How to Find the Best Online MPA Degree?

Created by Henry Steele

By Henry Steele - August 14, 2018
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Professionals in the nonprofit and public sectors often choose to earn a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree. This is a two year graduate degree that gives you the skills, knowledge and experience to work in mid- and upper-level management positions in the public and nonprofit sectors. Some refer to the MPA degree as the ‘MBA for the public sector.’

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Professionals with an MPA degree can qualify for many good positions with job titles such as program director, executive director, program analyst, public administration consultant, and administrative services manager. The latter profession will experience a 10% rise in job demand by 2026, which is faster than average. It is expected that skills such as administrative tasks, facility management and information management will continue to gain in importance.

If you want a career in the public or nonprofit sector, below is more information about how you can find the best online MPA degree. We also highlight five strong online MPA programs later in the article.

Type of Online MPA

An online MPA program is usually a two year program that focuses on vital subject areas in public administration, such as organizational management in the public sector; human resources; public law; strategic communications; and program and policy evaluation.

Many MPA programs are designed for professionals who have a few years of experience in the public sector. Others may be designed for recent graduates with limited work experience in the public or private sector. It is important to verify if the MPA program you are considering is most appropriate for experienced public sector professionals or new graduates. If you do not have public administration experience, you may need to take prerequisite courses to prepare yourself for the rigor of an MPA program.

How Long Does It Take

An online MPA typically consists of 32 to 60 credit hours, with most students graduating within 24 months. However, if you attend the program part time, it can take three or four years to complete it. Students who have a strong background in public administration with prior coursework may be able to complete the program in as little as a year full time.

If you work full time in the public or nonprofit sector, you may want to consider an online MPA program that allows you to take your classes on your own schedule. Some MPA programs have most or all of their coursework recorded, so you can watch the lectures whenever you like. Other programs have live classes where you must attend on a set schedule. Other programs have a combination of both systems.

Also, different online MPA programs have different start times. Some will allow you to begin whenever you like, while others have two or three start times per year.

Online MPA Coursework

Each online MPA program will have its own curriculum, but you can expect the same types of courses offered at accredited programs. For example, the online MPA program at the University of North Carolina has the following courses:

  • Public Administration Institutions and Values
  • Organization Theory
  • Public Service Leadership
  • Public Administration Analysis and Evaluation
  • Professional Communication
  • HR Management
  • Public Financial Management
  • Law for Public Administration

If you have taken graduate coursework in the past for a public administration or related degree, it is recommended to check that your online degree program will provide you with course credit. If so, you can reduce your time in the graduate program substantially.

Online MPA Degree Specializations

The public and nonprofit sectors are large in the US, and there are many different areas in which you can work with your MPA degree. Some of the common concentrations with this graduate degree are:

  • City planning
  • Corrections
  • Criminology
  • Nonprofit management
  • HR management
  • Project management
  • Higher education
  • Critical infrastructure and key resources
  • Continuity management

All students who want to earn their MPA degree should check their program to see if it has the specialties that you are interested in.

Online MPA Admission Requirements

Some MPA programs will require you to have work experience in the public sector, while others will not. You may need to submit GRE scores, but not every school requires it. Also, you will need to have a suitable GPA between 2.5 and 3.0 for most quality programs, and two or three academic or professional recommendations.

With this important information in mind, the following online MPA programs are recommended for your consideration

#1 Penn State World Campus

The online Master of Public Administration at Penn State World Campus will provide you with the skill set to be an in demand leader in the public sector, but you will have the flexibility as well to shift from government to nongovernmental careers.

This two year, online MPA degree is designed to help you grow your ability to analyze, understand and control your organizational environment, so that you can more effectively manage and promote change for the good in the public and nonprofit sectors.

This program has both theoretical and applied concepts, with a curriculum that covers finance, administration and organizational governance. It also will provide you with the real world experience you need if you are a beginning public administrator. This two year MPA program is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA), and has elective courses in the following key subjects:

  • HR
  • Nonprofit management
  • Policy analysis and evaluation
  • Public budgeting and financial management
  • State/local government and administration

The cost of the program is $10,600 for tuition for each semester if you are attending full time. If you attend part time, the tuition is $886 per credit hour. You will need to have GRE or GMAT scores to apply if your GPA as an undergraduate is less than 3.0.

#2 University of Southern California

The Master of Public Administration at the University of Southern California is a highly rated program within the Sol Price School of Public Policy that integrates the vital disciplines related to management and leadership in the modern political and public sector environment. The program has cutting edge research and connects it to practice of management and public policy. It will equip each student with the skills that are needed for the opportunities and challenges of public administration, which is always changing.

