FAQ: Online Master of Public Administration Degree

Four professionals in front of government building

The Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree is designed for both seasoned professionals and new bachelor's graduates who are interested in serving their community. MPA students learn business skills in financial management, human resources, communication and marketing that are required to oversee the day-to-day operations of government agencies or non-profit organizations. They also gain key experience in policy research, critical analysis and grant writing that employers value.

Current public servants seeking career advancement may benefit from an MPA as well. Whether your goal is to earn a higher salary or a management role, the degree can prepare you to seize new opportunities and move up faster. Some graduates also go into government consulting or follow their passion and start a non-profit organization.

Accelerated online MPA programs offer the same high-quality education available on campus, but with greater flexibility and often at a lower cost. They are also designed help students earn a master's degree while working full time. Follow the links below to learn more about online MPA programs.

What Is a Master of Public Administration Degree?

Row of flags in front of the US Capitol

A master's in public administration is a professional degree that focuses on government or non-profit management, as well as policy development and strategic planning. MPA programs provide students with advanced skills for a wide range of jobs in public administration and community nonprofit services. Coursework and projects focus on leadership, research, personnel and program management, grant writing and fundraising, professional ethics and more. Some students also complete internships to build experience and contacts.

Arkansas State University offers two affordable MPA options. The Master of Public Administration Public Management track prepares graduates for manager, director and executive positions in government service. Individuals interested in working in non-profit leadership can choose the Master of Public Administration Non-Profit Management track. Each program offers accelerated courses delivered 100% online.

Zach Curren
The degree was exactly what I was looking for, the cost was very agreeable and the online reviews were excellent. As I looked over the courses in the program, there were topics that spoke to me in what I believed would be important for my career.

Zach Curren, graduate, A-State online MPA program

We have one of the lowest priced MPA degrees online. We have one of the few online accredited MPA programs. … The value is unsurpassed anywhere in the country.

Dr. William McLean, Chair, A-State Department of Political Science

What Will I Learn in an MPA Program?

MPA prepares you for management and leadership

You will learn how government agencies and non-profit organizations operate, and why highly qualified leaders are important to their success. In addition to administrative methods and best practices, you will study the strategy, planning and funding that underpins all aspects of the work these entities do. MPA students also learn how to think critically and act purposefully, fulfilling the mission of the agency or organization they serve while also meeting goals and addressing challenges.

Can an MPA Help Me Learn How to Start a Non-Profit?

Yes. The management, financial and leadership skills you learn in an MPA program are the same ones that can help you build a non-profit organization from the ground up. Coursework covers the legal process involved in gaining tax-exempt status, as well as the state and federal standards that govern non-profit operations. Projects and assignments also offer the opportunity to research your ideas, define your mission and develop an action plan to turn your passion into a public service.

As an online MPA student, you can arrange an internship with a non-profit organization in your area of interest, as well, or network with other NPO founders and learn from their experience.

What Courses Will I Take for an Online MPA?

Leadership budgeting grant writing management

Classes normally focus on administrative research, theory and practice as well as the financial and managerial aspects of public service. Policy development and analysis is also an emphasis. Some prerequisites may be required as well, depending on your previous courses.

Students in the online Master of Public Administration program at A-State complete 36 hours of coursework to earn the degree. Seven core classes address diverse aspects of public administration, from leadership, research techniques, budgeting and finance to grant writing, human resources and ethics. Students also take five courses in the Public Management track or Non-Profit Management track, including the final MPA capstone.

Students in both concentrations also have the option of taking POSC 660V: Internship in Public Administration to gain direct experience in the field. Mid-career professionals and others who don't feel they could benefit from an internship may take POSC 6473: Strategic Planning, Policy and Management instead.

Isaac White
In [POSC 6613: Administrative Leadership] there was quite a bit of self-discovery of my own leadership style and my communication styles, which opened my eyes to where my strengths and weaknesses are and helped me to improve my weaknesses and improve my strengths so I could really be an effective leader.

Isaac White, A-State online MPA program graduate and U.S. Presidential Management Fellow

Practically every class that I took, every assignment that I had, was applicable to what I did every day.

Jeff Crow, MPA Public Management

What Is an MPA Capstone?

