Best Online Master’s in Public Administration Programs 2021

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An online master’s in public administration (MPA) prepares graduates for leadership roles in government agencies and nonprofits. Graduates can pursue roles such as city administrator, policy analyst, community services manager, and fundraising manager. In addition to public sector careers, MPA graduates can also work in the private sector.

Online public administration master’s programs prioritize flexibility, appealing to working professionals balancing school with their career. During an online MPA program, graduate students gain specialized training in areas like public management, policy studies, justice administration, and public finance.

This article introduces the best MPA online programs for 2021. It also includes information on MPA career paths, common courses, and scholarships for MPA students.

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FAQ


  • What is public administration?

    Public administration examines the management of public sector organizations, including executive and legislative government functions.


  • How long does it take to earn a master's in public administration?

    Earning an MPA degree generally takes two years of full-time study. An accelerated online master’s in public administration program may take less time.


  • Can I earn a master's in public administration online?

    Yes, many universities offer online MPA programs. Working professionals may prefer an online program’s flexibility.


  • What level of degree do I need to get started teaching in public administration?

    Secondary schools may hire public administration teachers with a master’s degree. Postsecondary jobs, such as public administration professor, typically require a doctorate.


Career and Salary Outlook for MPA Graduates



MPA graduates can work in the public and private sector, applying their administrative training in leadership positions. Professionals with an MPA can hold executive roles such as mayor or city administrator. They may also work as policy analysts, social services managers, and government analysts. In the private sector, an MPA can help professionals pursue roles such as compliance officer, training and development manager, and government relations manager.

This section introduces some common career paths for MPA graduates, including median salaries and projected job growth. In addition to the following careers, graduates can consider various other professional opportunities.


  • Social and Community Service Managers

    Social and community service managers oversee nonprofit, public sector, and other social services programs. They manage staff, identify community needs for new programs, and measure the effectiveness of current programs. Social and community service managers also plan outreach activities and apply for grants to keep their organizations running.


  • Public Relations and Fundraising Managers

    Public relations and fundraising managers help organizations raise awareness of their causes and build relationships with donors. Public relations managers conduct outreach operations and build a positive public image for their organization. Fundraising managers create strategies to raise money, contact donors, and oversee events to gain donations.


  • Top Executives

    Top executives manage organizations, including government offices. For example, mayors, governors, and other government administrators act as executives. They manage budgets, run programs, and determine resource allocation. Top executives also develop and implement public policies to reach their goals. Some public sector executives take office through elections, while others receive appointments.


  • Training and Development Managers

    These professionals oversee an organization’s training needs. They implement programs to enhance knowledge and skills while making sure employee training programs meet the organization’s goals. Training and development managers also manage budgets, train instructors, and update training programs.


Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Social and Community Service Managers $67,150 17%
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers $116,180 9%
Top Executives $104,690 4%
Training and Development Managers $113,350 7%

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Public Administration Degrees



Accredited schools and programs meet the highest standards for educating students and granting degrees. Accreditation benefits degree-seekers in several ways. For instance, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid. Many schools also only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, many employers prefer to hire professionals with an accredited MPA degree.

In addition to researching accredited universities, prospective students can research accredited MPA programs. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) grants accreditation to public administration programs. Many of the best MPA online programs hold NASPAA accreditation.

Courses in a Public Administration Master’s Program



MPA courses build strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Students learn how to manage the public policy process, oversee a public sector budget, and analyze government policy effectiveness. During an online master’s in public administration, graduate students also strengthen their management and leadership skills.

Many programs incorporate a capstone project or internship to give students real-world experience. Learners may also specialize their studies by choosing a concentration in areas such as community development, local government management, or nonprofit management.

This section introduces courses commonly found in online MPA programs. While each program offers different core courses and electives, the following classes represent common options.

Many MPA programs begin with an introductory course examining key public policy concepts and issues. Learners study the diverse roles that administrators play in government, public administration ethics, and comparative public administration. The course also covers core topics such as public management and the differences between governmental and nonprofit administrations.

In this course, learners examine the public policy process, including the development and implementation of new policies. The course covers the interplay of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches throughout the public policy process. Topics may also include public policy evaluation, barriers to introducing policies, and bureaucracy’s role in the public policy process.

