Leadership in civil service is a challenge quite unlike management and administration in private industry. While managers in private business have to worry about satisfying their bosses, and executives answer to the stockholders or board of directors, professionals in public administration also have to answer to the public – voters and their elected representatives. That added layer of responsibility, and the challenges that go along with it, means that professionals who want to take on leadership positions in public policy and administration benefit from the specialized education that a Master of Public Administration and Policy can provide.
With a traditional residential or on-campus MPA program, students have the benefit of the faculty’s full attention. In a field like public administration and policy, textbook learning can take a student so far, but real insight and mentorship from experienced, knowledgeable professors is worth far more. Real-world experience is also valuable, and the best MPA programs provide ample experience, with internships, research opportunities, networking events, and more. A well-connected, on-campus MPA program can be key to employment, and can make all the difference in making sure a graduate is well-placed in their career right away.
Methodology: Ranking the Best Value Master of Public Administration Programs
To rank the best master of public policy and administration programs in the US, Value Colleges editors began by seeking out accredited MPA and MPP programs, with a particular emphasis on those accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administrations (NASPAA). From there, we ranked programs according to four factors:
- U.S. News & World Report Public Affairs Ranking
- Niche Student Reviews
- Cost (current IPEDS data)
- Average Alumni Salary (College Scorecard data)
Texas A&M University
The Bush School is home to Texas A&M University’s highly rated Master of Public Service and Administration (MPSA) program. At the foundation of the MPSA program is the goal to educate public and private leaders on ethical behavior and demonstrating accountability. Subjects taught within the degree program include management analytics, policy analyses, and management training. The MPSA degree program at Texas A&M University uses real-world experiences such as integrative internships and yearlong capstone projects to prepare students for a career in public service.
Texas A&M has a rich 150-year plus history of preparing students for career advancement. Located in College Station, the university has consistently received recognition as one of the Top 100 National Universities by U.S. News & World Report. Besides being in a competitive academic environment, enrolled students also have access to hundreds of clubs and Greek life organizations. The college has educated notable political alumni including Louie Gohmert and Joseph Barton. Texas A&M University proudly offers unique programs such as abroad semesters in Qatar and veterinarian degrees.
University of Texas at Austin
The Master of Professional Accounting degree from the University of Texas prepares students for leadership roles and is ideal for professionals looking to become heads of private and public organizations. The University of Texas has three different options to help students earn their MPA degrees. The one-year traditional MPA program is offered to any student with a bachelor’s degree. The integrated MPA allows students to earn both their MPA and BBA degrees simultaneously. The Economics-MPA program is for those who are pursuing a BA in economics and a MPA. Over 95 percent of MPA graduates from the University of Texas consider the degree track as having good ROI.
The urban campus of University of Texas at Austin is home to more than 40,000 undergraduate students—one of the largest colleges in the United States. The University of Texas is comprised of 18 schools and colleges including the highly ranked McCombs School of Business. The college has an extensive number of research facilities including the Harry Ransom Center, the McDonald Observatory, the Blanton Museum of Art and the LBJ Presidential Library. The University of Texas prides itself on having an inclusive campus with student representation from 118 countries.
Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University offers two types of Master of Public Administration programs: a traditional MPA and an executive type (EMPA). The college uses these programs to inspire students to find ways to improve the way public organizations are managed. A large portion of the MPA programs include hands-on experiences such as grant writing for nonprofits, reviewing data for state agencies, and consulting municipalities. The traditional MPA degree is for full-time students and takes two year of study to earn. The EMPA from Brigham Young University is designed for working professionals with classes held in the evenings and degrees conferred in four years.
Brigham Young University is a private institution with support through their founders, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Mormon college does not have a Greek system, but it does sponsor dozens of clubs and NCAA Division I sports teams. As a religious college, BYU is highly regarded for achieving excellence in the field of language and offers courses taught in 62 native tongues – a great benefit for leaders in policy and civil service. U.S. News & World Report has ranked Brigham University as being one of the Best Value Schools and Best National Universities.
University of Georgia
Those interested working in research or the public sector pursue the Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Georgia. Courses are geared for students who aim to run government offices and non-profit organizations. Ethical concerns and accountability are discussed in depth through the courses as a way to prepare professionals for public service jobs. A total of 41 semester hours are required for MPA completion with an internship needed for degree conferment. The program has a high graduation rate with 94 percent of enrolled students fulfilling degree requirements within three years. Furthermore, 88 percent of MPA degree holders gain employment in the field within six months of graduation.
