Best Online Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration 2021
| Genevieve Carlton
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An online bachelor's program in public administration trains students for fulfilling careers in public service, business, and the nonprofit sector.
Public administration majors work in urban development, homeland security, social services, and communications. By combining a focus on government with administrative training, the degree builds strong decision-making, analytical, and leadership skills. Earning a bachelor's in public administration online may appeal to busy students and working professionals seeking career advancement.
This page ranks the best bachelor's in public administration online programs for 2021. Prospective students can use this ranking to find the right fit for their interests, budget, and career goals. This article also introduces public administration degree concentrations and graduation requirements, as well as the different career paths graduates can pursue.
The Best Online Public Administration Programs
Based in Miami, Florida International University offers more than 40 online degrees, including a fully online bachelor’s of public administration. The school’s bachelor of arts in public administration prepares students to take on a variety of public policy and administration jobs. Although distance students complete coursework at their convenience, they still receive regular guidance from a personal success coach and live feedback from their instructors. Students also collaborate with peers on group work and projects.
Students in the online program take 60 major credit hours and 60 general education credit hours. Core requirements for the major include public sector budgeting, policy development and implementation, and global city management. Students complete their studies with an integrative seminar in public administration in which they analyze a real-world public policy or problem within the field.
In addition to its main campus in Flagstaff, Arizona, Northern Arizona University offers more than 120 online and hybrid degrees. The school’s online bachelor’s in public administration allows students to earn their degree entirely online. Students can pursue a bachelor of applied science, bachelor of arts, or bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in this field, and each degree differs slightly in math, science, and humanities requirements. Whatever degree students pursue, they must complete 120 credit hours. Students can also pursue a minor in public administration, completing 18 credit hours of subject-related coursework.
During their studies, students at NAU take required courses, such as ethics, policy, and administration; public policy formation and strategies; and organizational theory and application. They then choose additional major courses, such as managing change in 21st-century organizations and conflict resolution and mediation in the public sector. The program also offers an optional internship component, giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field.
Troy University, based in Troy, Alabama, offers a unique political science program that allows students to pursue a concentration in either American politics and public administration or international politics. The school’s online bachelor’s with a concentration in American politics and public administration prepares students to work in government, law, nonprofit organizations, and business. It also prepares students to pursue graduate-level studies in areas such as public administration, law, and journalism.
Students earning a public policy degree online typically complete the 120-hour program in four years. The major itself requires 36 hours of coursework. Required courses include world politics, political theory, and the art of political science research. Students choose a concentration course on one of the three government branches — legislative, executive, or judicial — and take three additional courses exploring subjects such as women in politics, southern politics, and African-American politics.
Roger Williams University boasts a low teacher-to-student ratio and affordable tuition rates. In addition to its two campuses — one oceanside campus in Bristol, Rhode Island and another in the state’s capital city — the school also offers a selection of online degrees through its School of Continuing Studies. The bachelor of science in public administration is one such degree. Students at RWU can also earn a minor in public administration.
The online program requires a total of 120 credits, 27 of which involve required major courses while an additional nine involve elective courses related to public administration. Required courses include city management, public finance administration, and American government and politics. Students enjoy access to academic advisors and a support staff to help them navigate the path toward graduation. Students can also receive credits for life experience.
Despite its affiliation with the United Methodist Church, Central Methodist University welcomes students of all faiths and backgrounds. With its primary campus in Fayette, Missouri, the school boasts additional campus locations across the state. Students pursuing a bachelor’s in public administration can do so on the school’s partner campuses in Park Hills or Union, Missouri, or entirely online.
Students at CMU can earn a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science in public administration. Either way, the degree requires 120 hours of coursework split between general education and major coursework. Students complete 36 hours of courses related to public administration, exploring topics like the economics of public policy, group processes, and public policy analysis. They also take courses like urban and rural sociology and law in American society. Students may complete an internship or field experience requirement. All courses run for eight or 16 weeks.