In administrative law courses, MPA students examine the role of the legal system in public administration. Topics may include the regulatory process, statutory analysis, and liability for government officials. Learners also explore the rule-making process, legal investigations, and the administrator’s role in applying the law.

This course covers key topics in nonprofit resource development, including fundraising, public relations, and philanthropy. Students learn how to build relationships and promote strong resource development in a nonprofit setting.

In this course, students prepare for local government roles. Learners study topics like city organizational structures, the political foundations of local government, and municipal management. Depending on the program, students may examine case studies, meet with local government managers, and complete projects.

Financial Aid



Graduate students can use financial aid to help pay for their degree. For most applicants, filling out the FAFSA represents the first step for receiving financial aid. Federal student aid programs, including student loans and work-study programs, fund graduate students. Many other forms of financial aid, including institutional and private aid, may also require students to submit the FAFSA.

Online MPA programs can help degree-seekers save money. Some online programs offer tuition discounts for fully online learners. Additionally, an online degree’s flexibility helps working professionals continue to earn money while earning their degree.

Scholarships for Public Administration

MPA students may qualify for multiple scholarship opportunities. For example, professional associations like the American Society for Public Administration and the National Academy of Public Administration offer scholarships for MPA students. Online learners attending an accredited institution generally qualify for the same scholarships as on-campus students.

Herbert Roback Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The National Academy of Public Administration grants the scholarship to current and incoming graduate students attending an accredited master’s program in public administration. Applicants must submit transcripts, a resume, a statement of professional interests, and two recommendation letters.
Amount: up to $7,500

Harry S. Truman Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The scholarship supports graduate students who plan to work in government or other public service fields. Applicants must demonstrate a strong record of community service and academic achievements.
Amount: $30,000

Byron Hanke Fellowship

Who Can Apply: The fellowship funds graduate research in areas such as the financial crisis, community responses to aging infrastructure, and the impact of community associations. Recipients must produce a research paper related to their graduate study.
Amount: $3,000-$5,000

Top Online Master’s in Public Administration Programs 2021



The following list ranks the best public administration master’s online degree programs. Students considering an online master’s in public administration can use our ranking to identify the right fit to reach their professional goals.

#25 – Capella University

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 15
Program Tuition: $504.00 per-credit-hour

An especially personalized educator, Capella University helps virtually any type of student to succeed. Capella is known for its unique degree track options, FlexPath and GuidedPath; FlexPath is self-paced with more 1-1 engagement, and GuidedPath is designed with Capella’s advisement. Capella’s master of public administration online is part of the college’s school of public service leadership; students in the online MPA program can customize their degree in human resource management or project management. Graduates of this top online MPA are prepared for a lasting, versatile career.

#24 – Eastern Kentucky University

Online Master of Public Administration

Program Website

Points: 16
Program Tuition: $611.00 per-credit-hour

Based just outside the capital, Eastern Kentucky University is a student-centered higher education. EKU’s affordable online MPA is 39 credits and can be attained entirely online. The master of public administration online can be tailored to the career interests of its students, offering concentrations in homeland security, emergency management, fire and emergency services, general studies and occupational safety. MPA online program graduates typically go on to careers as policy analysts, government liaison specialists, budget analysts, community services managers, among other fields.

#23 – Belhaven University

MPA Degree Online

Program Website

Points: 16
Program Tuition: $530.00 per-credit-hour

A private and affordable Christian school, Belhaven University continues to expand its range of academics. The distance-learning program includes a 36-credit online MPA degree, ideal for those seeking curriculum based in a Christian worldview; Belhaven’s master of public administration degree includes coursework in economics, public policy, ethics and society, administrative law, and many other related areas. Belhaven has generous prior learning credits, available to qualifying applicants with relevant work or training.

#22 – Regent University

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 17
Program Tuition: $650.00 per-credit-hour

Another widely-respect Christian school, Regent University leads students in becoming well-rounded individuals.  Among Regent’s over 129 areas of study is a 38-credit online master of public administration; this MPA online has a curriculum that includes classes in nonprofit organizations, career management, Christian foundations of government, principles of economics, public policy initiatives, and much more. Graduates of RU’s affordable online MPA go on to careers in, among others, city planning, urban planning, and consulting. Regent’s students have praised the online MPA program, in particular for its top-notch faculty, degree flexibility, and commitment to a Christian worldview.

