Students interested in earning a public administration degree at the doctoral level can typically pursue one of two academic paths: a Ph.D. in public administration or a doctor of public administration (DPA). While similar, a Ph.D. program tends to incorporate more scholarly research, leading graduates onto career paths in academia or research. A DPA, on the other hand, might focus more on the application of theory in a professional setting.
Teaching public administration at a college or university can be a fulfilling and rewarding career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for postsecondary teachers will increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026; this rate of growth is more than twice the national average for all occupations. Additionally, postsecondary teachers earned a median annual salary of $75,430 in 2016, which is more than twice the median salary for jobs in the U.S. Most of these teaching positions require a doctorate degree in your area of study, such as an online Ph.D. in public administration.
Graduates with a doctoral degree in public administration who wish to pursue a career outside of academia can secure jobs in the public, private, or nonprofit sectors. For example, the BLS projects that employment for social and community service managers will grow by 18% between 2016 and 2026. No matter your future career plans, now is an excellent time to earn a DPA or a Ph.D. in public administration online.
For more degree and career info, jump to:
- Choosing an Online Doctorate in Public Administration Program
- What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Public Administration Program?
- Accreditation for Online Public Administration Doctorate Degrees
- Careers with a Doctorate in Public Administration
- Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Public Administration
The Best Online Public Administration Doctorate Programs
Online Doctorate in Public Administration Degree Program Ranking Guidelines: We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
1. West Chester University of Pennsylvania
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Founded in 1871 as an institute for teacher preparation, West Chester University is now the fourth-largest university in the Philadelphia area. The public university offers four doctoral programs and is one of a few schools that offer public administration doctoral programs online.
Students typically complete West Chester's 43-credit DPA program within 2.5 years. Courses review program and policy evaluation methodologies, financial decision-making, and advocacy and leadership within public policy and administration. Students choose a concentration in public policy and administration, criminal justice, geography and planning, or social work. After taking all required courses and four capstone seminar classes, students complete an applied research project.
Applicants must hold a master's degree in public administration, public affairs, policy analysis, political science, public health, nonprofit management, or a related field. Applicants with a GPA below 3.85 must submit GRE scores.
West Chester University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
2. California Baptist University–CBU Online
California Baptist University, founded in 1950 by the California Southern Baptist Convention, is a private institution based in Riverside. CBU offers a doctor of public administration online program designed for working professionals aspiring to lead public and nonprofit organizations.
CBU offers the 50-unit DPA program in a cohort model, requiring groups of students to move through the curriculum together. Cohorts take one eight-week course at a time, exploring topics such as public policymaking, ethics and social justice, and strategic planning and management. The DPA culminates in a dissertation, which students must defend in person. The program also requires three residencies, each lasting four days.
CBU accepts up to 30 upper-division transfer units earned with a grade of C- or better. Applicants must have a master's degree from a regionally-accredited university and a 3.0 GPA; students with a minimum 2.75 GPA may receive conditional admission.
California Baptist University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
3. Valdosta State University
Valdosta State University is part of the University System of Georgia. The university offers an online DPA program designed for current professionals in government agencies, nonprofits, and nongovernmental organizations.
Students completing the public administration doctoral program online earn 54 credit hours and typically graduate in three years, with additional time required to finish a dissertation. Students are prepared to manage finances and human resources for public and nongovernmental organizations. Learners must choose a concentration area. The program is available primarily online, though students must attend a series of on-campus seminars and meetings for a two-day period at the beginning of each semester.
All online students pay the same per-credit tuition rate, regardless of state residency. Applicants must have a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum 3.5 GPA, and must meet GRE score requirements.
Valdosta State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS).
What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Public Administration Program?
Online public administration programs at the doctoral level share many of the same elements, including similar coursework, dissertation requirements, and areas of concentration. However, many details, such as support services offered to online students, vary depending on the school and program. Students should make sure to carefully review their options before making a decision.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Public Administration
- Governance and public policy: Learning to govern democratic organizations in the public sector is a key part of earning a DPA degree online. In this class, students explore the fundamental theories of governance, the contexts in which public and nonprofit leaders work, and the social institutions that shape public policy and influence administrative decision making.
- Public policy and finance: Budget constraints and economic rewards help shape public policy and public administration. Students in this course examine tax policies and incentives, market influences on policy and administration, the effect of government spending on income distribution, public/private partnerships, and the outsourcing of public programs.
- Strategic context of public management and leadership: Many doctoral programs in public administration online aim to provide students with a system-level understanding of how to lead public organizations. Rather than focusing solely on topics like money, knowledge, capacity, or influence, courses like this weave these subjects together to help students develop overarching models of management and leadership.
- Ethics and social justice: Ethics and social justice represent major aspects of public service. In this class, students examine disparities in wealth, power, and privilege. They use both theory and hard data to understand the roots of these disparities and create policies and programs that can help alleviate inequity.
- Quantitative reasoning and analysis: Most doctoral programs, including DPA programs online, require students to complete a research-based dissertation. This course covers the core knowledge and skills needed to collect, analyze, interpret, and present research data, introducing students to quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Public Administration?
Earning a DPA or a Ph.D. in public administration online can take anywhere from 3-7 years. The first stage of these programs focuses on completing coursework in subjects such as public policy, public finance, organizational behavior, and leadership. Students typically take these courses as part of a cohort, meaning they learn alongside their peers through online lectures, discussions, and assignments. Learners usually complete this part of the program in 2-3 years, depending on whether they completed prior coursework in public administration.