Circle with mountains and a trail leading to a flag at the top, with the words MPA capstone

The MPA capstone is a culminating course with requirements that are usually unique to each program. They may include building a portfolio, completing projects or taking a comprehensive exam. What all capstone courses have in common is their purpose. They allow students to demonstrate their mastery of program content and preparation for the professional field they will enter upon graduation. Capstones also allow students to work closely with professors as they prepare for life beyond their MPA studies.

The final course in the online MPA program at A-State is POSC 6653: MPA Capstone Experience. Students complete case studies, reflection papers, projects and other analytical exercises to demonstrate five core competencies:

  • Leadership skills
  • Ethical values
  • Analytical skills
  • Financial management skills
  • Experiential learning

Each assessment module is evaluated by a faculty member who teaches classes in a competency area. Students also have the option of creating an e-portfolio as part of their capstone, but it is not mandatory.

Will I Have to Do an Internship if I Earn My MPA Online?

MPA Internships

It depends on your MPA program. Many do require an internship, but some programs also consider the fact that professionals already working in public service may prefer not to do one.

Regardless of your experience, an internship can help prepare you for future leadership positions, even if you're already a manager. Spending time with a mentor in public or non-profit administration can give you a new perspective on your career options and benefit you at any stage of your career.

For students with little or no experience in public administration, an MPA internship is a must. This opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge you've learned can open doors to future jobs and help you make valuable contacts in your new career field.

Online MPA students at A-State have the option to do an internship after they have completed 18 credit hours. One is not required, however.

Where Can Online MPA Students Intern?

Intern in legislative chamber

Online MPA students can pursue internships in any area of government or non-profit service. Your options are only limited by your interest. You might choose a municipal arts or housing program in your town, work with the development director for a national non-profit, learn about county law enforcement or criminal justice management, or even join a state legislator's office.

Pick a site and mentor based on your current career path or use the experience to explore new areas of public service. Whether your ambition is to manage programs, work in direct services, become an advocate, write grants, make policy or just balance the city budget, an MPA internship will help you clarify your goals.

The internship lets you observe, taking the academic ideas actually into practice. I think that's so imperative, for students to get real-world experience and to see what does and what doesn't work, translating those skills from the classroom.

Dr. William McLean, Chair, A-State Department of Political Science

What Are the Admission Requirements for Online MPA Programs?

Admission requirements can vary, but most online MPA programs require an undergraduate degree from an accredited school or program. Some prefer applicants with a bachelor's in government or business. Your GPA should also meet the program's minimum standard and you'll need to submit official transcripts from each college or university you've attended. Programs often request additional documents as well, such as an essay or statement of purpose, reference letters or a professional resume.

To learn more about A-State admission requirements, visit the program pages for the MPA Public Management track and the MPA Non-Profit Management track.

Will I Have to Take the GRE for Admission to an MPA Program?

Graduate school entrance exam requirements vary by institution and sometimes by your field of study. Some MPA programs ask for GRE scores as part of the admission process, but not all. Check with the programs you're interested in to find out for sure.

A-State's online MPA program does not require GRE scores for admission.

Does It Matter if My Online MPA Program Is Accredited?

NASPAA Accredited

Yes, accreditation counts for a lot. MPA programs that are regularly evaluated by an independent accreditor can provide the best professional preparation for government and non-profit careers. During the rigorous accreditation process, reviewers examine a range of areas, including courses and curriculum, faculty qualifications, teaching methods and graduation rates. Accreditation by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is a sign that your MPA program meets the highest standards.

Institutional accreditation is important as well. In addition to looking at the degree programs offered across a given college or university, regional accreditors focus on a school's financial practices, student aid policies, campus resources, ADA compliance, and much more.

A-State's Master of Public Administration program is NASPAA-accredited. The university is also regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

I was pretty rural. There were no traditional schools with MPAs right in the area, so online was important to me. [In choosing] Arkansas State, the affordability and the accreditation through NASPAA were my two big criteria.

Isaac White, A-State online MPA program graduate and U.S. Presidential Management Fellow

Isaac White

What are the Advantages of Choosing an Accredited MPA Program?

