Online Associate Degree - Two Years
Online associate degrees in public administration serve two basic functions. First, they provide base-level education and skills to those interested in moving directly from their degree program into the job market. Students should be aware, though, that job opportunities on this degree level could be somewhat limited and consist mainly of clerical and support positions. Second, associate programs help prepare the degree holder to continue on to an internship program and to earn a bachelor's degree in public administration or closely-related subject.
Students entering an A.A. or A.S. public administration online will be expected to complete a specific number of general education course units as well as a group of required courses designed to introduce the fundamental principles of the field. These core classes will cover subjects such as business management, sociology, math and statistics, law and government, economics and others. The majority of these degree programs are given the general "public administration" title.
Most distance education degree programs today are offered by private for-profit online institutions, although a growing demand is giving rise to a number of two-year public community colleges and four-year universities, both public and private, getting into the online associate degree market.
Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Public Administration - Four Years
By far the most popular online degree for those looking to enter public administration quickly is the online bachelor's. Public administration-related online bachelor's degrees come in great variety. In addition to the standard “public administration”, students can also choose online programs in related areas such as business administration, social work, urban studies, public safety administration and political science. Other schools offer their public administration degrees with a variety of specializations, such as community development, business management, logistics management, sports and recreation management, public affairs, international affairs and justice studies.
An online bachelor's degree in public administration typically requires a four-year academic commitment. Bear in mind, however, that one of the great advantages to an online program is flexibility. Many distance learning institutions offer public administration degree programs in an accelerated format designed to be completed in three years or less, while others provide longer time considerations for students who need to work full-time. Most programs follow a format very similar to that of an associate degree program in that students will have to complete a foundational general education requirement along with a core of mandated public administration-related courses and electives.
General education requirements usually include a choice of classes in English composition, the physical and natural sciences, mathematics and statistics, the social and behavioral sciences and the arts and humanities. A sample of subject-specific courses in public administration include:
- Administrative law:Examines a wide range of administrative law issues such as procedural requirements, judicial review of administrative actions, legal principles and trends in the development of public administration. Also includes a review of contemporary problems in administrative law, regulatory administration, administrative discretion and its abuses.
- Introduction to comparative politics: An overview of the factors political scientists use to understand and explain political outcomes on the national level. This course also includes an examination of the actors, processes and political institutions from a comparative perspective as well as the public policy process and specific policy areas.
- Organizational communication:Introduction to the theories and subtopics within the field of organizational communication. Analyzes the importance of communication in organizations and how individuals can become effective communicators.
- State and local government and politics: Covers the institutions and processes of state, city and county governments emphasizing taxation, public services, campaign and election processes and city administration.
- Statistics for decision-making in public administration: Discusses the statistical application to public administration with topics that include descriptive statistics, probability and applying statistical inference to issues faced by public administrators.
An online bachelor's degree in public administration, as with an online associate degree, serves two basic functions for graduates: a path toward entry-level jobs in public administration and fulfillment of prerequisites graduate school. Jobs for bachelor's degree graduates can be found in all sectors of the employment market although most individuals will find themselves working in government, for non-profit organizations or as independent consultants. Unlike associate degree holders who will find it difficult to move out of the clerical field, bachelor's degree graduates should be able to find jobs with some potential for upward mobility into supervisorial and management positions.
Online Master's in Public Administration - Six Years
A major shift occurs in the landscape of online public administration degree programs at the graduate level. A major difference lies in the number of programs offered by firmly established traditional colleges and universities, including a great number of public schools. Another difference is in the much wider scope of job options that opens up at the master's degree level. A public administration master's degree provides the main entry point for an array of positions in all sectors of the economy and in any number of fields: city and county management, fiscal management, law enforcement, human resources management, non-profit funding and management, public affairs and communications, urban planning, utilities management and many others.
A typical online master's in public administration requires an 18-month to two-year commitment, although many students -- especially those who continue in full-time employment during their course of study -- may take longer to complete their degree. Academic programs often offer concentrations in subjects such as criminal justice studies, organizational leadership, fiscal management, public works administration, municipal governance and more. Many of these programs will require the candidate to complete a capstone paper or thesis presentation.
Public Administration Doctoral Degrees - Seven Years or More
Doctorate degrees in public administration come in two forms: the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Administration and the Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.). Differences between the two can be slight and in some cases non-existent. Both are research-oriented, require a significant amount of academic study and completion of a dissertation. If a distinction does exist, it’s that Ph.D. programs focus more on theory and scholarly research while D.P.A. programs concentrate on practical issues and applied research. As with master's degrees, doctorate degree programs in public administration are often coupled with an area of specialization such as public management, education policy, non-profit management, health care systems management and policy making.
Most full-time degree candidates can expect to invest three to five years (at least) beyond their undergraduate degree to complete their doctoral program. Part-time students should plan on anywhere from seven to ten years for degree completion. Distance learning doctorate programs are limited in number compared to master's programs, but many reputable choices are available, most designed with the working student in mind. Besides academia, public administration doctorate degree holders, particularly those with a D.P.A., will find extensive employment opportunities in senior-level positions in government, private business with government ties, and with non-profit organizations.
Elements of a Quality Online Public Administration Degree Program
Online public administration degree programs and courses are abundant. As with all online education, however, the quality and reputations of those programs can vary greatly. Sorting the good programs from the bad can be difficult. Here are a few things to look for when seeking a quality online public administration program:
- Accreditation.Proper accreditation of any post-secondary school or degree program is an absolute must. Accreditation is the means by which a student can be assured that his or her degree program meets a set of rigorous academic standards and is worth the time, money and effort. Accreditation on the postsecondary level takes two forms: institutional and programmatic. In the United States, institutional accreditation, which considers the school as a whole, is primarily the responsibility of sixDepartment of Education-recognized regional agencies. Programmatic accreditation for public administration master's degree programs is primarily the purview of the Commission of Peer Review and Accreditation of the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA). Currently the NASPAA only accredits master's degree programs. When considering a master's degree in public administration, students would be wise to seek out those programs with both institutional and programmatic accreditation by the above-mentioned agencies. There is no independent agency that currently accredits associate, bachelor's or doctorate programs in public administration in the United States. Students should still insist on full regional accreditation for any school offering these degree programs.
- Internships. In a tight job market, graduates in any field need all the help they can get. One of the best ways for a public administration graduate to set himself or herself apart from the competition is to feature a quality internship program on their resume. Some degree programs may even require the successful completion of an internship to graduate. Whether required or not, a solid degree program, online or on-site, should offer its students access to quality internship opportunities.
- Student Resources and Support Services.A quality online education program includes access to quality student resources and support services such as career, personal and financial aid counseling, library and technical services, online tutoring and more. Disabled students should be sure that all schools under consideration are ready, willing and able to provide the special resources and services needed to insure a successful distance learning experience.