Most Affordable Online Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) Programs

Getting your MPA doesn’t have to break the bank. Learn about top-tier online programs you can afford and discover more college cost-savings tips.

Last Updated: 12/03/2021

Earning a Master of Public Administration (MPA) can help you become a leader in managing programs, offices, and employees within the federal government, nonprofits, global nongovernment organizations, and private companies. Finding an affordable, accredited online MPA program can help you avoid the overwhelming financial strain that can accompany grad school. To help with that goal, this page highlights the most affordable MPA programs available and gives practical advice for finding even more ways to save on your degree.

50 Most Affordable Online MPA Programs in 2021


Program emphasis, curriculum content, and the quality of the faculty are significant in choosing an MPA program. For many students, though, affordability is the most important factor. Using data provided by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the following rankings of the most affordable MPA programs tell you which schools have ideal combinations of affordability and quality. See the “About the ranking” button below for full details on how we calculate rankings.

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About the ranking

Methodology for STEPS Most Affordable College Rankings

Step #1: Create Universe of Eligible Colleges

To be eligible for this ranking, colleges 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.
  • Program(s) in subject area offered at least partially online.

Step #2: Assign Weightings and Rank Colleges Based on Scores in Key Areas

After creating the list of eligible colleges, STEPS’ data science team assigned weightings and ranked colleges based on a combination of affordability, online learning availability, and student support performance metrics. Affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

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.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.

Student Support Services

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

About Our College Rankings Data

Each ranking on STEPS utilizes the latest data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which colleges and universities across the country self-report via surveys from the U.S. Department of Education.

Accreditation Glossary

ABHE: Association for Biblical Higher Education, Commission on Accreditation

ATS: Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools

DEAC: Distance Education Accrediting Commission

HLC: Higher Learning Commission

MSCHE: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

NECHE: New England Commission of Higher Education

NWCCU: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

SACSCOC: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

TRACS: Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, Accreditation Commission

WSCUC: WASC Senior College and University Commission

1
Type: Public
Cost: $$

Both the Master of Public Administration (MPA) and the MPA with Social Entrepreneurship Emphasis at Southern Arkansas University (SAU) are completely online and cover vital skills, such as public policy, organizational environment, management of public service organizations, and quantitative and qualitative analysis for decision making. These MPAs draw on critical thinking skills and self-motivation to prepare students for positions of leadership in public service organizations. The MPA with Social Entrepreneurship Emphasis stresses creativity and being mission-focused to address social problems, teaching students to seek change through innovation, collaboration, and new opportunities. Both programs stress technology and strong content knowledge. To graduate, students complete a professional project that puts their program learning into practice by creating a plan for a public service organization or agency. SAU also offers a 4+1 program for earning a BA in Political Science plus an MPA in five years.

Program Highlights:

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost: $293/credit (in-state); $459/credit (out-of-state)
  • Format: Fully online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (school)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
79%
AccreditationHLC
2
Type: Public
Cost: $$

The fully online and flexible MPA at Missouri State increases your knowledge of fiscal management, public policy, and leadership principles. For the final 12 credits in the program, you’ll choose a concentration in public safety, public policy, public management, local government management, or economic development. These courses in your concentration also earn you a graduate certificate. In addition to core courses, the MPA requires an internship (which can be waived if you have experience) and has a comprehensive exam and a research component. Missouri State also offers an accelerated master’s that allows you to work toward your undergraduate and graduate degrees at the same time.

Program Highlights:

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $12,913/program (in-state); $23,911/program (out-of-state)
  • Format: Fully online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (school)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationHLC
3
Columbia Southern University Orange Beach, AL
Type: Private, For-Profit
Cost: $

While tuition for Columbia Southern University’s MPA program is less than half the price of its competitors, this budget-friendly program rigorously develops students’ knowledge for resolving social and organizational dilemmas. Graduates work in public, nonprofit, and private organizations where they use problem-solving strategies, knowledge of public sector budgets, ethical principles, and public policy management skills. The program offers three asynchronous enrollment options. LifePace Learning allows you to start anytime and take as few as four or as many as 10 weeks per course. Term Enrollment features self-paced assignments within set course start/end times, with terms lasting about nine weeks. The third option is for students with VA education benefits and allows for self-pacing within set start and end dates. In addition to major courses, students complete Project Stakeholders, Managing Complex Projects, Human Resources Management Methods, and Current Issues in Leadership concentration courses.