No accreditation = No financial aid

Choosing an accredited MPA program ensures that you have access to the best funding while you study and the right career opportunities after graduation.

Students in unaccredited MPA programs can't receive state or federal financial aid or use their military education benefits to pay for school. Most employer-based tuition assistance or reimbursement programs also require proof of accreditation before they will pay for classes.

If you're hoping for a career in government or the chance to move up in the agency where you already serve, accreditation is a must. Most federal, state, county and local public service jobs now require an accredited degree. Non-profit leadership and management positions often do as well, and all types of employers routinely check to confirm this aspect of your application.

The bottom line is that accredited MPA programs offer students many basic advantages that unaccredited programs cannot.

What Is the Career Outlook for MPA Graduates?

Five public servants in front of a book case

Master of Public Administration graduates continue to have a broad choice of opportunities in government and non-profit service due to their diverse skill set. Many MPAs enter high-growth career fields such as social science research, emergency management, regulatory management and public affairs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects that management jobs in social and community services will grow faster than average through 2031.

There is no doubt in my mind that this degree will help create career opportunities. The thing about the MPA program is, you're not limited to one type of government service. There's the nonprofit side and state, county, local and federal government. … I feel like I've now got some added skills.

Wesley Tavegia, graduate, A-State online MPA program

Wesley Tavegia
Ashley and Chris Pinkard
I have always wanted to work in a field where I can make a difference for the public. I kind of did that in my banking experience, because I worked for a community development bank, and that's what really sparked my interest in pursuing the MPA. … It's already opened so many doors I never thought it would.

Ashley Pinkard, graduate, A-State online MPA program

Don't stop learning just because you've already attained a position or a promotion. Continue to learn and grow. I plan to apply what I have learned at Arkansas State to my city and to my fire department to make improvements that will endure long beyond my tenure as fire chief.

Zach Curren, graduate, A-State online MPA program

Zach Curren

Which Government Jobs for MPA Graduates Pay the Most?

Brick building with sign reading City Hall

This employment sector offers many different career paths and salaries, depending on the level of government where you are interested in serving. Keep in mind that compensation rates are often set by the municipal council or legislative bureau overseeing the agency where you work, so salaries can vary. For instance, local and state agencies may have a different pay grade for the same job title.

Here are some examples of high-paying government jobs for MPA graduates:

  • City Manager
  • State Parks Director
  • Government Affairs Director
  • Emergency Management Director
  • Senior Regulatory Affairs Specialist
  • Senior Policy Analyst
  • Political Consultant

Spotlight: Non-Profit Salaries for MPA Graduates

Two nonprofit workers at a breast cancer awareness event talking with a participant

It may not surprise you to learn that leaders of national or statewide non-profits with a large staff and scope generally earn more than those running small charities providing assistance on a shoestring budget. However, the range of NPO salaries is just as diverse as the number of careers you can choose in public service, whether you want to be the face of your organization or work behind the scenes.

City and county level non-profits with robust community support are often attractive to MPA graduates who want to earn a good living while making a difference in the lives of local citizens. Some experienced non-profit administrators also find that a move into consulting allows them to earn more while helping a variety of organizations fulfill their mission.

Key non-profit leadership roles that tend to pay the highest include CEO, CFO, executive director, development director, communications director and major gifts officer.

If you are new to public service, working for a small organization where you can gain direct hands-on experience in program management, community outreach and grant writing can help you move up faster and earn more. Growing this fundamental skill set will also benefit your career long term.

Are There Professional Organizations for MPA Graduates? Can They Help Me Find a Job?

Yes and yes. Joining a professional organization in your career field is a great move for MPA graduates. Most offer networking opportunities for their members and many also have a job board. Here are just a few groups that provide access to public service job listings online.

MPA graduates who join a professional organization can also take advantage of training opportunities and attend conferences where they can share ideas with peers in public service across the nation or the globe.

How Much Does an Online Master of Public Administration Degree Cost?

GPS symbols and dollar signs

Costs vary by MPA program, depending on tuition rates, credit-hour requirements and whether you qualify as an in-state or out-of-state student. Fees can also add to your final bill, so make sure you understand all charges before enrolling. And if you only plan to take one or two classes per term, note that some schools charge part-time students more.