Based in Riverside, California, California Baptist University offers online degrees designed for working professionals. CBU Online features a year-round semester system that helps students graduate faster. The school also boasts a generous transfer system, honoring credits earned at community colleges or other accredited institutions. Because all CBU programs integrate Christian beliefs and views into the curriculum, the school’s online public administration bachelor degree applies Christian perspectives to the study of public service.
Upon completing the school’s general education requirements, the bachelor of arts in public administration requires 48 units of coursework, which students typically complete in around 16 months. Required courses include administrative law and bureaucracy, contemporary issues in public administration, and executive leadership and management in the public sector. Students also take a career and professional development capstone course that helps them create a professional portfolio, apply to graduate programs, and assess long-term career interests.
Unique among public administration programs, the University of Maryland - University College’s online bachelor of science in public safety administration prepares students to take on leadership roles in organizations that manage corporate and homeland security emergencies. Students learn about emergency management systems and how to collaborate with other public agencies to ensure public safety, preparing for careers in homeland security, fire service administration, and emergency management. Outside of coursework, students can join the school’s International Association of Emergency Managers chapter to learn about relevant jobs, certifications, and professional development opportunities.
The school, based in Adelphi, Maryland, offers all its major courses online and a few through a hybrid format. Required public safety administration courses explore subjects like contemporary public safety practices, public safety administration ethics, and decision making. In total, the degree requires 120 credits; students can transfer up to 90 credits from other accredited institutions.
In addition to courses on its main campus in La Jolla, California, National University offers over 90 fully online degrees for working professionals. The school’s online bachelor of public administration offers a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to transition into the school’s master of public administration program while earning their bachelor’s degree. Students within six courses of graduation may take two master’s-level courses during their final semester of undergraduate studies to start their transition into the MPA program. Veteran-founded, the school offers discounted tuition rates to military personnel and their children.
The bachelor’s degree requires 180 quarter units. Students complete 12 required courses exploring topics such as public policy development, adaptive leadership in change, and government and nonprofit accounting. Students also complete a senior research project under the direction of a faculty member.
Although Park University started at its flagship campus in Parkville, Missouri, it now offers classes on more than 40 satellite campuses and through its global online programs. The school offers a unique online public administration degree that boasts five concentration options: business relations, criminal justice, fire service management, homeland security, and public service. Students can also earn a minor in public administration. Because the program serves a high percentage of veteran students, many of the courses feature a blended format to fulfill VA guidelines that require 60% face-to-face instruction.
Whatever concentration students pursue, the degree requires 45 hours of public administration coursework. Mandatory classes explore subjects like state and local government, capitalism and societal issues, and administrative law. For their concentration, students take specialized courses like small business management, criminal justice and the community, emergency management, geography of terrorism, and comparative political systems. All concentrations require a senior project.
Columbia College, a nonprofit school that boasts affordable and honest tuition rates, offers nearly a dozen online programs. Students can earn their bachelor of arts in public administration through the school’s online college or in-person at its campus in Columbia, Missouri. The school also offers a bachelor of science in public administration through a face-to-face program on its Columbia campus.
Students earning an online public administration degree take courses such as methods of public decision making, American public policy, and public human resource administration. Students also complete an internship at a local government office or nonprofit organization, logging 45 hours of work per enrolled credit hour (typically three credit hours for BA candidates). Before graduating, students take a senior seminar in political science and public administration in which they create a research project and write a final paper.
Based in La Verne, California, the University of La Verne boasts several campuses across California. It also offers a selection of undergraduate and graduate degrees fully online. Only, students in select authorized states may enroll in La Verne’s online programs; students can check a La Verne’s list of authorized states to see whether their state qualifies. The school offers an accelerated bachelor of science in public administration online and on its campuses in Irvine, Bakersfield, Ontario, Victorville, Rio Hondo Community College, and Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The PA major requires a minimum of 40 semester hours of coursework, including 28 semester hours of core requirements and 12 semester hours of electives. Core requirements include classes like management of change and conflict, policy-making process, and urban studies. Electives explore topics like business ethics, written business communication, and local government management. All students complete a senior project.
Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Point Park University offers a wide selection of online undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs. The school’s online bachelor of science in public administration offers concentrations in EMS administration and fire service, preparing students to compete for public policy jobs relating to emergency and fire services. Students typically earn their bachelor of science in two-four years, depending on the number of transfer credits and their per-semester course load.
Overall, the degree requires 120 credit hours of coursework, 15 of which come from major courses and 21 of which come from concentration courses. Required major coursework includes principles of management, public budgeting and finance, and policy and decision analysis. Students in the EMS concentration explore topics like EMS community risk reduction and legal, political, and regulatory issues in EMS. Students in the fire services concentration take classes about the applications of fire research and fire prevention organization and management.
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Franklin University targets working students, thus students’ average age is 34. The school offers many fully online degrees, including a bachelor of science in public administration. Unique among other programs of its kind, the BS in public administration at Franklin focuses intently on the leadership aspect of public service.
Overall, students complete 120 credit hours of coursework, 30 of which they must complete at Franklin. Required major and professional courses cover subjects like management information systems, government and nonprofit budgeting, and organizational communication. Students also complete a capstone requirement. Students may concentrate in one of three elective pathways: criminal justice, pre-law, or recreation and sports management. In each pathway respectively, students take courses like criminal justice management and administration, courts and criminal procedure, and managing athletic programs.
Located on the tropical island of Oahu, University of Hawaiʝi - West Oahu’s distance learning program serves students who either completed their first two years of college at the school’s Oahu campus or at a community college on a neighboring island in the state. In other words, only students who physically live in Hawaii may take the school’s online courses. Students with two years of qualifying coursework can transfer into one of the school’s many popular online degrees, including an online bachelor of arts in public administration.
Students earning their BA in public administration can pursue a concentration in disaster preparedness and emergency management, justice administration, general public administration, community health, or healthcare administration. Students can also earn a certificate in healthcare administration or disaster preparedness and emergency management. All students complete either a practicum experience or a senior project.
Upper Iowa University offers a public administration degree either fully online or through a blended format that combines online and face-to-face courses on the school’s campus in Fayette, Iowa. Distance students can pursue a self-paced degree in which they progress through their studies at their convenience.
In addition to earning a general public administration degree, students at UIU can pursue an emphasis in emergency management or fire science, law enforcement, or policy/politics. The degree requires 21 credits of general education and core courses and around 24 additional credits of coursework within the chosen emphasis. Required courses for all students in the major include U.S. government, cases in public administration, and a senior project. Emphasis courses explore specialized topics such as emergency preparedness and planning, substance abuse, and administrative law.
Located in Clearwater, Florida, St. Petersburg College offers a fully online bachelor of applied science in public safety administration. The school offers credit for previous academic training and professional experiences, helping students earn their degree faster. Students pursuing a bachelor’s in public safety administration can pursue one of four sub-plans: criminal justice, emergency management and homeland security, fire science, and cross-discipline, which involves a combination of sub-plans.
To receive admission to the program, students must possess at least 60 college-level credits in a field related to public safety. Students without a relevant associate degree must complete a minimum of 24 credits of lower-level public safety courses in addition to the bachelor’s requirements. The program demands 27 credits of core requirements, six credits of electives, and nine credits of sub-plan courses. Sample required courses include managing conflict in public organizations, administrative law, and program planning and evaluation. All online courses last eight weeks.
Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida offers 12 fully online degrees through its virtual campus, including a bachelor of science in public administration. The program targets students with an associate degree in fire science, criminal justice, emergency administration and management, emergency medical services, public administration, or paralegal studies. Students with a degree in a different subject may still apply; the school reviews these applicants on a case-to-case basis.
