As you consider your investment — of time and money — in Arkansas State’s online Master of Public Administration program, look to this guide for information on tuition fees and other costs, completion time, and your options for funding your education. You’ll also find time-management tips for staying on track in an online program.
A Master of Public Administration degree is one way for public service professionals in the nonprofit, public and private sectors to gain the knowledge and skills required for career advancement.
Ask program graduates Jeff Crow (2013) and Alberto Banuelos (2015). Crow advanced from chief of staff and deputy director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to his current role as director after he earned an MPA degree.
Banuelos credits his upward career arc — from unit manager in Tulare County, California to assistant director of eligibility operations in San Diego — to his MPA degree from A-State.
If you are a working professional, an online MPA program can give you the flexibility you need to continue working while you earn your degree.
How Long Does the A-State Online MPA Take?
You can finish the program in as few as 18 months. Most students average 24 months, but A-State allows up to six years for students to complete program requirements. In the online mode, each course lasts seven weeks. Banuelos inadvertently started the program by enrolling in two courses, and then continued the trend for nearly a year, enabling him to finish in just under 12 months.
What Is the Weekly Time Commitment for Coursework and Assignments?
Plan on devoting 15-20 hours per week to each course you take. The actual number of hours can vary depending on your level of interest and the degree of difficulty of the subject matter.
For example, if you have a finance background but lack knowledge of grant writing, you might find the Public Budgeting and Finance course relatively easier than the Grant Writing and Administration course. To get the grades you want, you may end up spending more time than you planned on some courses.
The program requires you to complete the two co-requisite courses (Introduction to U.S. Government; Economic Issues & Concepts) during your first two semesters if your previous college coursework did not include these subjects.
A-State’s MPA is fully online. As long as you have internet connectivity, you can complete program requirements anywhere, at any time. You’ll learn course material from online modules or designated textbooks, with professors using some combination of quizzes, exams, final papers and team projects to evaluate your performance.
Banuelos again: “I used to get out of work between 5 and 6, then I would pick up dinner, go home and by 7, I would start reading. On average, I was doing a good 9-12 hours per course. Then Sunday was either my catch-up day or I’d make sure everything was edited and submitted. All of the major assignments were due on Sunday, so I’d make sure that my papers were edited.”
What Does the Degree Cost?
While you may have a good idea of how you’ll fit studies into your schedule, you’re probably wondering how program costs will affect your budget. Here are estimates for two main categories. Please keep in mind that the information below is as of March 2017, and pricing may change with time.
Tuition and required fees
Students who enter the program with the co-requisites already completed can expect to pay $10,368 in tuition and required fees for 36 credit hours ($288 per credit hour). The two co-requisites cost an additional $699 each.
The 36-credit-hour program consists of seven core courses, three specialization courses (Public Management track or Non-Profit Management track), a 3-credit internship and a 3-credit capstone.
If you have equivalent graduate coursework from another NASPAA-accredited school, you can transfer up to nine credit hours, which would lower your A-State tuition outlay.
Plan on pursuing a Ph.D. at a later date? You’ll choose the thesis option and be exempt from the capstone experience for your MPA. As the thesis and capstone are worth three credits each, tuition is the same for both.
Expect to spend between $600 and $1,600 on textbooks for the program, depending on if you rent or buy them (used or new). The average you’ll spend on textbooks is about $100 per course. Prices range from $8 (rent a used book) to $200 (buy new). These figures are based on pricing information gathered from bkstr.com and Amazon.com for nine courses in the program.
How Would I Pay for the Degree?
The A-State program is one of the more affordable options for an MPA degree from a NASPAA-accredited school. If you plan on continuing to work while you study, you may be able to afford the online program without taking out a loan. Here are a few options for funding the degree:
- Financial aid.
You can apply online for a student loan via Federal Student Aid. Check the A-State Online FAQ page for answers to your questions on financial aid.
- Full or partial tuition assistance from your employer.
Some companies invest in employee development by offering tuition assistance. Check with your HR department to see if your employer does and if you’re eligible. Your employer may offer the assistance with no strings attached or require a period of obligated service after you earn the degree. Become familiar with the terms of any such requirements before you take the assistance.
- Educational benefits for veterans.
Veterans of recent military service and the dependents of certain service members may be eligible for educational benefits at A-State, including funds for textbooks. Please contact the Veterans Affairs representative in the Office of Admissions, Records and Registration for inquiries about VA benefits and information at 870-972-2031.
Why Is Time Management Important for Online Students?
Each course in A-State’s MPA online program lasts seven weeks, and some of the courses include team projects that will entail working with people you may never meet in person.
Being organized, enlisting the support of family and friends, and managing your time can help you maximize learning and minimize stress as you work toward your degree.
5 Time-Management Tips
- Plan ahead.
Become familiar with the requirements for each course. How much time will it take to review course content? Does the course require a final paper? Is there a team project? Keep in mind that participation in online discussion forums will typically count for 10 percent of your grade.
- Use a time-management system.
Mobile apps like Google Calendar (Android and iPhone; not yet available for iPad) allow you to set reminders so you can keep track of due dates, deadlines and the like. Timeful (iOS) merges your calendar with your to-do list and also syncs with Google Calendar.
- Tap small chunks of time.
Make use of time spent waiting at the doctor’s office or riding the train, for instance, to check in on a project or catch up on required reading. The incremental progress can keep you from becoming overwhelmed.
- Participate in online discussion forums.
What does this have to do with time management, you ask? Keeping in touch with others in your cohort fosters the exchange of time-saving insights for mutual benefit. For example, you may be facing the same issue as your classmates and vice versa. Learning from others in your group is one of the highlights of the online learning environment.
- Make time to rest and recharge.
If you’re like most online degree seekers, you’ll balance studies alongside work and personal commitments. Be sure to carve out time for self-care so you don’t burn out.
What Is the Return on My Investment?
An MPA degree equips you with the skills and knowledge required to effect change where it matters. Earn the degree from an accredited school and you’ll stand out to employers for sought-after opportunities that pay more. Consider your significant investment of time, effort and finances in an online MPA as vital to your professional development.
This article is third in a 3-part series on A-State’s online Master of Public Administration. For a look at career opportunities, job outlook and salary information, check out the first article, Passionate About Public Service? Prepare to Lead With an MPA. The second article, Online Master of Public Administration (MPA): Options for Staying the Course, covers the academic aspects of the program and includes seven reasons to choose A-State.