Public Administration Graduate Degrees

Public Administration Graduate Programs explore the theme of public service through the lens of ethical governance and solid business management practices. A graduate degree in public administration could help students develop into effective, knowledgeable leaders with advanced communication skills and an ability to manage policy development and navigate its societal impacts.

Public Policy Administration Graduate Programs, Public Administration Graduate Programswritten by Rana Waxman

Public Administration Graduate Programs: Overview

Students could look for Public Administration Graduate programs at the masters and doctoral levels. Some of the main degrees conferred are the Master of Public Administration – MPA degree, Doctor of Public Administration – DPA degree and PhD.

These programs may offer a holistic and full menu of core content related to key principles and practices within public and nonprofit sectors. Students may also develop leadership skills through reading, course work, and dialogue with peers and professors.

In addition, students may stack on a concentration. Perhaps one that is meaningful to a career trajectory. Nonprofit management, healthcare administration and emergency management are some examples from our partner schools.

There are, naturally other options. Programs such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Science (MS) in Management and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) could provide a rounded management education with tailored public administration courses on the side.

Furthermore, there universities which might offer post graduate public administration courses through what are called, Graduate Certificates. At any of these levels, there are paths that may suit seasoned professionals, curious scholar-researchers and those who want to develop themselves professionally.

What Is Public Administration?

Public Administration is all about the systematic plans, executive organization, direction, coordination and control of government operations. Often, topics covered in Public Administration Graduate programs include instruction about the principles of public administration, different professional duties—and how to develop related skills.

No two course lists have the exact same material, so read through the topics below for a general idea, then review individual public administration graduate schools to see what they offer.

Courses might include:

  • Management of Public Policy
  • Executive-Legislative Relations
  • Public Budgetary Process
  • Financial Management
  • Administrative Law
  • Public Personnel Management

Students might also take courses that discuss professional ethics and values such as transparency and accountability. Courses in statistics, business intelligence and research methods are also on many syllabuses.


Political scientists often complete a Master of Public Administration (MPA), degree.

Public Administration Masters Programs

Masters in Public Administration programs often focus on problem-solving and students might craft a study plan that reflects academic interests and professional goals. Some public administration masters programs are planned-out for the full-time student to complete in about two years, though less experienced students may need to undertake an internship to gain hands-on practice.

To apply into most Masters and MPA programs, prospective students usually need a bachelor degree earned at an accredited institution with a school-set minimum GPA. Current resume, letters and essay are frequently submitted with a completed form, official transcripts and fee.

Master of Public Administration: What Is an MPA?

An MPA degree – which is short for Master of Public Administration – is a professional graduate degree and is the public-sector equivalent to an MBA.

As such, it usually balances out theory with action-oriented practices in three main areas:

  1. Analytical Thinking: Students could learn how to design, implement and evaluate public policy, and may study quantitative and qualitative research techniques used to accomplish these aims
  2. Management Skills: Secondly, management courses focus on how to manage people and projects. For instance, students might learn how to tap into available resources to solve problems and meet organizational goals through courses in public financial management, microeconomics and negotiation
  3. Leadership and Labor Relations: Lastly, an MPA may help professionals to hone (executive) leadership skills through courses on ethics, strategy, decision-making and accountability. Budgeting and effective communication are also essential to those who administrate in the public sector

Some MPA programs meld elements of an MBA and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) with topics such as organizational theory, strategic management and ethics subject matter. Students might take from 33 to 36 credits (varies), which may be divided into 24 credit hours of core coursework taken by all students and 12 credit hours of a concentration.

MPA degree students who do not have any full-time professional experience may be required to complete an internship course. All students might need to cap their program with an exam and research project or guided thesis.

MBA in Public Administration

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a professional graduate program that explores the concepts and practices used to manage and motivate teams and see projects to completion. Students could gain both the analytical and management skills needed to connect the dots with many issues and sectors – public, private and nonprofit.

The MBA’s focus in public administration steps up core business courses and discussions of profitability to include leadership practices used to implement programs or shape public policy. While the MPA is ‘all about’ public administration, at the center of an MBA course plan are topics in managerial fundamentals – marketing, accounting, operations, IT, finance and more.

Public Administration Doctorate Programs

Public Administration doctorate programs include several terminal degrees where students may conduct independent research. Depending on the type of program, those students who enter with a masters degree and study full-time might be able to finish in four years. Those who enter without a masters degree and study full-time might complete their program in five to six years.

Doctor of Public Administration – DPA

A Doctor of Public Administration or DPA degree, is a terminal degree for practitioners. It is often planned-out to help students evaluate current theories and practices to make decisions that create value for the public. DPA students often conduct valid, reliable, and ethical public administration research which may aim to effect positive change.

DPA degree students may be required to take about 20 required courses, all of which might discuss issues, concepts, practices and research methods for public service and within public administration. This may include public policy analysis, strategic planning, accounting and finance.