Students pursuing a public administration degree online choose one of two concentrations: emergency planning and management or public policy and leadership. Both concentrations require 60 credit hours of coursework. The emergency planning curriculum includes courses in multi-agency incident command, emergency services public policy, and foundations of public safety. The public policy and leadership track boasts classes in urban and regional planning, policy development and implementation, and administrative law for public administrators. Both concentrations require a senior capstone project.
The University of Maine at Augusta’s online bachelor of science in public administration serves students with either an associate degree in a related field or with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. Students without any college credits must first earn general education courses at one of the school’s campus sites or at another accredited school before receiving admission.
Students with a relevant associate degree must complete 60 credit hours of coursework to earn their bachelor’s. Qualifying associate degrees including those related to healthcare; criminal justice, paralegal, or justice studies; social or human services; fire science; and computer technology. Those with a bachelor’s degree in a field unrelated to public administration must complete 30 credit hours of coursework to earn a post-bachelor’s degree in public administration. Distance students can complete assignments on their own time through a delayed format or they can participate in live class sessions through the school’s interactive TV site.
The fully online bachelor of public administration at Barry University helps professionals in public service and nonprofit sectors pursue public management jobs. In addition to the online option, students can take courses on the school’s Miami campus. To accommodate working professionals, face-to-face classes take place on weeknights or Saturdays. All courses last eight weeks.
The program requires 45 major credits: 30 credits of major courses and 15 credits of electives. As not all electives follow a digital format, students should make sure the school offers their preferred electives online. Required major courses include productivity improvements in the public sector, human resources in the public sector, and a capstone project. Students can earn up to 30 credits for previous academic training or professional experiences.
Online Public Administration Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:
The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.
To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):
1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]
- Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
- Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
- Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
- Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
- Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
- Considers range of electives within that discipline
- Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline
2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]
- Considers education background of the faculty
- Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
- Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
- Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
- Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources
3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
- Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
- “Freshness” of academic knowledge
- Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
- Suitability of graduates for the workplace
4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]
- Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
- Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants
5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]
- Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
- Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business
6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
Considers the following of the online classes:
- Types of online technology used to deliver content
- Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
- Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
- Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
Considers the following of instructors:
- Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
- Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
- Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
- Ratio to number of students in a class
- Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees
Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.
To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:
- Public or private status
- Acceptance rate
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
- ACT/SAT requirements
- Cost in-state / out of state
- Undergrad, grad, or both offered
Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!
If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.
Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
Featured Online Public Administration Programs
What Is an Online Bachelor's in Public Administration Degree?
Online bachelor's programs in public administration prepare majors for entry-level careers in the government, nonprofit, and private sectors. During a public administration degree, enrollees explore the policymaking process and local, state, and federal government agencies.
Public administration majors also learn about the nonprofit sector and gain valuable skills for careers in public relations, communications, regulatory analysis, or financial management. Many colleges offer specializations such as nonprofit management, emergency management, and public policy analysis to prepare graduates for specific career paths.
In addition to major coursework, undergraduates can choose electives, a minor, and internships. The blend of project-based assignments, research projects, and experiential learning prepares students for the workforce. Graduates interested in continuing their education can enroll in master's in public administration programs or doctoral programs in public administration.
Skills Taught to Public Administration Majors
- Interpersonal skills
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
- Public policy analysis
- Program evaluation
- Project management
- Team management
- Program implementation
What's the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Public Administration?
Some colleges offer bachelor of arts (BA) and bachelor of science (BS) degrees in public administration. Both majors introduce undergraduates to core topics in government and public service administration. With either degree, graduates can pursue civil service and nonprofit careers or continue on to master's degrees in public administration.
However, BA and BS degrees typically have different graduation requirements. In a BA program, majors take more humanities and foreign language courses. A BS program includes more social science and natural science classes.
