Washington, DC Graduate Schools for Public Administration and Policy

At Public Administration and Policy Graduate Schools, courses cover how to lead, analyze policy, and to research and craft solutions that serve the public. Schools for public administration and policy typically offer various areas of emphasis so students can tailor a program to individual goals. Study business and public management, government and governance, or build the skills needed to conduct public policy research.

Public Administration and Policy Graduate Schools: An Overview

Public Administration and Policy Graduate Schools offer courses of study at the Masters and Doctorate levels, as well as non-degree Graduate Certificates. A graduate degree such as a master of public administration (MPA), master of public policy (MPP), master of public affairs degree, or PhD is usually required by policy analysts.i

Masters in Public Administration and Policy programs are geared toward both continuing and mid-career adults professionals, offering courses that focus on career development. Doctoral degrees in public administration and policy provide a forum for students to research and problem-solve critical policy or managerial issues in the public and nonprofit sectors. Certificates could be useful to those who want to study at the graduate level but in a short, targeted program.

When surveyed, 73% of people with the title International Affairs Vice President said they had a doctoral degree; 13% a masters degree. ii

About the Campus Format

Students who have a preferred location in mind could certainly start with a search for Public Administration and Policy Graduate Schools in that area. After all, a school needs to be accessible, with features and community resources that appeal to individual interests.

Students enter and might proceed through their public administration and policy graduate program as a cohort which might be supportive and could provide ample room to take part in networking and other events with fellow industry professionals.

In terms of the format, while ‘online’ is often touted as ‘convenient’, today’s universities often gear schedules to the busy adult and at-work student. Some grad schools may even have part-time or full-time programs and may offer courses in the evenings and/or weekends.

There could also be ‘hybrid’ programs which are mostly on campus but may offer some subject matter through a web platform. Either way, this format has a component of interaction and may appeal to students whose ideal learning environment is in person.

Apart from the schedule, curricular options might factor into the “where should I attend graduate school?” query. Most programs at this level are built like pyramids, with the core topics as the base and electives (concentration) as a direction or focus.

Given the range of concentrations, grad students could select a university that has the perfect blend of courses for their professional and academic goals. Here are a few different types of graduate programs to keep an eye out for as well as general information about individual degrees. Make sure to review course lists and requirements from the universities that you want to apply to for more details.

  • Public Policy Graduate Programs: Public policy graduate schools could help students learn the finer points of research, policy analysis and observation, historical trends, systems and outcomes. Look for focal areas such as American politics, comparative politics, political theory or international relations and degrees such as the MPP and PhD
  • Public Administration Graduate Programs: Public administration graduate schools could ready students with the managerial and tactical skills to lead and oversee public programs. Side skills could include the ability to communicate, manage groups of people and projects. Look for areas of emphasis such as health care administration, nonprofit management and more. Common degrees are the MPA and DPA
  • Government Graduate Programs: Schools with government graduate programs often draw subject matter from political science to provide students with the tools to take analyze governmental and social institutions. Look for particular fields of study such as political communication, democracy, governance and homeland security as well as MA, MS, PhD and DBA degrees

Masters in Public Policy (MPP)

Masters in Public Policy (MPP) degrees are thought of as academic heavy degrees. Academic heavy degrees may weight courses on statistical and research methodologies to help students hone their ability to carefully analyze data.

People who hold an MPP degree have a very firm grasp of microeconomics and the regulatory environment. Knowledge of these subjects form the basis to be able to make predictions about what might or might not happen financially and socially should certain programs and policies be implemented and used.

As such, MPP schools often structure their curriculum around courses such as public policy, policy analysis, quantitative methods, and economic policy. These tend to be topics relevant to problem solving, policy research, and policy evaluation.

At the same time, students usually must choose a major or substantive area of policy around which electives and other coursework is structured. This could be a useful way to meld other interests (e.g. environment or health) with an analysis of public policy. Other possible focal areas could include the following.

  • Education
  • Economic Development
  • International Affairs
  • Urban Policy

Other possible requirements for an MPP degree might include examination(s) and an internship. The MPP degree often culminates with a seminar focused on analytical projects where students might develop, present, and discuss individual research.