Program Highlights:

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $325/credit
  • Format: Fully online
  • Accreditation: Distance Education Accrediting Commission (school)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
68%
AccreditationHLC
4
Type: Public
Cost: $$

Arkansas State University offers MPA of Public Administration Non-Profit Management and MPA Public Management tracks. Nonprofit professionals aiming for management, director, or executive-level positions find career enhancement through the Non-Profit Management track, while the Public Management track helps those in law enforcement, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other areas of the public sector. The Non-Profit Management track focuses on skills for safeguarding the public interest, addressing environmental and social concerns, management, strategic planning, and finance. The Public Management track looks at administrative approaches, skills for understanding and navigating the political landscape, and administering governmental revenues, expenditures, and fiscal control within public organizations. Both tracks emphasize rigorous problem analysis, successful collaboration, community and social infrastructure building, and integration of theory. These MPAs are fully online, flexible, and offer accelerated coursework and multiple start dates.

Program Highlights:

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: 18 months
  • Cost: $11,412/program
  • Format: Fully online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (school); Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
67%
AccreditationNECHE
5
Type: Public
Cost: $$

A unique focus on civic engagement and community empowerment sets apart Delaware State University’s Master of Public Administration (MPA). In addition to the typical skills in an MPA program, students in Delaware State’s MPA also learn how to work with communities and individuals to help them facilitate their own development. Students practice their skills through engagement with community members and learn to help others become community leaders. In addition to fully online classroom instruction, learning tools include community-based projects and collaboration with nonprofit and government organizations. The program attracts a wide range of students, from those fresh out of an undergraduate program to mid-level professionals looking to upskill and retirees wanting to learn new skills. Students are encouraged to explore their unique interests. An internship is required for those with less than three years of managerial experience.

Program Highlights:

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

  • Credits: 33 + 3 for internship if required
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $464/credit
  • Format: Fully online
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (school)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
61%
AccreditationHLC
6
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
64%
AccreditationMSCHE
7
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
78%
AccreditationNECHE
8
Type: Private, For-Profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
52%
AccreditationHLC
9
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationHLC
10
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationHLC
11
Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
89%
AccreditationWSCUC
12
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
37%
AccreditationNWCCU
13
Southern Utah University Cedar City, UT
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
80%
AccreditationNWCCU
14
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
69%
AccreditationWSCUC
15
Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
64%
AccreditationHLC
16
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationMSCHE
17
University of Idaho Moscow, ID
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
88%
AccreditationHLC
18
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
45%
AccreditationSACSCOC
19
Tarleton State University Stephenville, TX
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
53%
AccreditationHLC
20
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
69%
AccreditationHLC
21
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationSACSCOC
22
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
50%
AccreditationHLC
23
East Carolina University Greenville, NC
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationHLC
24
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationSACSCOC
25
Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
44%
AccreditationHLC
26
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
39%
AccreditationHLC
27
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
9%
AccreditationSACSCOC
28
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
15%
AccreditationSACSCOC
29
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
58%
AccreditationSACSCOC
30
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
39%
AccreditationHLC
31
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
67%
AccreditationWSCUC
32
Belhaven University Jackson, MS
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationHLC
33
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationSACSCOC
34
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
97%
AccreditationHLC
35
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
82%
AccreditationHLC
36
Type: Public
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationWSCUC
37
Randall University Moore, OK
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
No
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
77%
AccreditationHLC
38
Post University Waterbury, CT
Type: Private, For-Profit
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
40%
AccreditationMSCHE
39
Aurora University Aurora, IL
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationHLC
40
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationHLC
41
University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationSACSCOC
42
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationHLC
43
Troy University Troy, AL
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationNWCCU
44
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
9%
AccreditationHLC
45
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
24%
AccreditationSACSCOC
46
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
41%
AccreditationHLC
47
Anna Maria College Paxton, MA
Type: Private, Not-for-Profit
Cost: $$$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
100%
AccreditationMSCHE
48
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationSACSCOC
49
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
33%
AccreditationSACSCOC
50
Type: Public
Cost: $$
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
58%
AccreditationSACSCOC

5 Ways to Make Your Online MPA Degree Cheaper

While your top priority is finding the program that’s right for you, you’ll also want to consider how to minimize the cost of your online MPA degree. Check out these five ideas, which could save you big bucks.