#21 –  University of Colorado – Denver

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 18
Program Tuition: $605.00 per-credit-hour

The University of Colorado in Denver is one of the largest schools in the region, enrolling nearly 20,000 students each year. UC Denver’s School of Public Affairs includes an online master of public administration online; this MPA online degree has numerous concentrations such crime analyst, emergency management and homeland security, gender-based violence, local government, and nonprofit organizations. UC Denver’s affordable online MPA program fosters a broad knowledge base in the field, particularly with regard to effective communication, writing, critical thinking skills, and problem-solving strategies for the greater public good.

#20 – California State University – Dominguez Hills

Online MPA Degree

Program Website

Points: 18
Program Tuition: $530.00 per-credit-hour

An affordable, high-value education, California State University in Dominguez Hills has a vast range of academics. CSUDH’s graduate studies include a low-tuition online master of public administration program; this MPA online program has two scheduling options to select from, thus maximizing flexibility for its distance-learners. CSUDH is known to have attentive faculty in online construct, and online MPA students are encouraged to interact with one another as peers. This top MPA program includes curriculum in quantitative methods in public administration, theory and behavior, public budgeting, ethical administration, all culminating into a capstone project integrating program coursework.

#19 – Old Dominion University

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 18
Program Tuition: $516.00 per-credit-hour

Base in Norfolk, Virginia, Old Dominion University enrolls nearly 25,000 students from around the world. ODU is especially popular with military-affiliated personnel, which represents 24% of the student body. Old Dominion’s degree offerings include public administration masters online; this MPA degree curriculum is focused on field areas that lead to long, successful careers. The MPA online program covers context areas in public budgeting, organizational design processes, quantitative and qualitative data analysis, public management, and more. 97% of online ODU students reported high satisfaction rates with their online learning experience.

#18 – Liberty University

Online Master’s in Public Administration

Program Website

Points: 19
Program Tuition: $600.00 per-credit-hour

A Christian-centered institution, Liberty University is a popular school for both on-campus and online students. Liberty’s online master of political administration is a challenging program led by experts in the field. Students in the MPA online degree program may specialize their track in business and government policy, disaster management, healthcare, law and public policy, public and nonprofit management, or general MPA online degree studies. Liberty University offers generous tuition discounts for active military personnel.

#17 – University of Texas – Arlington

Online Master of Public Administration Degree

Program Website

Points: 19
Program Tuition: $435.00 per-credit-hour

A large and diverse academic community, University of Texas Arlington is celebrated for its top-notch faculty, military-friendly practices, and education resources. UTA online has much to offer the non-traditional student, including a degree in master of public administration online. The affordable MPA online program is 39 credit hours, and typically completed within two years; this program is a top-ranked graduate program based on recent peer reviews. In addition to a rigorous curriculum, online MPA students complete a hands-on one-semester internship in the industry; this internship can be waived with proven one year of previous public sector work experience.

#16 – National University

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 19
Program Tuition: $430.00 per-credit-hour

National University has over 100 degree programs and it’s particularly fitting to active military personnel. This institution is considered student-centered and flexible, providing coursework that can be completed at an individualized pace. NU has a master of public administration online, especially suited to career-minded students; students in the online MPA program build skills in financial management, urban planning, budgeting, quantitative methods, personnel policies, nonprofit administration, and more. MPA online students have the option of specializing in human resource management or organizational leadership; should MPA candidates choose a specialization, they re not required to add elective courses.

#15 – Sul Ross State University

Program Website

Points: 20
Program Tuition: $483.00 per-credit-hour

Considered the “Frontier University of Texas,” Sul Ross State University is widely respected in the academic world. Those pursuing an affordable online MPA have multiple choices to personalize their interests. Sul Ross has an online master of arts degree in public administration that can be earned alone or in combination with another online master’s degree program; among these programs includes an online MS in criminal justice or online MS in homeland security.  This top school has flexibility in its MPA online programs, allowing students to earn their MPA entirely online or in a hybrid structure of online and face-to-face classwork.