The minimum requirement for students who want to apply to an MPP school is a bachelors degree from an accredited institution. Each school also sets an acceptable GPA range.

Masters in Public Administration (MPA)

A Masters of Public Administration (MPA) degree is a practice-focused degree. MPA degrees are seen by many as the public-sector equivalent to an MBA. The curriculum is intended to help students gain the skillsets used by leaders and managers to implement policies, projects, and programs that resolve important societal problems.

Coursework in MPA programs typically includes required core courses and a concentration. Core courses usually start out with key theories and concepts related to public administration – ethics and accountability for example.

Other material may tackle budgeting/finance, managerial economics, political and legal processes, and quantitative methods with the viewpoint of public service. Students might also learn about intergovernmental relations to understand the finer points of lobbying, and how to support or implement change through inter-organizational techniques.

When it comes to concentrations, MPA schools may have distinct choices, and students could sometimes design their own with the aid of an advisor. Some fairly common areas of emphasis are:

  • Nonprofit Management
  • Health Care Management
  • International Development
  • Urban Affairs
  • Human Resource Management
  • State/Local Government Administration
  • Public Financial Management

An MPA degree program could culminate in a final exam and applied project. Pre-service students or those with minimal managerial experience may need to complete an internship. A minimum of a bachelors degree from an accredited college or university is a standard requirement.

PhD – Public Administration and Policy

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Public Administration and Policy is a research degree which is grounded in theory. It is typically planned out to ready students to pursue academically-focused career paths and may also be suitable for those who want to conduct high level research and policy development in public and nonprofit agencies, foundations, and research institutes.

Some universities with Public Administration and Policy PhD programs have students to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor. This face-time might encourage students to grow as scholar-researchers, and some may present their findings at key conferences and/or publish their work in peer-reviewed academic journals.

While program content varies, PhD students may study to gain a solid grasp of classic and current texts of public administration and public policy. Most curricula are designed to help students master core ideas and materials, as well as an opportunity to develop expertise in a subfield.

These subfields may focus on any area related to public administration and public policy and might also draw on faculty expertise. As such, applicants may want to read faculty bios to see whether research under their supervision has the potential to fit with their own.

Also, through exposure to various research methods, students could get ready to make a positive and important contribution to their chosen field. Usually, there are courses offered in doctoral writing and presentation to assist students in the final dissertation process.

DPA - Doctor of Public Administration

A Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) is an applied research doctorate that might build on masters level knowledge and skills. DPA degree programs are usually geared to at-work public administration professionals, senior-level public managers and prospective faculty.

DPA degree courses in some universities, are conducted in seminars and may have small class sizes to facilitate interaction with faculty. The course plan could help students gain a deeper grasp of the administrative functions of governmental agencies. It may help them gain expertise in strategic planning, program evaluation, advanced management techniques, program implementation and results-based leadership.

To earn their degree, DPA candidates may need to write and publish a research paper that could impact – in a practical way – the field of their choice. For instance, it could aim to solve a managerial problem in program administration, program evaluation, health care systems, criminal justice or another related area.

Graduate Certificate in Public Administration and Policy

A Graduate Certificate in Public Administration and Policy is a series of courses that target a specific area such as public service communication or human resources management. In some universities, they may be structured with the same credit requirements as a concentration (e.g. 18) but others could be much shorter with only about five courses in total.

The usefulness of a certificate is that it might act as a stand-alone credential for those who want to study at the graduate level but do not want to commit to a full degree. To this end, there are graduate schools that may allow students to transfer a number of credits to a masters program should that be of interest later.

About Accreditation

Many regionally-accredited Public Administration and Policy Graduate Schools also offer professionally-accredited programs. These may be approved by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration – NASPAA.

NASPAA accreditation grants that a masters degree program in public policy, affairs, or administration has undertaken a rigorous process of peer review conducted by the Commission on Peer Review and Accreditation (COPRA). NASPAA does not, however, accredit Public Administration and Policy Graduate schools, undergraduate degrees, or PhD programs.iii

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Sources: [i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/political-scientists.htm#tab-2 | [ii] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3094.00 | [iii] naspaaaccreditation.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/naspaa-accreditation-standards.pdf

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