembroke, North Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 30%
Online Students 282
11
Appalachian State University

Boone, North Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 36%
Online Students 679
12
Arkansas State University

Jonesboro, Arkansas

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 77%
Online Students 103
13
Adams State University

Alamosa, Colorado

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 13:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 73%
Online Students 460
14
University of Illinois Springfield

Springfield, Illinois

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 12:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 91%
Online Students 238
15

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 36%
Online Students 263
16

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 59%
Online Students 837
17
University of South Dakota

Vermillion, South Dakota

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 60%
Online Students 499

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 84%
Online Students 172
19
University of Kentucky

Lexington, Kentucky

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 76%
Online Students 2,293
20
North Carolina Central University

Durham, North Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 81%
Online Students 416
21

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 73%
Online Students 978
22
George Mason University

Fairfax, Virginia

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 34%
Online Students 2,617
23
West Virginia State University

Institute, West Virginia

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 12:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 58%
Online Students 13
24
Marywood University

Scranton, Pennsylvania

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 11:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 122
25
University of Missouri-Columbia

Columbia, Missouri

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 82%
Online Students 2,063
26

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 10:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 45%
Online Students 76
27
University of North Carolina Wilmington

Wilmington, North Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 45%
Online Students 557
28
Tennessee State University

Nashville, Tennessee

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 12:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 53%
Online Students 200
29

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 60%
Online Students 364
30
Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, Georgia

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 13%
Online Students 325
31
Clemson University

Clemson, South Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 61%
Online Students 1,631
32
Webster University

Saint Louis, Missouri

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 12:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 96%
Online Students 1,062
33
University of Idaho

Moscow, Idaho

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 91%
Online Students 786
34
Park University

Parkville, Missouri

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 71%
Online Students 109
35
Delaware State University

Dover, Delaware

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 53%
Online Students 122
36

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 66%
Online Students 2,565
37

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 82%
Online Students 1,152
38
East Carolina University

Greenville, North Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 49%
Online Students 829
39
East Carolina University

Greenville, North Carolina

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 49%
Online Students 829
40
Texas Tech University

Lubbock, Texas

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 67%
Online Students 1,235
41
Texas Tech University

Lubbock, Texas

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 67%
Online Students 1,235
42
University of Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 82%
Online Students 909
43
University of Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 82%
Online Students 909
44
Mississippi State University

Starkville, Mississippi

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 90%
Online Students 788
45
Mississippi State University

Starkville, Mississippi

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 90%
Online Students 788
46
Wichita State University

Wichita, Kansas

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 65%
Online Students 481
47
Lindenwood University

Saint Charles, Missouri

Total online programs: 1

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 14:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 99%
Online Students 272

How to Choose the Right Online MPA Program for You

There are a variety of online MPA programs that give students the chance to study in a way that’s convenient for them as they take coursework to gain the expertise they need to excel in their field. Although the needs of students are different, there are some common factors that all students should evaluate when looking at programs. When researching schools, people should consider:

  • Whether or not a school is accredited and what organization provides the program’s accreditation
  • How much the program costs
  • What concentrations are offered by the program
  • Career services offered by the school
  • Networking opportunities for current students and alumni
  • Opportunities to earn joint degrees
  • Background of faculty members in the department
  • Number of transfer credits that can be applied

What You’ll Learn In an Online MPA

Online MPA programs are designed to teach students skills and knowledge to become leaders of public organizations and government agencies. By the time you graduate, you should expect to gain proficiency in the following areas:

  • Using critical thinking to solve administrative challenges
  • Creating and implementing public administrative policies
  • Understanding seminal public administration theories and how they are applied in the real world
  • Understanding how public administration research is conducted
  • Using management principles to lead small, medium-sized, and large nonprofit organizations
  • Using financial management skills in government agencies and nonprofit organizations
  • Developing, implementing, and monitoring budgets
  • Recruiting, hiring, and successfully onboarding quality staff members
  • Understanding ethical principles and how they are applied in public administration settings
  • Effectively communicating with an organization’s stakeholders.