The second stage of online doctorate programs relates to a student's dissertation. The exact requirements vary from program to program, but learners typically work with a faculty advisor to collect and analyze data on a particular subject. Students then write a dissertation or research paper using this data, which they subsequently defend before a faculty committee. Because students do much of this work individually, they can usually set their own pace. Participants often complete their dissertation in 1-4 years.
Accreditation for Online Public Administration Doctorate Degrees
When reviewing DPA programs online, make sure to check whether a school is accredited. Accreditation ensures that an institution of higher education meets certain educational requirements and properly prepares its graduates for jobs in the field. If a school is not accredited, students may not be able to transfer earned credits to another institution, and employers might not recognize their degrees. A school or program can earn three basic types of accreditation.
The first type is regional accreditation. Six regional agencies accredit the majority of nonprofit colleges and universities in the U.S. Of the three types of accreditation, regional accreditation is the oldest, most common, and tends to be the most well-respected.
The second type of accreditation is national accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) authorizes 10 national accrediting bodies, which determine whether schools and programs meet established educational standards. For-profit institutions are more likely to be nationally accredited.
The final method of accreditation is based on areas of specialization or fields of study. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is an independent organization that recognizes reputable and field-specific accrediting agencies. For example, the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) is recognized by CHEA for its accreditation of certain programs in the fields of public policy, public affairs, and public administration. However, although NASPAA accredits programs at the master's level, it does not oversee programs that offer a doctorate of public administration online.
Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Public Administration Graduates
Doctorate in Public Administration Careers
After earning a DPA or Ph.D. in public administration online, graduates can pursue a variety of jobs in public service leadership. Some individuals choose to teach public administration at a college or university, while others pursue leadership roles in the public sector or at government agencies, serving as city managers, county administrators, mayors, or even governors. Graduates can also direct nonprofit organizations, such as community centers or hospitals. Regardless of their career path, leaders in public administration require strong communication, decision-making, management, and problem-solving skills.
Postsecondary Teacher: Postsecondary teachers instruct students at higher education institutions. They may also conduct research and/or write about topics in their area of study, including in public administration. Most jobs in this field require a doctoral degree.
- Median Annual Salary: $75,430
- Projected Growth Rate: 15%
Top Executive (Government): Top executives in the public sector lead government agencies. These professionals may be appointed or elected to serve at the local, state, or federal level. They often oversee budgets, personnel, and overall strategy. Although these roles may not have specific educational requirements, becoming a doctor of public administration online can help develop the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.
- Median Annual Salary: $107,850
- Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Social or Community Service Manager: Social and community service managers lead organizations that work to support people in need. These organizations may serve individuals from a particular demographic, such as children or the homeless, or individuals facing a particular challenge, such as addiction or mental illness. Some positions specifically require an advanced degree in a related field, like public administration.
- Median Annual Salary: $64,680
- Projected Growth Rate: 18%
Postsecondary Education Administrator: Administrators at colleges and universities oversee academic operations, student services, faculty research, and other higher education functions. Although smaller schools may hire candidates with only a bachelor's degree, an advanced degree coupled with experience in the industry is a more common requirement at larger institutions.
- Median Annual Salary: $90,760
- Projected Growth Rate: 10%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Doctorate in Public Administration Salary
Salaries for public administration professionals vary greatly depending on an individual's chosen career, their location, and their level of education. Annual earnings may also be different from organization to organization. The table below uses data from PayScale to give graduates a sense of possible salaries at five common jobs in this field. In addition to showing the median salary for each role, the table displays how a worker's earnings change as a function of their experience.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Entry-Level Employees||Mid-Career Employees||Late-Career Employees|
|Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education||$87,552||$60,000||$71,000||$99,000|
|Executive Director, Nonprofit Organization||$64,140||$52,000||$60,000||$80,000|
|Government Program Manager||$88,020||$64,000||$82,000||$103,000|
Public Administration Professional Organizations
Regardless of where they work, public administrators can look to professional organizations for a variety of benefits and resources. These organizations provide members with networking opportunities at local chapter events and national conferences. They also offer professional development and educational resources, many of which are accessible online. Additionally, these organizations often publicize job opportunities for those looking to enter or advance in the field. The list below details three popular public administration professional organizations.
- American Society for Public Administration (ASPA): ASPA is the leading professional organization in public administration. It is a useful resource for connecting with peers in the field, developing new professional skills, and keeping up with the latest news and trends.
- Alliance for Nonprofit Management: The Alliance brings together nonprofit professionals at all levels to boost capacity and advocate for policies that help social organizations create change. It hosts an annual conference, hands out professional awards, and maintains a nation-wide job board on its website.
- International City/County Management Association (ICMA): ICMA represents city and county managers, as well as other local and municipal administrators. In addition to career development resources, ICMA curates and disseminates important research in areas like public safety and economic development.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Public Administration
After looking at public administration doctoral programs online, students should be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA office helps connect students with various forms of federal aid, including grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. Students should be mindful that grants, scholarships, and work-study wages do not need to be paid back; these represent the most attractive sources of financial aid.
Students should also look into scholarships and discounts offered by states, schools, and private organizations. Schools may also offer discounted tuition to veterans or active duty military personnel. Furthermore, many doctoral programs pay students to serve as teaching assistants, although this may pose more of a logistical challenge for online learners.
Private student loans can help individuals pay for the remainder of their tuition after they have taken advantage of grants, scholarships, and federal loans. However, individuals should be cautious about financing too much of their education through private student loans. These loans often come with higher interest rates; additionally, unlike federal loans, private loans cannot be forgiven after spending 10 years working in a public service position.