Planning to pursue a Master of Public Administration degree online? This guide outlines the academic aspects of the Arkansas State University online MPA program, including options for specialization, co-requisites, the internship and the capstone project. It also covers the benefits of A-State’s fully online program.
A master’s degree is becoming an increasingly important consideration for significant promotions in the field of public administration. And a specialized degree, such as a Master of Public Administration (MPA), can give you the boost you’ll need to advance within your current organization or help you qualify for management-, director- or executive-level positions elsewhere.
Online Graduate: Alberto Banuelos
Take the case of 2015 online MPA graduate Alberto Banuelos who started his public service career working for the County of Tulare, California. Earning an advanced degree led to a promotion within the county, followed by advancement to a managerial role in Sacramento, then a director-level role with the County of San Diego.
“My life has changed. Twice. I went first to Northern California and then a year-and-a-half later, I moved to the southernmost point of California, and I know that my education — having those three little letters after my name — has really opened up doors for me, has allowed me to seek out these opportunities.”
–Alberto Banuelos, Assistant Director of Eligibility Operations, County of San Diego
What if you’re planning on a public service career but have experience in another field like elementary education, for instance? Earning an MPA degree is one way to gain the knowledge and skills required for a smooth transition to public administration. Read on to learn how this is possible.
What Program Options Are Available?
A-State’s core MPA curriculum includes coursework on research techniques for political and public administration, public budgeting and finance, HR management, leadership, and ethics, as well as grant writing and administration.
|Specialization||Focus Area||Topics & Learning Outcomes|
(Ideal for public sector & law enforcement)
|Specifics of management within public administration||
(Ideal for non-profit professionals)
|Specifics of management within the non-profit sector||
Both tracks require a public internship unless you classify as “in-service” or you choose the MPA thesis option (only recommended if you plan on completing a Ph.D.). A-State considers students with one or more years of administrative-level experience in the public or non-profit sectors as “in-service.” Students complete a minimum of 18 credit hours before undertaking the internship. Seven weeks of full-time work — or 300 work hours — count toward three hours of graduate credit for the internship.
Students exempt from the internship requirement take the Public Information Management course instead.
What Are Co-Requisite Courses? Will I Need to Take Any?
Co-requisite courses differ from pre-requisites in that you can take them alongside other courses in your MPA program, unlike pre-requisites which students must complete before starting a program.
If you haven’t previously taken an undergraduate course in U.S. government and a course in the principles of economics, you must complete the co-requisite courses for each with at least a “C” grade. You can take the co-requisites either before or during your first year of study. For example, if you have an undergraduate degree in biology and plan on transitioning to a public service career via an MPA degree, this may apply to you.
How Is Student Performance Evaluated?
It depends on the course and the professor. You’ll complete assignments, work on team projects, and take quizzes and exams to earn grades, with the actual mix varying for each course. Some professors require a final paper for their courses. Participation in online discussion forums lets professors know that students are checking in and typically counts for 10 percent of a student’s grade.
What Is the MPA Capstone Experience? How Will It Help My Job Search?
The MPA Capstone Experience is worth three credit hours and lasts seven weeks. It gives you the chance to showcase the skills you’ve developed and the knowledge you’ve gained in the online MPA program. In this course, you create a professional portfolio for yourself in the form of a single document. Think of the capstone as a recap of the skills and experiences that make you stand out to employers who have leadership positions to fill.
How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online MPA?
Students average 24 months at A-State. You can finish in as few as 18 months or take up to six years.
A-State’s fully online program makes it possible for you to take courses at a pace that fits your life. Each course calls for a time commitment of 15 hours per week, give or take. If you take one course per seven-week term, you can earn the degree in two years.
7 Reasons to Choose A-State
An A-State MPA is a valued credential from a respected university. With the same full-time faculty teaching the online MPA as the on-campus version, students can expect to receive the same high quality education.
A-State holds accreditation from NASPAA (Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration). The NASPAA accreditation process requires master’s degree programs in public policy, public affairs, and administration to meet the agency’s stringent standards for public service education.
Why do employers care about accreditation? It attests to the quality of your degree and adds to employer confidence in hiring decisions. How is a school’s accreditation helpful to you? It can help you stand out in the job applicant pool, especially for the more sought-after opportunities.
At $331 per credit hour* for tuition, the A-State online MPA is one of the most affordable. It enables students to earn a degree from a respected, non-profit state university at a fraction of the cost of similar programs elsewhere.
*As of August 2019; subject to change
4. Fully online
You can complete your MPA without ever setting foot on A-State’s Jonesboro campus. However, the school welcomes and encourages online students to participate in on-campus graduation ceremonies.
First-generation American Alberto Banuelos did just that. He completed his MPA online from his home in Tulare County, California. His achievement was a point of pride for his family who took the road trip from California to Arkansas to attend graduation with him.
Students and faculty interact with one another via online discussion boards. While email is the fastest way for students to reach their professors, students can also make phone appointments with professors or academic assistants if needed.
Jeff Crow, a 2013 online MPA graduate who currently serves as Director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, says he “was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interaction” with his cohort and instructors. “Even doing it online, it was still a meaningful and rewarding experience.”
Information: A-State’s online library offers registered students 24-7 access to a wealth of information, including full-text versions of articles or papers from trade publications, academic journals and magazines.
Career Services: A-State’s career services are available to online students via email and phone.
In a synchronous program, you’d have to “attend” online at specified times. A-State’s program is asynchronous. This means you can review instructional materials, including assigned readings and videos, at your convenience.
What Are the Benefits of a Fully Online MPA?
- Earn while you learn.
With an online program, you can choose a pace that works for you by taking only as many courses per term as you want. This makes it possible for you to continue working while you earn your degree.
- Save on tuition and other expenses.
Online degrees are typically more affordable than their full-time, on-campus equivalents. When you think of the additional savings on housing and commuting, you’re looking at a lower total cost.
- Gain online collaboration skills.
Team projects in the MPA curriculum challenge students to achieve the same outcomes as face-to-face programs, and the skills you’ll add can be a selling point when it’s time to look for a job.
This article is second in a three-part series on A-State’s Master of Public Administration Online program. The first article, Passionate About Public Service? Prepare to Lead With an MPA, provides job outlook data and salary info for public administration leadership roles.