The Best Online Doctorate in Public Administration Degree Programs 2021

by TBS Staff
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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 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.

The Best Online Doctorate in Public Administration Degree Programs

California Baptist University true View School Profile Riverside, CA 55% 70% 54% California Baptist University is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

Founded in 1950, CBU offers a doctor of public administration. Students explore the field from a Christian perspective, completing 56 credits by taking just one course per eight-week term.

Students take courses such as ethics and social justice, strategic planning and management, collaboration and networked governance, and public administration special topics. Learners complete a dissertation and defend it through the online system.

Applicants need a master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.0 for unconditional admission. Students with a minimum GPA of 2.75 can apply for conditional admission.

Old Dominion University true View School Profile $$$ Norfolk, VA 52% 56% 51% Old Dominion University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1930, ODU offers an online doctor of public administration and policy.

Required courses in the 49-credit program include multivariate analysis in public administration, introduction to applied statistics and data analysis, multi-sector administration, and policy theory. Students complete and defend a dissertation on a strong topic and take research core courses and electives to finish the degree.

Applicants must possess a master's degree with a minimum GPA of 3.25 and GMAT or GRE scores in the 25th percentile to qualify for admission.

Valdosta State University true View School Profile $$ Valdosta, GA 42% 62% 51% Valdosta State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Founded in 1906, VSU offers an online doctor of public administration. Students complete 54 credits mostly online and must attend a weekend residency the first weekend of each spring and fall semester.

Students take courses such as information and data management, culture of formal work organizations, financial management for public and non-governmental organizations, and logic of inquiry in administration. A capstone experience provides research opportunities and collaboration.

Applicants need a master's degree and a minimum GRE score of 153 verbal and 5.0 analytical or a 295 combined verbal and quantitative score.

West Chester University of Pennsylvania true View School Profile $$$ West Chester, PA 75% 62% 19% West Chester University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

Founded in 1871, WCUPA offers a doctor of public administration degree entirely online. Students complete 45 credits and end the degree with a comprehensive exam and dissertation.

Students take courses such as advanced practice and applied theories of public policy and administration, strategic public management and governance, and advocacy and leadership in public policy and administration. Learners also take electives before moving on to the dissertation and preparing for the comp exam.

The school prefers a master's degree in a related field and may require additional courses for applicants without this type of degree.

Best Online Programs

Online Doctorate in Public Administration Programs Ranking Guidelines

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

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

Featured Online Doctorate in Public Administration Programs

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.

true Postsecondary Teacher $75,430 15%

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.

true Top Executive (Government) $107,850 8%

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.

true Social or Community Service Manager $64,680 18%

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.

true Postsecondary Education Administrator $90,760 10%

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.

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
City Manager $86,673 $69,000 $82,000 $108,000
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.

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. 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. 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.

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