Graduates may study to add their voice to critical issues through public administration policies, administrative processes, and leadership. Through a DPA student’s research and final dissertation, s/he may learn to craft fair solutions that take into consideration diversity and the globally connected community.

Public Administration PhD Programs

A PhD in Public Administration is a research degree and the highest award for scholars and prospective professors. PhD students may study research-based leadership strategies used to address some of the challenges faced in our global economy.

Because research is central to a PhD program, public administration students may work one-to-one with a faculty mentor to develop skills related to academia. In addition to formal courses, some curricula may include research seminars by faculty and other scholars. This aspect of their program might expose students to innovative research and may provide an opportunity to interact.

While credit load and other requirements vary, some programs may have PhD students who enter with a masters degree, complete about 54 credit hours of coursework. These may be divided into public administration courses, a second field and research methods.

Core topics could include a discussion of organizational theory, public management, democracy and policy implementation. A second major field could be, for instance, in Public Policy, American Politics, Comparative Politics, Justice, or Law and Criminology.

After the core courses are taken, students are usually evaluated through a broad-based exam. Once this has been successfully passed, the remainder of the program could largely be devoted to dissertation research.

DBA in Public Administration

A Doctor of Business Administration – DBA degree, is a terminal practice doctorate for experienced managers. Like its predecessor the MBA, students may choose to focus their studies around public administration or nonprofit management. It is essentially a degree that often aims to help students achieve their leadership potential.

To earn a DBA in Public Administration, students may need to complete around 60 credits, and applicants are usually seasoned professionals who have a masters or MBA degree.

The format for the program could vary but usually centers around core business courses and advanced business research methods. Students might also study strategic ways to allocate and manage finances, personnel, and supply-chains in addition to executive coaching methods and decision-making.

DBA students also generally take cognate courses which are essentially courses in their major. For instance, someone who wants to work toward a DBA in Nonprofit Leadership might study topics such as strategic communication, grant acquisition and workforce planning.

Public Administration Certificate Programs

A Graduate Certificate in Public Administration is shorter in duration and narrower in scope that a full degree but could still be a useful stand-alone credential. Most public administration certificate programs are the equivalent to a master’s program concentration and may require from few to about 18 credits.

Certificates therefore typically cover a single theme and may even be used as transfer credits towards a graduate degree if your university permits it. Because they are super-focused, students who work towards a certificate may be able to reboot a resume through exposure to new methods and skills.

For instance, take the example of a Public Service Communication Specialist certificate. This type of course plan might help students learn how to create persuasive, effective, and ethical messages that reach diverse audiences in the nonprofit and public sectors.

Sneak Peak: Sample Public Administration Graduate Degree Courses

University Public Administration Graduate programs often reflect the knowledge and background of faculty as well as worldview and mission of the school. We provide some samples of potential course topics. For more information, check individual course lists.

Principles of Public Administration: Participants may gain a deeper grasp of how the discipline of public administration started and how institutional forms have evolved in the U.S. and abroad. One may also be introduced to how decisions are made, ethics in the public sphere, human resource management in the public and non-profit sector and society.

Public Sector Finance and Budgeting: Students may learn the theories and practices that go into public budgets and financial management for government and non-profit organizations. Could involve a study of organizational planning, control, reporting, and analysis.

Seminar in Public Management: This course could cover public management and governance, including the tradition of management in the field of public administration, its evolution, and its modern character. The influence of New Public Management (NPM) and related strategies, such as performance management, contracting, privatization, outsourcing, and network management may be included in the discussions.

Seminar in Organization Theory: This course could cover traditional and modern theories of organizations and their value in explaining public administrative behavior. Topic could include structural, cultural, decision, political, and reliability theories and how each applies to public-sector organizations

Data Analytics for the Public Sector: Students might be exposed to an overview of how data is leveraged by governments and nonprofits for decisions. Related material could include data management and governance; the latest trends in terms of data-related technologies, tools, and practices. Participants might also look at current challenges such as privacy and security.

Public Policy: This course may provide an overview of the public policy field. Students might take a deeper look at literature in three disciplines: neo-classical economics, political science, and public choice. Each point of view may be used to analyze the institutions most directly involved in policy formation (voters, interest groups, and congress) and its implementation (Congress and the bureaucracy).

How to Earn a Graduate Degree in Public Administration

Do you prefer to find public administration graduate schools in your city or state? Are you someone who wants to earn your degree without having to commute, move or attend your classes in person?

Not every school offers multiple formats but there may be opportunities to earn a public administration grad degree part-time, full-time and online. Find schools on this directory by location or filter by format (online, on-campus).

Take the Next Step with our List of 36 Public Administration & Policy Programs – Programs

The next step is to review Public Administration Graduate programs to find the perfect masters, MPA, doctorate, or certificate for you. To easily review choices in a preferred category, filter by degree level. Then just click to contact partner schools for more information. Get started today!

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