The University of Georgia was founded in 1785 as the first publicly funded college in the nation. The school’s home base of Athens is considered one of the best college towns in the country. On-campus, hundreds of clubs are offered and an active Greek life with 25 percent of all students participating. The college is home to several Public Service Outreach departments that assist with job creation, leadership development, and improving communities. The UGA Bulldogs participate in the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference.
University of Maryland
The University of Maryland’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) program offers a number of options. The course offerings prepare graduates on public policy best practices and how to handle administrative roles in the public sector. The dual degree tracks are very popular among University of Maryland students with the option to earn two degrees within a shortened time frame. Accepted students can earn their MPP degree as well as a MBA, JD, or MSW. A five-year program is also available for those who wish to earn their undergraduate degree and MPP at an accelerated pace. For individuals who want to pursue jobs with international ties, they may enroll in the Master of Professional Studies in Public Administration program. An Executive Master of Public Management degree is geared to professionals who are only able to attend night and weekend courses.
The suburban campus of the University of Maryland in College sprawls across 1,355 acres. The Big Ten School has a competitive sports program with award-winning men’s and women’s athletic teams. Due to the college’s close proximity to the nation’s capital, many students choose to pursue careers with the federal government. Faculty members include Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and members of the National Academies. A newly built research center is intended to assist with the University of Maryland’s mission to offer new research opportunities in the field of virtual and augmented reality.
North Carolina State University
The Master of Public Administration degree from North Carolina State University has prepared the world’s leaders for success. Alumni with the MPA degree move on to hold jobs with public agencies and nonprofits in both the United States and abroad. North Carolina State University is also notably the only school in the state to offer a PhD program in Public Administration. The MPA program requires 42 credit hours to complete. However, interested students can contact advisors about dual degree programs that allow them to earn two master’s degrees with a minimum of 48 credit hours for completion.
North Carolina State University, usually called NC State or just State, is the largest four-year college in the entire state. Total enrollment exceeds 34,000 and the college is home to highly rated business, engineering, and education schools. The campus is located in Raleigh and the college has partnered with the area’s most notable companies including IBM and Cisco to create unique learning opportunities for the student body. The federal government has awarded multi-million dollar research grants to the college for programs that aid in the advancement of new power technologies, big data analysis, and defenses against nuclear weapons.
Ohio State University
Students enrolled in Ohio State University’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program often choose jobs in the field of public service, economics, nonprofits, and private sectors. The two-year program has students complete core courses in the first year and then work on electives, specialized classes, and their capstone projects in the second year. The capstone project ask students to collaborate in small groups and find ways to solve real-world problems effectively using strategies from their coursework. Courses required for the MPA follow a 7-week semester format. The flexibility and high ROI associated with the MPA from Ohio State University makes it a popular degree choice for graduate students.
The urban campus of Ohio State University is home to dozens of academic departments with 160 degree offerings. The college also offers a unique Personalized Study program for students who wish to follow a nontraditional educational track. The college’s Buckeyes are part of the Big Ten Conference with a number of conference titles won over the years. The college’s medical center and cancer hospital has been lauded for the research and development of cutting-edge treatments in the healthcare field.
Carnegie Mellon University
The MS in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University readies students for a deeper understanding of how policies work and how to create new solutions for public problems. To appeal to a broader student base, Carnegie Mellon offers five different pathways for degree completion. Two of the pathways are located on campus in Pittsburgh with the programs taking two years to complete. Upon graduation, students will either earn a MSPPM or a MSPPM with a specialization in data analytics. For those with at least three years of professional work experience, they can take the accelerated 16-month track. The global track requires a year abroad in Australia while the Washington DC track requires a year studying in the nation’s capital. Through the program’s work experience and internships, MSPPM graduates are easily able to find job placements.
Founded in 1900, Carnegie Mellon University is located across 152 acres in the industrial city of Pittsburgh. The college is best known for having highly ranked science and technology academic departments, but has also been recognized for its humanities, fine arts, and social science programs. University students are offered the chance to participate in fellowship programs to support research efforts in their selected fields of study.
University of Minnesota Twin Cities
The University of Minnesota has created a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree program specifically geared to professionals at the mid-point of their careers. To be deemed eligible, applicants must have a minimum of 10 years work experience. Graduates of the MPA program go on to hold top positions within private and public organizations. The MPA degree track is usually completed on a part-time basis with 30 semester credits required for graduation. Real-world experience is a key component of the program with a community service project required for graduation.