Concentrations Available for Online MPA Degrees

Many students decide to earn an MPA with a specific career path in mind, and in order to help them achieve these goals, online programs may offer concentrations that allow them to gain relevant expertise. The following are examples of some of the areas that students can focus their studies on.

Nonprofit Management

Although general leadership skills can be applied in the public and private sectors, managing a nonprofit organization comes with its own set of unique challenges. Students in this specialization learn how to tackle these challenges through classes in effective nonprofit leadership, government regulations for nonprofit organizations, and grant writing.

Health Services Administration

Those who are interested in a career in health services organizations or public health agencies can enroll in this concentration in order to learn how to plan, organize, and manage health-related programs. Specific coursework may cover health care law and ethics, strategic communication methods, finance and budgeting, and leadership skills.

International Relations

Students who are interested in applying their skills to helping the global community can enroll in this concentration to learn how public administration principles are applied on an international scale. The specific classes may cover national security, foreign policy, intercultural communication, and diplomacy.

Local Government

This specialization provides a look at what it’s like to work in local government administration. Students may learn about parks and recreation management, urban planning, waste management, and budgeting.

Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy

This concentration is for students who are interested in human rights issues in the government, as well as in private companies and nonprofit organizations. Students who choose this area take classes about humanitarian policies, human rights advocacy, the politics of reconciliation, and genocide prevention.

Core Classes in an Online MPA Degree Program

No matter what area students choose to specialize in, the core curriculum in online MPA degree programs is designed to give them the leadership and analytical skills they need to tackle organizational and policy issues. The following are examples of classes students can expect to take during their degree program.

Strategic Planning

Addresses planning strategies that professionals use to overcome the complicated challenges that organizations may face. Coursework covers engagement processes, environmental analysis, and organizational transformation. In addition, students may learn how tactics and strategies differ and when the use of each one is appropriate.

Arts Administration

Students learn about how arts and cultural administration work in nonprofit organizations, as well as government agencies. Specific topics may include the history of arts and cultural administration, and how the arts affect the economy and the people who consume them. In addition, there is a discussion of the different types of arts and cultural organizations and how they are managed.

Public Administration Research Methods

Introduces the different ways research is conducted and how studies are designed and executed, as well as how results are written up and presented. Students may learn about the principles of quantitative and qualitative research methods, and the computer programs that are used to compile and analyze data.

Project Management

Students learn the fundamental concepts of how projects are managed, including determining project scope, time management, project design, and the different roles that workers take during the length of a project. Also, the course helps students understand how these ideas are applied in private companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

Sustainability Management

No matter where those with MPA degrees decide to spend their careers, sustainability will be a concern as organizations are increasingly looking for solutions to decrease their footprint. This course introduces students to the theories of sustainability management and how organizations create an environmentally-sound workplace.

Leadership and Ethics

Discusses the relationship between ethics and good governance, and the consequences leaders face when they go against these principles and behave in a corrupt manner. In order to illustrate the concepts taught in class, students may be required to read case studies that outline examples of good ethical leadership, as well as ethical failures.

Budgeting

This course provides a look at how budgeting is handled in government agencies on the local, state, and federal level, as well as in nonprofit organizations. Topics may include debt management, cost-benefit analysis, tax policy, and expenditures.

What Can You Do with a Master’s in Public Administration?

Earning an online master’s degree in public administration unlocks a variety of managerial career paths. Whether they want to work for city government agencies, nonprofit organizations, health care providers, or private companies, the curriculum of MPA programs will equip graduates to be successful in their jobs. Here are some examples of the positions MPA graduates can qualify for.

City Manager

City managers, who are appointed by elected officials, are responsible for ensuring that all of the city’s operations run smoothly. Whether they manage small or large cities, these professionals handle everything from budgeting to supervising specific departments to being the face of the city during public events like conferences.