Most students who graduate with this degree from USC work in the administration of public services in the local, state and federal governments. Students often work in job functions including city planning, resource management and healthcare. The concentrations available in this two year, full time program are nonprofit management, local government and public policy. Major topic areas for your coursework are:

  • Organizational analysis and design
  • Financial management and budgeting
  • Economics for policy, planning and development
  • Policy and program evaluation, negotiation and conflict resolution
  • Team building and group dynamics

This online MPA program is accredited by NASPAA. To qualify for admission, you will need to have a GPA of at least 3.0; GRE or GMAT scores that are above average; current resume, three letters of recommendation; and official transcripts. The total cost for attendance is $75,720.

#3 Villanova University

Students who want to pursue their passion for public service can earn a Master of Public Administration from Villanova University. As a student in this highly respected online degree program, you will gain a good foundation in core public administration competencies with interactive coursework that focuses on management and strategic planning in nonprofits and public administration. The mission of this program is to develop creative, intelligent and ethical leaders who want to make a difference in their state and community.

Villanova’s program is of high quality and is accredited by NASPAA. This elite accreditation shows that the program supports student learning outcomes and program improvement for knowledge, research and practice of public service.

Once you have enrolled in this MPA program, you will be able to choose a specialization that interests you. At this time, you can choose a general MPA, nonprofit management or city management specialization.

In this MPA program, you will focus on these subject areas:

  • Effective financial management for nonprofits and government institutions
  • Personnel management strategies for nonprofit and public sector entities
  • Strong statistical tools to analyze data and conduct research
  • Good management practices for nonprofit and city leaders

The cost of this program is $925 per credit hour. To be admitted, you need to have a 3.0 or higher GPA for GRE or GMAT scores to not be required. You also need to have a writing sample, three references, a resume and college transcripts.

#4 University of Indiana

At the renowned University of Indiana, you can earn your online Master of Public Administration. You will be prepared for a variety of public service occupations in our rapidly changing society. This MPA program is one of the top rated in the country, and it builds leaders that make a difference in the public and nonprofit sectors.

There are six core courses that total 18 credit hours, and advanced electives that consist of 10 courses and 30 credit hours. Current specialites are public management, nonprofit management, policy analysis, and public budgeting and financial management. To ensure that the program is only of the highest quality, the University of Indiana’s program continues to be fully accredited by NASPAA.

Core classes are:

  • Public Management
  • Statistical Analysis for Effective Decision Making
  • Public Management Economics
  • Law and Public Affairs
  • Public Finance and Budgeting

Tuition for this online MPA program is $619 per credit hour for Indiana residents, and $1268 per credit hour for non residents. To be admitted, you should have a 3.0 or higher GPA, college transcripts, references, writing samples, and GRE and GMAT scores are optional.

#5 Arkansas State University

Arkansas State University offers an NASPAA-accredited, online Master of Public Administration that will enhance the careers of public sector and law enforcement professionals so that they can achieve management or director level positions. This is a 100% online MPA program that allows you to focus specifically on public administration management, and you will gain significant work experience as you take advantage of several internship opportunities.

In the curriculum that is taught by highly respected professors in public administration, you will focus on these areas:

  • Developing skills, knowledge and dispositions for effective problem analysis and robust collaboration that leads to effective public administration solutions
  • Building communities and social infrastructure by using good communication and effective management
  • Integrating practice and theory through field activities and internships that build essential public administration skills

Each student completing this degree must complete 36 credit hours with 21 hours of MPA courses and 15 hours of public management courses. Required courses include:

  • Public Budgeting and Finance
  • Political and Public Administration Research
  • Grant Writing and Administration
  • Seminar in Public Administration
  • Seminar in HR Management
  • Administrative Leadership
  • Administrative Ethics

To be admitted to this MPA program, you should have at least a 2.5 GPA, and GRE or GMAT scores are not required. You also should have a resume with related work experience, three references and college transcripts. The cost of this program is $306 per credit hour. Most students can graduate within 18 months attending full time.

Now that you have a better understanding of what to look for in an online MPA program and good programs to consider, you have what you need to make a good choice for your public administration career.


Henry Steele
Managing Editor
Henry is Managing Editor of He is a seasoned business professional who regularly consults with local business's throughout Southern California. Henry pursued his undergrad in Business and Economics at the University of San Diego and gained valuable life changing experience through a unique internship upon graduation.

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