Online MPA programs are often the most affordable option, especially when students pay the same rate regardless of their location or enrollment status. All online MPA students at Arkansas State University pay just $340 per credit hour and $12,240 for the degree.

The research told me A-State was the best value out there for an MPA program. The fact that you're able to get in-state tuition even though you're out of state because it's an online program is great. ... It's a great value.

Wesley Tavegia, graduate, A-State online MPA program

Wesley Tavegia

Is Financial Aid Available to Online Graduate Students?

The U.S. Department of Education offers loans, grants and other support to qualified master's students who are studying online. Financial aid eligibility is primarily based on income and the cost of your degree. It is limited to students attending an accredited school or program. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online to find out how much financial aid is available to you.

Can I Use My Military Education Benefits for an Online MPA Program?

Row of military uniforms

Yes, as long as the college or university you attend is accredited. Visit the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs website to learn more about available funding programs and application processes. You can also find out how to transfer education benefits to your spouse or children.

Arkansas State University is committed to supporting service members and their families. The Veterans Affairs Representative in the registrar's office provides assistance with certifying Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits, and processing funding requests for those programs.

The A-State Military Scholarship also provides supplemental tuition assistance for active-duty personnel, as well as reservists receiving VA 1606/1607 benefits. Spouses qualify as well. Tuition for scholarship recipients is capped at $250 per credit hour.

Can MPA Graduates Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Smiling professional with collared long-sleeve shirt and tie

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is for college graduates working full time for a qualifying government agency or non-profit organization. Only federal direct loans and consolidation loans are eligible for forgiveness, and they must be current – you can't apply while in default.

Eligibility is also based on your employer, rather than the job title you have. Working for a city, county, state, federal, tribal or non-profit entity could qualify you for PSLF. Here are a few examples:

  • Government agencies, offices and programs
  • City or county fire departments, police departments, jails, court systems and hospitals
  • Charitable or service organizations that hold IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status
  • Federal service programs such as AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps

There are some notable exceptions. You can't qualify for PSLF by working as a contractor for a government agency or by working at a for-profit business that's a government contractor. Any organization affiliated with a political party is also excluded from the program.

How Fast Can I Complete a Master of Public Administration Degree Online?

Complete your MPA online in as few as 18 months!

Online master's courses are often accelerated, lasting eight weeks or less. If your MPA program is 100% online, classes can usually be completed in half the time you would spend in a traditional 16-week course on campus. Online MPA programs also offer more start dates each year, so you can begin working toward your degree sooner and graduate faster.

The online MPA program at A-State has six start dates per year. Courses are seven weeks in length, with weekly modules that can help you master content quickly. Motivated students can graduate in as few as 18 months by taking two classes each term. If you prefer a slower pace or need to pause your MPA studies, it's easy to pick up right where you left off and finish your degree when the time is right.

Can I Earn My MPA While Working Full Time?

Professional public servant in business suit, smiling carrying books and sitting in wheelchair

Yes. In fact, many students already employed in the government or non-profit sector find the flexibility of online learning makes it possible to earn an MPA. You don't need to sacrifice a steady paycheck and benefits to advance your career with an online master's, because you have the freedom to schedule classes and study when it is most convenient.

If you are new to public service and want to complete an MPA internship as part of your degree, that can also be arranged around your life and current job. You can achieve your goals secure in the knowledge that you won't have to spend time commuting to campus or sitting in a classroom to get a great education.

The way the 7-week programs are laid out, you can take two courses a semester and not have them going on at the same time, so you can really focus on one area of study at a time.

Isaac White, A-State online MPA program graduate and U.S. Presidential Management Fellow

Isaac White
Zach Curren
If higher education is a goal that you've started and had to put aside for a little bit, don't give up — get back in. The feeling of satisfaction that comes from earning a degree is incredible.

Zach Curren, graduate, A-State online MPA program

How Do Online Courses Work?

Laptop with streaming video symbol

Just like courses on campus, for the most part. Professors will provide you with a syllabus for each class that outlines all assignments, discussions, exams and deadlines. The most obvious difference is that you'll meet with classmates and professors online, watch lectures on video and upload your work when you turn it in. Group discussions and collaborations also take place in virtual forums instead of in a physical classroom.