Budget Director

Since the funding that governments and nonprofit organizations have to work with can be limited, budget managers are tasked with stretching those dollars as much as possible to ensure everything gets done. As a result, budget directors research and analyze financial data in order to determine where money should be allocated and how costs can be cut.

Director of Development

These professionals are responsible for overseeing the fundraising of an organization. The position entails providing information to the public about what an organization does, recruiting and training volunteers, and managing the work of fundraisers on staff.

Human Resources Director

Whether they work for nonprofit organizations, private companies, or government agencies, human resources directors ensure that the right employees are hired. These professionals manage the recruitment, hiring, and training of new workers, as well as create benefits and compensation packages and resolve employee conflicts.

Public Affairs Director

Public affairs directors are responsible for ensuring that their organization or agency has a positive public perception. In order to do this, public affairs directors grant interviews to reporters, write press releases, and participate in fundraising events.

FAQs About Earning Your MPA Degree Online

How long does it take to earn a master’s in public administration online?

The exact amount of time it takes to complete an online master’s in public administration depends on the program students enroll in. However, generally MPAs can take around two to five years to complete, depending on the program and whether students enroll on a full- or part-time basis. The number of credits students must complete can also differ between schools. For example, the online MPA program at Excelsior College requires students to complete 30 credits, while the University of San Francisco requires 38 and Capella University has a 48-credit program.

How much does an online MPA degree cost?

While finding an online MPA program that has the right curriculum and concentrations is important, prospective students should still consider tuition rates and total out-of-pocket costs. In order to help you get an idea of how much a master’s in public administration will cost, we have gathered the per credit tuition of five different schools. Review the table below for a glimpse into what MPA students pay for their education. Then check out our ranking of most affordable online MPA programs to find quality programs with low costs.

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost
University of San Francisco 38 $1,190 $45,220
Capella University 48 $540 $25,920
Excelsior College 30 $645 $19,350
Ashford University 36 $705 $25,380
University of North Carolina 45 $1,209 $54,405

What are the admissions requirements for online MPAs?

Admissions requirements for online MPA programs vary from one school to another, but generally, applicants are expected to meet the following criteria for acceptance:

  • A minimum 3.0 grade point average
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume
  • A high score on the GRE
  • Statement of purpose explaining why they are interested in enrolling in an MPA program
  • Meeting with a representative from the MPA department

Is it possible to enroll in an online MPA without taking the GRE?

Yes. Although many schools require that applicants earn a certain score on the GRE to gain admission, more and more MPA programs are waiving this requirement because the test is not necessarily a predictor of how successful an applicant will be. Instead, these schools are relying on other factors, like grade point average and professional experience, in order to make their admissions decisions. Alternatively, some MPA programs may allow you to submit a GMAT score instead of a GRE.

Will I learn the same skills in an online MPA as an on-campus program?

Although some prospective MPA students may be reluctant to enroll in an online program because they’re concerned about quality, they can rest assured that they will receive the same high-caliber education that their on-campus counterparts do. In many cases, online programs feature the same curriculum as the traditional versions, so as long as distance students keep up with their work, they will reap the same benefits as other students.

Accreditation for Master’s in Public Administration Online Programs

Accreditation is an extremely important factor that prospective MPA students should keep in mind when choosing an online program because it certifies that a school offers a quality curriculum. In order to receive this designation, schools are rigorously vetted to ensure that they are training students to industry standards.

The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is responsible for accrediting MPA programs, including those taught online. During the accreditation process, the organization reviews a self-report of schools’ curriculum, mission, and outcomes, as well as visits the campuses in order to verify the information provided.

Beyond NASPAA accreditation, students should check to make sure the university they are researching holds institutional accreditation, which governs the entire school, not just the MPA program. Search the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to check a school’s accreditation status.