#14 – Central Michigan University

Program Website

Points: 21
Program Tuition: $596.00 per-credit-hour

One of the top schools in the country, Central Michigan University is a military-friendly institution with a strong academic reputation. CMU’s global campus includes a master of science in public administration, a degree that allows students to customize their curriculum. Beyond the core master’s online degree requirements, students can select from specialized areas such as managerial accounting concepts, managing change with emotional intelligence, quantitative decision making, among other options. CMU has a tight-knit online community, where students are encouraged to foster connections with industry peers.

#13 – Sam Houston State University

Program Website

Points: 21
Program Tuition: $385.00 per-credit-hour

Since 1879, Sam Houston State University remains among the oldest and largest schools in Texas. This institution has earned accolades from publications including Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, and Washington Monthly. Among Sam Houston State’s best programs is its highly affordable online masters of public administration; this MPA degree online spans curriculum that will ensure successful careers in the field. MPA students engage in coursework in organizational theory and behavior, ethics and government, methods of political science, and much more. SHSU’s MPA online program only requires an internship of students without professional experience; additionally, those with a 3.2 undergraduate GPA may waive the GRE requirement.

#12 – University of Illinois at Springfield

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 22
Program Tuition: per-credit-hour $675.00 (non-resident) $375.00  (resident)

Founded in 1969, the University of Illinois at Springfield welcomes both the traditional and non-traditional students. UIS has a 36-credit online MPA degree, a program that can also be combined with an online master of public health; this option provides the versatility and specialized skills valued in the workforce. Online MPA students complete rigorous academic work, some of which include courses in contemporary issues in nonprofit management, research methods, government regulations, discrimination law, and much more.

#11 – San Diego State University

Online Master of Public Administration Degree

Program Website

Points: 22
Program Tuition: $509.00 per-credit-hour

Based on the West coast, San Diego State University has an average 36,000 student enrollment. For those pursuing an accelerated online MPA, SDSU has a competitive 16-month program; this program is designed for professionals in government and nonprofit settings, covering industry-relevant topics in urban planning, public policy, public financial management, and more. Students earning their MPA degree online can waive the internship requirement if they work as full-time professionals. San Diego State’s MPA is over 50 years old and highly recommended by industry peers and alumni.

#10 – University of North Dakota

MPA Online Degree Program

Program Website

Points: 23
Program Tuition: $976.00 per-credit-hour (non-resident) $404.06 (resident)

Founded in 1883, University of North Dakota has over 225 degree programs and was recently ranked among U.S. News and World Report’s 25 most innovative colleges. UND online is increasingly popular, as it provides a number of affordable, flexible and affordable degree choices. UND has several online public administration degrees, both on a bachelor and graduate level. UND’s online students have the option of pursuing the online MPA alone, or in a combined JD/MPA; the JD/MPA is a 112-credit law degree, an excellent choice for students pursuing a law career in the public sector. UND’s MPA online degree has a curriculum based in research methods, political and policy analysis, health administration, and more.

#9 – California State University Northridge

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 23
Program Tuition: $738.00 per-credit-hour

Serving an average 38,000 students, California State University Northridge is a progressive academic community. CSUN online has a wide range of degree programs, one of which is a master of public administration online; this affordable MPA is led by scholar-level faculty, many of whom are recent or current professionals in the field. Students enrolled in the MPA online complete courses such as intergovernmental relations, research methods, strategic planning, nonprofit finance, and related skill-building topics.

#8 – University of Missouri – Columbia

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 23
Program Tuition: $425.00 per-credit-hour

Founded in 1839, the University of Missouri is the largest college in the state, offering over 300 degree programs. Referred to as “Mizzou”, this top college has over 90 online programs available to distance-learners; among these programs is an online master’s degree in public affairs. MPA online degree students complete 33 credit-hours, with each course lasting nine-weeks; these courses cover topics in ethical leadership, collaborative governance, economic analysis, public policy strategy, and more. Upon graduation from the MPA program online, students typically advance to careers in social services, public health management, government relations, among other related settings.