The University of Minnesota was founded in 1851 and has remained one of the largest colleges within the state due to total student enrollment in excess of 51,000. The college stretches across both St. Paul and Minneapolis with the campus home to the NCAA Division I Golden Gophers. The college has a unique Four-Year Graduation Plan that assists students with the cost of any courses unavailable on campus during their four years of enrollment. U.S. News & World Report has honored the University of Minnesota as one of the Best Colleges for Veterans and Best Value Colleges.
University of Washington
The Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington has long been recognized as one of the best graduate programs in the nation. Concentrations within the degree program include International Development, Social Policy, Public Policy Analysis, and Environmental Policy Management. The MPA degree can be earned part-time or full-time with a capstone project and 400-hour internship required.
The University of Washington is located in the downtown section of Seattle and is recognized as being one of the oldest colleges on the West Coast. Founded in 1861, the university has remained a top public research college with global partnerships dedicated to innovation. The college has educated leaders in the field of medicine, engineering, and business.
Binghamton University’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree helps shape tomorrow’s leaders in the field of public service. Along with the MPA, students can become certified in specializations such as Non-Profit Administration and Local Government Management. Dual degree tracks are also available with students able to pursue a MPA and a Master’s in Social Work, Student Affairs Administration or Community Health Nursing. Binghamton University makes it possible for MPA students to customize their degree programs to best suit their needs.
Binghamton University is a diverse college located in southeastern New York. The college is dedicated to offering numerous learning opportunities outside of the classroom and has one of the largest study abroad programs in the nation. The university’s entrepreneurship program helps students gain access to unique job opportunities. Binghamton University reports high job placement rates for graduates with competitive starting salaries.
University of Colorado Denver
The Master of Public Administration from the University of Colorado Denver will prepare leaders for top positions in public agencies around the globe. The traditional MPA is geared to those who are new to public service while the Executive MPA is targeted for senior staff working professionals. To earn the MPA, 36 credits are required with accelerated pace options available.
The public CU Denver has more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to choose from. Despite the urban location of the campus, the beautiful Rocky Mountains are just minutes away. The college has earned national recognition for its nursing and physical therapy programs.
Students can earn their Master of Public Administration degrees from Columbia University in as little as 21 months. The fast-paced program focuses on public policy development, managerial skills, and analytical capabilities. The MPA is offered to professionals with at least three years of work or internship experience. Columbia University is one of the few colleges to offer dual degree programs with international partners from universities in London, Singapore, Tokyo and Berlin.
Located in New York City, Columbia University is a private college with over 90 percent of the student body residing on campus. The college has been known as being forward-thinking with a number of social advocacy movements taking off on campus. Columbia University also has generous funding programs with low-income students not required to contribute to tuition costs.
University of Utah
The College of Social & Behavioral Sciences offers University of Utah’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program, which requires the completion of 42 credit units. Coursework includes the concepts of managerial roles, ethics in the public and nonprofit sectors, and administrative leadership, among others. Nonprofits, human resource departments, health centers, environmental agencies, schools, or government agencies employ MPA graduates. U of U offers an evening MPA program and an executive MPA program for students with at least five years of work experience.
The University of Utah was established in 1850. The University of Utah holds the distinction of being Utah’s flagship institution of higher learning and a space grant school. U of U was initially known as the University of Deseret — and is the oldest university in the state of Utah. The school’s urban campus is home to nearly 33,000 students.
Arizona State University
The School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program that has been recognized by US News among the top 15 MPA programs in the nation. MPA degree graduates must complete 42 credit units and six years in which to finish the MPA degree program. Coursework can be delivered through a distance platform, an intensive weekend workshop, or on campus, once a week in the evening. ASU’s MPA program has received accreditation by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administrations (NASPAA).
Arizona State University was established in 1885. ASU operates with several campuses in the greater Phoenix area. ASU has one of the largest student enrollments that exceed 80,000. Arizona State University is organized under seventeen schools/colleges. ASU’s athletic teams have won nearly 25 NCAA championships, among various sports. ASU is recognized as a leading innovative institution of higher education for the fourth year straight.
George Mason University
George Mason University’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program comes from the renowned Schar School of Policy and Government and has received accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). The Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) recognizes GWU’s MPA degree program among the top MPA programs. Available concentrations include Emergency, Nonprofit, International, and Public Management, plus Policy Studies, 3rd Party Governance, and Public Policy, among others.
George Mason University was established in 1949 dedicated to the concepts of Freedom and Learning. GMU operates with several campuses in Virginia and another in South Korea. Carnegie classifies GMU as a Doctoral Research University with very high activity. The school is named for George Mason the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. George Mason University is organized into eleven schools/colleges. GMU holds the distinction as having the largest student enrollment in the state of Virginia.