1

Apply to scholarships, grants, and fellowships created for MPA students.

Many schools provide extensive financial aid information and opportunities such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships for their MPA students. For example, Missouri State University-Springfield offers department-specific financial aid in addition to aid offered to all students. You’ll also find scholarship and award opportunities through professional organizations such as the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, Section for Women in Public Administration, and the American Society for Public Administration. Finally, the STEPS financial aid guide and scholarships and resources guide for public administration students provide even more ways to discover scholarships, grants, and fellowships.

2

Investigate tuition reimbursement programs.

Many employers, including the federal government, offer tuition reimbursement programs to help offset tuition costs for their employees. Some employers require a certain grade or that you commit to working for them for a specific amount of time in return for reimbursing your tuition. While there is no limit to how much you can receive in tuition reimbursement, many employers cap the maximum yearly amount at $5,250 since you’ll have to pay taxes on anything beyond that. Review the guide How to Use – and Ask for – Employer Tuition Reimbursement Benefits, then check with your company’s human resources department to see if your workplace has a tuition reimbursement program.

3

Maximize tax credits, deductions, and other benefits.

The guide Tax Benefits for Education summarizes tax credits, student loan interest deductions, savings plans, deductions for work-related education expenses, and more. Plus you’ll learn how scholarships and fellowships impact your tax return. (Spoiler alert: Typically tuition and mandatory enrollment fees qualify for tax credits, but you must subtract any scholarships or educational assistance such as an employer’s tuition reimbursement.) In practice, maximizing these benefits can be confusing, so consulting a tax professional can be a good idea to get the best results.

4

Check into student loan options.

Student loans include those from the federal government and private loans from banks and other financial institutions, such as Sallie Mae. Federal loans, which you apply for by filling out a FAFSA, include Federal Direct Loans and Direct Graduate PLUS loans. Your credit score affects your ability to obtain a private loan without a cosigner, and terms vary depending on the type of loan. Most college websites have loan information; as an example, take a look at info from Southern Arkansas University, which details not only how to apply for loans but also how to manage debt and even apply for loan forgiveness.

5

Consider public service loan forgiveness.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program cancels loans for full-time public service employees who work for the government and nonprofit organizations. Qualifying loans include those through the Direct Loan Program, the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, and the Federal Perkins Loan Program. Additional criteria include having a repayment plan and making a minimum number of qualifying payments. While this may not yet apply to your online MPA, it could help with past student loan debt and clear the way for you to better afford your MPA.

What Impacts the Cost of an Online MPA Program?

As you choose a top-quality, super-affordable MPA program, be sure you’ve considered the following factors. These costs can be a bit hidden but potentially could make your program’s price tag higher than what you planned. However if you anticipate these costs, they won’t break your budget.

Length of Program

The less time you spend in school, the lower your overall costs. For those who must limit how much they work while taking classes, less time in school may mean more income. Remember, the sooner you obtain your MPA, the sooner you can move into a higher-paying position.

Residency Status

While some schools now charge the same tuition rate regardless of residency, traditionally in-state tuition costs are significantly less than (sometimes even half!) out-of-state tuition. Pay close attention to tuition for each program you consider and spend a little extra time evaluating programs in your home state.

Miscellaneous Fees

Finding a great tuition rate certainly matters—but not if the miscellaneous fees are considerable. Be sure to look at overall program cost and not just per credit or per course tuition rates before you make a final decision on which MPA program to choose.

Transfer Credits

If you’ve already completed some master’s level coursework, be sure to check if schools you are considering allow you to transfer credits. The savings in time and money can be substantial, especially at schools like Columbia Southern, which allows MPA students to transfer up to 18 credits.

Making Connections

Most MPA students hope to obtain an executive-level position, which means they need connections. So in addition to a high-quality curriculum, flexibility, and affordability, choose a program that provides networking opportunities. For example, the program at Delaware State University emphasizes engagement with the community, providing lots of opportunities to work with local leaders. Remind yourself that, if the program you’re looking at doesn’t lend itself to meeting the people who might hire you, you could end up taking a lesser position and reduce your overall income in the long term.