Best Online Ph.D. in Public Administration

TBS Staff Writers
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Updated November 21, 2023
Teaching public administration at a college or university can be a fulfilling and rewarding career.

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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 8% between 2022 and 2032; this rate of growth is faster than national average for all occupations. Additionally, postsecondary teachers earn a median annual salary of $80,840, 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.

The Best Online Doctorate in Public Administration Degree Programs

#1 Best Online Ph.D. in Public Administration

California Baptist University

  • Location-markerRiverside, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$32,942
  • Out-of-state$32,942
  • Retention Rate78%
  • Acceptance Rate78%
  • Students Enrolled11,045
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment55%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 Best Online Ph.D. in Public Administration

Old Dominion University

  • Location-markerNorfolk, VA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,029
  • Out-of-state$26,664
  • Retention Rate80%
  • Acceptance Rate89%
  • Students Enrolled23,675
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment54%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 Best Online Ph.D. in Public Administration

Valdosta State University

  • Location-markerValdosta, GA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$4,371
  • Out-of-state$15,426
  • Retention Rate70%
  • Acceptance Rate57%
  • Students Enrolled11,270
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment48%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 Best Online Ph.D. in Public Administration

West Chester University of Pennsylvania

  • Location-markerWest Chester, PA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$7,716
  • Out-of-state$19,290
  • Retention Rate86%
  • Acceptance Rate75%
  • Students Enrolled17,669
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment23%
  • AccreditationYes

Best Online Programs

Doctorate in Public Administration

2023


The Best Schools

Online Doctorate in Public Administration Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Rankings Methodology

Featured Online Doctorate in Public Administration Programs

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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.

When looking at DPA programs online, students should confirm that a program is accredited by a regional agency or by an agency recognized by the ED or CHEA.

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.

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 TitleOverall Median SalaryEntry-Level EmployeesMid-Career EmployeesLate-Career Employees
Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education$90,115$57,000$69,000$106,000
City Manager$96,426$71,000$98,000$146,000
Executive Director, Nonprofit Organization$73,591$58,000$69,000$89,000
Government Program Manager$92,254$60,000$87,000$114,000

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.


Featured image credit: Hill Street Studios | DigitalVision | Getty Images

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