What to Expect From a Public Administration Major
Public administration majors study government, public policy, program evaluation, and policy implementation. Enrollees build strong organizational management and leadership skills. Each degree-seeker selects a specialization or electives to customize their degrees. Many programs also incorporate internships to add an experiential learning component.
Public Administration Bachelor's Degree Concentrations
During a bachelor's in public administration online degree, each enrollee selects a concentration. These specializations prepare graduates for career paths in government, business, and the nonprofit sector.
A nonprofit management concentration trains undergraduates in nonprofit leadership, fundraising, program development, and nonprofit financial management. Majors also study grant writing, staff management, and program evaluation. The concentration prepares graduates for careers in the nonprofit sector, including social services and community development.
Undergrads interested in private sector careers or think tanks and lobbying organizations can choose a concentration in public and business administration. This subfield emphasizes business administration skills, including strategic leadership, organizational management, and financial management.
A public policy concentration applies analytical skills to government programs and policies. Students learn to evaluate public policies with modern research methods, including qualitative and quantitative data. Students also explore developing, implementing, and revising public policies at different levels. Graduates work as policy analysts, legislative assistants, and compliance managers.
Public administration majors can focus their studies on the different branches of the federal, state and local governments. During these programs, enrollees examine the functions of government and how the different branches collaborate. Graduates can work as legislative assistants, civil service workers, and case administrators.
Government agencies play a central role in disaster planning and emergency management. Undergraduates learn to create emergency response plans, respond during emergencies, and mitigate the harm caused by natural or human-made disasters. The concentration leads to opportunities in federal emergency management departments, local public health organizations, and disaster response agencies.
Public administrators staff the nation's homeland security agencies to protect national security. Degree-seekers study national security threats, including terrorism, cybersecurity, and national disasters. They also learn about homeland security organizations. Graduates can pursue work in crisis management, immigration, and intelligence roles.
Public Administration Curriculum
During a bachelor's in public administration online, undergrads take classes in public fiscal management, policy analysis, and policy implementation. Common courses for public administration majors include:
- Political theory
- Policy development and implementation
- Public fiscal management
- Public policy analysis
- Executive leadership in the public sector
Choosing an Online Program
Prospective students considering a bachelor's in public administration online should evaluate factors such as cost, program length, delivery method, and specialization options to find a program that suits their unique needs. Other factors like internship options, alumni networks, and career goals can also help students narrow their choices.
Applicants should always choose accredited online colleges. The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration grants accreditation to public administration programs.
Public Administration Careers
A public administration degree prepares graduates for government, nonprofit, and private sector employment. Undergraduates often complete internships to develop practical experience. As a versatile degree that strengthens leadership, decision-making, and analytical skills, public administration majors can pursue careers in human resources, public relations, nonprofit management, and community services.
Earning potential for public administration careers varies depending on the role and the candidate's experience. However, many roles in public administration pay above-average salaries, as demonstrated by the following information.
|Career||Median Annual Salary (2020)|
|Compensation and Benefits Managers||$125,130|
|Human Resources Managers||$121,220|
|Public Relations and Fundraising Managers||$118,430|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||$104,280|
|Administrative Service Managers||$98,890|
|Postsecondary Education Administrators||$97,500|
|Social and Community Service Managers||$69,600|
|Public Relations Specialists||$62,810|
|Real Estate, and Community Association Managers||$59,660|
Common Questions About Bachelor's Degrees in Public Administration Online
A bachelor's degree in public administration prepares graduates for careers in local, state, and federal government. Common employers include social services agencies, city management departments, and nonprofit organizations.
A public administration degree emphasizes management within organizations, while a political science degree analyzes and researches political organizations. Both public administration and political science majors study American government and political institutions.
Both public administration and business administration emphasize leadership skills, organizational management, and data analysis. Public administration majors focus on public and nonprofit sector roles, while business administration majors focus on private enterprises.
Public administration refers to government and public service careers, including employment in publicly funded nonprofit organizations. In contrast, private administration refers to private businesses.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.
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