University of Illinois at Chicago
The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program comes from the NASPAA-accredited College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs. UIC offers an accelerated MPA program that full-time students can complete within fifteen months. Students are required to complete 54 credit units from among the five available concentrations of Financial Management, Nonprofit Management, Public Management, Public Policy or Urban Governance & Management. Degree candidates form a team during the final two semesters to complete a capstone project.
The University of Illinois at Chicago was established in 1982 with the motto Teach, Research, Serve and Care. The school’s 240+- acre campus is home to more than 30,000 students. UIC is home to the country’s largest medical school. UIC can trace its origins back to 1867 where it began as a land grant school in Champaign-Urbana.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Master of Public Administration degree program has received accreditation from the Commission on Peer Review & Accreditation (NASPAA). UAB’s curriculum is flexible and offers tremendous networking opportunities. Students are required to complete 42 credit units, which includes an MPA internship. Degree candidates can opt for the study plan that includes a thesis or a graduation research paper.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham was established in 1969. UAB is a member school of the University of Alabama System. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is Alabama’s largest employer and home to one of the biggest medical school/centers in the nation. The school’s urban campus reaches across more than 100 city blocks in downtown Birmingham proper. In 2018, UAB was recognized as the top institution of higher learning that was less than 50 years old.
George Washington University
The Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration offers George Washington University’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program. The MPA requires the completion of 40 credit hours spread among traditional classroom studies, advanced electives a capstone project and/or field experiences. Coursework includes Public Values, Public Service, Leadership, Public Policy Economics, and Applied Statistics, among others. GWU is a member of the Network of Schools of Public, Policy, Affairs, & Administration (NASPAA) and the APPAM — the Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management.
George Washington University was established in 1821 and holds the distinction of being one of only five schools established as a Congressional act. George Washing University, as its name implies, was the brainchild of the first president of the United States (though he did not live to see it founded). GWU operates with fourteen schools/colleges that house a variety of research institutes uniquely connected to the federal government offices just steps away from the classroom.
University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program requires students to complete 42 credit units, in addition to a capstone seminar, in the School of Public Administration. Students are prepared to enter the public or nonprofit sector as professional administrators, policy-makers, and strategic planners. Internships are available for those students who wish to immerse themselves with hands-on experiences. Part-time and full-time students can enroll the UCF’s MPA degree program.
The University of Central Florida was established in 1963 with a school motto of Reach for the Stars. The school began through legislation enacted by the Florida Legislature in support of the Space Coast’s Kennedy Center and the nearby air force base — Cape Canaveral. The school is a member of the State University System in Florida and a space grant university.
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State University’s Master of Public Policy & Administration degree program has received accreditation from the Commission on Peer Review & Accreditation (NASPAA). Degree candidates enrolled in MSU’s Master of Public Policy program requires the completion of 42 credit hours and an integrative capstone seminar. Students without public administration work experience are also required to complete a 3-credit internship program. Coursework includes Budgeting, Public Policy, Research Methods, Government Administrative Theory, and Program Evaluation.
Mississippi State University was established in 1878 under the Morrill Land Act. MSU holds the distinction of being a flagship space grant, sea grant and land grant institution of higher education. The school’s 4,000+-acre rural campus is home to more than 22,000 students. MSU’s student enrollment far exceeds any other school in the state. The school operates with twelve schools/colleges offering nearly 200-degree programs.
University of Texas at Dallas
The University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Economic, Political & Policy Sciences is one of the most influential schools of its kind, and offers UT Dallas’ Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program. The MPA prepares degree candidates to excel in the areas of leadership and administration in nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Students are required to complete 36 graduate credit units in addition to a capstone project and an internship for degree graduates without public administration experience. Graduates find rewarding careers as a consultant, management professional of a nonprofit, HR manager or city manager, among others.
The University of Texas at Dallas was established in 1969. UT Dallas is recognized for its recent brisk growth in research. US News ranks the University of Texas at Dallas among the top tier national universities in the country. UT Dallas’ students align with their motto Education, the Guardian of Society. UT Dallas’ 2018 graduation included the awarding of more than 4,500 degrees.
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program can be completed as a full-time or part-time student. Part-time students must complete the degree program within six years. Coursework includes the completion of 42 graduate credit hours Students explore the diverse challenges through real-world experience gained in the required 200-hour MPA internship requirement and a final capstone project.