The best part is that you'll have access to your course and all of your learning materials any time you're ready to study.

The support I received was top-notch. The first time I sent an email to a professor and got a response back within the time frame they said they would reply, that just made me feel comfortable.

Alberto Banuelos, A-State online MPA program

Alberto Banuelos at graduation ceremony - A-State graduate
Wesley Tavegia
I couldn't ask for anything better. The schedule is great and the classes are flexible. … All of the classes I have had have been good with a nice, clear syllabus that lays out the assignments well and gives you a good idea of what kind of workload you can expect ahead of time.

Wesley Tavegia, graduate, A-State online MPA program

Will I Have the Same Professors Online As On Campus?

Digital professor in front of students

It depends on the program you choose. At some universities, MPA professors teach either face-to-face or online courses exclusively, while at others, faculty members teach both types of classes. What matters most is that you learn from online faculty with the right qualifications and experience to help you achieve your goals, both as a student and after you graduate.

A-State MPA professors teach both online and on campus. Faculty members hold a master's or doctoral degree and have direct experience in government or non-profit management. Students can receive a rigorous, high-quality MPA education as they enjoy the flexibility that online learning offers.

Will I Be Able to Study or Network With Classmates Online?

A hand holding a mobile phone with a virtual video group call on the screen

Yes. You will be able to interact with your classmates through message boards, research projects, video chats and other activities. Many online MPA students develop friendships and form networks with their academic colleagues, even when they live in different states.

Whether you are a current civic leader or just entering public service, your MPA cohort can be a valuable resource. You'll learn with students from a variety of professional fields and backgrounds including many who bring considerable experience in public or non-profit management to class discussions.

What Technology Will I Need for Online MPA Courses?

a desktop and laptop computer, a tablet and a smartphone

The technology you'll need for online courses may differ depending on the learning management system your university uses, but there are a few standard requirements. Make sure your computer has reliable, high-speed internet connectivity and software you can use for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations. You should also be able to upload and download files and stream online videos and have enough memory to store larger files. If your computer is older, a system or software upgrade can help, and cloud storage is also an option.

You will also need a webcam and microphone to participate in live discussions or video chat sessions. If your computer doesn't have these features, you can add an external camera and microphone, or use a tablet for that purpose.

The learning management systems that most universities use are mobile-friendly too. You may be able to post to discussion boards on your smartphone, check grades or chat with classmates and professors. This ability to study on the go is a great perk for master's students, since you can get assignments done wherever and whenever it's most convenient.

Is Tech Support Available to Online Students?

Technology keywords on a table with a laptop and coffee mug

Yes, most colleges and universities provide tech support for students who are learning online. When choosing your MPA program, however, make sure you understand how and when you can access this service, since some schools only offer support on a limited schedule. If you're a working professional who needs to study at night or on the weekends, look for a program that offers tech support after business hours, or at any time you may be online.

A-State provides tech support to all students 24 hours a day, seven days per week. The IT Help Desk offers general technology assistance and troubleshooting, as well as self-help tools that address a variety of common issues.

Are Other Student Services Available Online?

Digital textbooks

Online students often have access to the same support services that are available to students on campus. Many schools offer remote library access, tech support and even career services online.

At Arkansas State University's Dean B. Ellis Library, online students can access academic journals and databases, view video tutorials and get 24/7 research assistance via live chat. MPA students may find the library's online tutorial for finding state and federal documents helpful as well. You can even use the interlibrary loan service to check out books and materials housed at other universities.

A-State's Online Writing Center offers consultations via email or a live meeting with a tutor. Master's students can get help at all stages of the writing process, from planning a project to checking grammar and citations or reviewing a completed paper.

Career services at A-State are tailored to the needs of online students and alumni. MPA students can get assistance with a resume, practice interview skills, attend virtual job fairs and more. The university's Handshake portal also connects online students directly with employers and job opportunities across the country.

Learn more about the Arkansas State University Master of Public Administration Non-Profit Management track online program.

Learn more about the Arkansas State University Master of Public Administration Public Management track online program.