#7 – Arizona State University Online

Executive Online Master of Public Administration

Program Website

Points: 24
Program Tuition: $1,052.00 per-credit-hour

Consistently ranked among the best in academics, Arizona State University is a top-choice higher education around the world. ASU has a flexible executive online master of public administration, featuring internationally renowned faculty and the latest in online classroom technology; this degree requires three face-to-face visits in Phoenix and Washington D.C. where online EMPA cohorts gather for executive sessions. The executive MPA online attracts leaders in the industry, engaging in curricula such as negotiating in a global context, federal budgeting and tax policy, e-pubic administration, organizational behavior, and more.

#6 –  Kent State University

Online Master of Public Administration

Program Website

Points: 24
Program Tuition: $663.00 per-credit-hour

A consistently high-ranked school, Kent State University has strong academics for virtually any student interest. KSU has an online master of public administration, a program that builds multiple skills in nonprofit management; the majority of students complete this affordable online MPA degree in two years. Kent has an engaged MPA alumni network, and 92% of these graduates have reported a high satisfaction rate with the program.  Kent’s MPA degree online is designed for adult learners in need of flexibility.

#5 – Arkansas State University

Online Master of Public Administration

Program Website

Points: 24
Program Tuition: $306.00 per-credit-hour

A highly diverse campus community, Arkansas State University has a high-achieving student body and faculty. A-State has a low-tuition online MPA degree, a program that can be completed within three months. Considered one of the best online MPA’s, this flexible degree track has a wide spectrum of course topics spanning U.S. government, economic issues, research, budgeting and finance, ethics, and more. MPA online students are encouraged to complete internships, as this provides the hands-on experiences in the industrial workplace. Arkansas State holds its students to high academic standards, and there are ample online guidance opportunities from faculty.

#4 – DePaul University

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 25
Program Tuition: $680.00 per-credit-hour

Among the nation’s most respected schools, DePaul University draws the best in academia. This top college has a large liberal arts and social sciences department, offering degrees for virtually any career interest. DePaul’s MPA online is designed for current or growing leaders in the public sector. Graduate students in the MPA program build skills in public finance, human resource management, public policy design, and much more. For further customization, MPA candidates can specialize their online degree in public management, emergency management, metropolitan and urban affairs, and international public management.

#3 – Marist College

Online Master of Public Administration Degree

Program Website

Points: 26
Program Tuition: $750.00 per-credit-hour

Based in upstate New York, Marist College is a prestigious school with a highly selective admission process. Marist has a top-ranked online MPA program, widely considered one of the best in the field. Marist’s MPA program online can be customized in several industry areas; among these customization options include public management, nonprofit management, analytics, ethical leadership, or healthcare administration. MPA online candidates are only required to complete an internship if they are entering the program with less than three years’ work experience. Marist is known to have active, engaged alumni and expansive networking resources.

#2 – Indiana State University

Online MPA Degree

Program Website

Points: 27
Program Tuition: $427.00 per-credit-hour

Widely considered a high return on investment, Indiana State University produces well-rounded, confident graduates. Among ISU’s many esteemed programs is the 36-credit, affordable master of public administration; this MPA online is geared for industry professionals who need flexibility in completing their degree. ISU’s MPA degree online is designed to enhance skills in policy implementation, ethical public service, organization leadership, financial advocacy, and much more. The online MPA degree culminates into a final capstone project, and depending on previous work experience, students may be required a 3 credit-hour internship.

#1 –  Penn State Worldwide

Master of Public Administration Online

Program Website

Points: 27
Program Tuition: $886.00 per-credit-hour

Among the world’s most prestigious schools, Penn State is renowned in numerous academic areas. Penn State World Campus maintains an excellent reputation, offering the best in interactive online classrooms. Penn has a well-established online master of public administration, a 36-credit degree that reflects the most relevant topics in the industry. Penn World Campus designed the MPA online with Penn State Harrisburg’s school of public affairs; this master of public administration online degree is most suited for those pursuing or advancing careers in public and private sectors, government administration, tribal politics, criminal justice, academia, and much more.

The preceding list represents the 25 top online master’s of public administration programs.

By BCR Staff
October 2018

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