The University of Arizona was established in 1885 and is a public research institution of higher education. UA holds the distinction as being the first university created within the Arizona Territory. Nearly 45,000 students study for degrees awarded by 19 schools/colleges on the school’s urban campus. US News recognizes the University of Arizona among the top 80 institutions of higher learning in the nation.
University of Kansas
The School of Public Affairs & Administration at the University of Kansas offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program that is recognized among the best in the nation. Students of KU’s Master of Public Policy degree program are required to complete 42 credit units. KU offers a unique and competitive City Fellowship program to MPA degree candidates. Students graduate prepared to conquer diverse problems in a world of many cultures.
The University of Kansas was established in 1865 by a state government charter only a few years after Kansas was adopted as a state. KU operates with the main campus in Lawrence but several satellite centers in the state. The school’s 1,000+-acre college-town campus is home to more than 28,000 students. KU is home to several libraries — the Music/Dance Library, the Art/Architecture Library, the Research Library, and the Anschutz Library.
Syracuse University’s Maxwell School offers a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program that can be completed in just one year or 18 months for those who want to experience the traditional internship component. This Master of Public Policy program also offers an Executive MPA for working learners at a midpoint in their career. SU’s MPA program has been generating MPA graduates for 90 years. Coursework includes Public Context, Public Analysis, and Public Management.
Syracuse University is a non-sectarian research institution of higher learning that was established in 1870. Syracuse University’s 675+-acre campus is situated on one of the largest hills in Syracuse and home to more than 22,000 students. Recently, US News recognized Syracuse University among the top 55 national institutions of higher learning for undergraduate studies. SU is known for their outstanding lecture series each year, which has included Al Gore, William Safire and Robert Kennedy, Jr.
What Makes a Good MPA Program?
When you’re looking for the best masters in public administration programs, it isn’t uncommon to wonder what constitutes a good one. Your research should include looking at the school’s masters in public administration rankings, as well as course offerings. Because you’ll want to attend the best masters of public administration programs, you’ll be looking at schools with mentorship, internship opportunities, networking, and connections to the government. Your mentor during college will help you find internship opportunities. When you’re exploring those opportunities, they’ll lead to networking, as well as connections to the government. The courses you take during your degree program will also connect you with these individuals as well.
What does this mean when you’re trying to select the best masters in public policy programs? In addition to looking at the school’s masters in public administration rankings, you’ll be weighing options including the courses they have to offer, how many opportunities are available to you, and career connections when you graduate. That’s how value is defined. That way, while you’re pursuing your degree, the school you attend will provide you with the necessary foundation you need for success after graduation. For example, if you don’t have any previous experience in public administration, you’ll want to choose a college that will provide you with the basic building blocks for preparing for an entry-level career with advancement opportunities.
Do I Need Experience for an MPA Program?
While many may associate an MPA with academic degree programs, it’s actually one that ties to professional work. What that means is, as soon as you graduate, you’ll have the opportunity to launch into career opportunities. It holds value to those who have the experience, as well as those who don’t in “for profit” and “nonprofit” organizations. For example, those who don’t have experience in this field can find internships or networking opportunities. However, there are other jobs for MPA graduates with no experience. Here are some examples:
- Entry-Level Marketing Account Coordinator: you’ll be working toward meeting and exceeding weekly goals individually, and as a team; working toward building relationships with current and prospective clients; executing marketing campaigns; sharing marketing strategies; attending breakout sessions; professional networking; attending conferences, and managing client accounts.
- Junior Marketing: must receive instructions well, work well in a people-oriented environment, work competitively, attend team meetings, work well independently, and be able to work on specialized campaigns for targeted campaigns.
Other examples of no experience job opportunities include working as a program manager for a non-profit organization, human resources director, operations manager, or a research analyst. When you’re researching public administration jobs, many of them have “no experience necessary” or “no experience needed” in the title. Otherwise, look for entry-level positions where the requirements state there’s an opportunity for growth and advancement.
Can International Students Earn an MPA in the US?
It isn’t uncommon for international students to come to the United States to learn about public administration. They’ll research the best public policy schools in the world, come to the United States to earn their degree, and decide if they want to stay in the country to work or return to theirs. If, after they researched the best public policy schools in the world and earn their degree in America, they can return to their country with a better understanding of the United States government. Regarding international businesses, as well as diplomats and other organizations, this can be extremely valuable.
Therefore, international students will research the top schools for public administration. That way, they can arm themselves with the best education before deciding if they want to work in the United States or return to their country. When learning public administration in USA, it’s possible to translate this information to career opportunities throughout the world. There are many scholarship opportunities for international students pursuing their MPA. So, when they’re attending school abroad, they can save on some of their expenses.