Master’s in Public Administration Programs in the District of Columbia

Cole Neder

Cole Neder

Updated & Fact Checked: 04.17.2024

Washington, DC, is the capital city of the United States and the heart of the federal government. Thus, a master’s in public administration (MPA) is a well-regarded postgraduate degree for anyone looking to serve in government in our vicinity. An MPA degree can be used in a variety of positions within the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government. MPA degree holders also work in non-governmental organizations (NGOs), other nonprofits, and the private sector.

DC is synonymous with politics. While the District has the fourth most federal employees (192,127), they represent 21.2% of the area’s workforce.1 As the nation’s capital, DC offers extensive opportunities in government and nonprofit service. From Capitol Hill, the White House, and Executive Branch agencies, along with the Federal Judiciary, the District of Columbia is a city built on government. In addition, there are hundreds of NGOs and private lobby firms that operate in DC as an efficient way to lobby and interact with the federal government. K Street, located in northwest DC,is a strategic hub for lobbying firms, advocacy groups, trade associations and even some think tanks

Nearly all cabinet-level departments have headquarters in the District of Columbia or the Greater Metropolitan Area. The Department of Defense’s Pentagon headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, is perhaps the most prominent, not located directly within the district.

MPA programs worldwide are accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), the recognized global accreditor of master’s degrees. As of 2023, more than 300 schools worldwide are institutional members of the NASPAA.

According to the NASPAA 2021-2022 Annual Report, 85% of those who enter an MPA program either graduate or are persisting to graduate. Some 56% of MPA graduates are employed in government, 20% are employed in nonprofits. Another 18% of graduates from an NASPAA-accredited program are employed in the private sector.

This article covers MPA programs offered by universities located in Washington, DC, sometimes referred to as the District of Columbia. Several academic institutions in Maryland and Virginia also offer MPA programs, but those will be discussed in other articles on this site.

MPA Programs in the District of Columbia

Of the nine universities in the District of Columbia, five offer an MPA program. 

  • The American University
  • George Washington University
  • Gallaudet University
  • Strayer University
  • University of the District of Columbia

Additionally, two schools, The Catholic University of America and Georgetown University, offer a master’s in public policy (MPP) degree. An MPA degree provides a broad range of skills and knowledge while an MPP degree is more tightly focused. In application, someone with an MPP would focus more on studying and creating policy whereas an MPA degree holder generally works to implement policy.

Of the five programs listed above, Gallaudet University, the University of the District of Columbia, and Strayer University each offer MPA programs that are not NASPAA-accredited.

Gallaudet University is a private institution with a federal charter dedicated to serving the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. Being the world’s first school for advanced education for the deaf and hard of hearing, it continues to be the only university where all programs and services are created especially to meet the needs of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. However, 50% of the graduate students are hearing.

Gallaudet University

  • Washington, DC
  • Campus + Hybrid

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Modality: Online or hybrid

Program Overview:
Gallaudet offers a unique bilingual MPA program in both American Sign Language (ASL) and English for deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing students looking for a career in the public sector. Students must demonstrate ASL competency before the end of their final semester. A capstone is taken in the final semester of study.

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Strayer University is a private for-profit institution headquartered in DC. with campuses mainly throughout the southern and eastern states.

NASPAA-accredited MPA Programs in the District of Columbia

There are only two NASPAA-accredited programs within the District of Columbia: The American University School of Public Affairs and the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration at George Washington University.

George Washington is conveniently located in the Foggy Bottom area, with proximity to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The DC Metro provides convenient access to the campus for students throughout DC, southern Maryland, and northern Virginia. George Washingon reports that 95% of its graduates from the School of Public Policy & Administration are employed, not seeking a job, or in school within 6 months of graduation.

George Washington University

  • Washington, DC
  • Campus

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Accreditation: NASPAA

Modality:  On campus

Program Overview:
Graduates of the Trachtenberg School’s Master of Public Administration degree are equipped to oversee and direct public service initiatives across various industries. The curriculum emphasizes the development of critical thinking abilities, strong analytical abilities, and a sensibility to the moral and ethical issues that are fundamental to the public administration field’s traditions. The program offers an MPA and graduate certificate in Budget and Public Finance and Nonprofit Management. Each master’s student in the TSPPPA program also completes a pro bono capstone project for a client of their choice.

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The American University is located in the Tenleytown neighborhood in northwest DC near the Department of Homeland Security and just north of Embassy Row, home to most of the foreign embassies housed in Washington, DC. American University boasts that 93% of graduates with master’s degrees are employed, pursuing an advanced degree, or both within six months of graduation.

The American University

  • Washington, DC
  • Online + Campus

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Accreditation: NASPAA

Modality:  On campus or online

Program Overview:
The goal of the AU School of Public Affairs’ highly regarded Master of Public Administration program is to educate students for distinguished leadership in public service initiatives domestically and internationally. The curriculum explores public policy and the field of public affairs with a wide range of concentrations including nonprofit and public management, state and local administration, and public financial management. A capstone is taken in the final semester of study.

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In 2023, American University and George Washington University tied for tenth in best public affairs program according to U.S. News & World Report.

Online Masters in Public Administration Programs in the District of Columbia

Three universities in the District offer online MPA programs.

The American University offers an online Master of Public Administration and Policy (MPAP), combining the NASPAA-accredited Master’s in Public Administration and Master’s in Public Policy degree programs into one credential.

Gallaudet University offers a two-track option of on-campus hybrid and online. MPA candidates take the courses face-to-face and complete the MPA electives (mostly) online. An online track allows students to take all their courses online. MPA candidates must choose a track upon entering the program.

Strayer University is a fully online program that requires 10 master’s classes each 11 weeks long. The time to complete the degree depends on the number of classes during the 11 week session.

Accelerated MPA Programs in the District of Columbia

The University of the District of Columbia allows MPA candidates to complete their coursework in 18 months. Courses are delivered in two 8-week sessions per semester allowing students to take 12 credit hours. Thus, in three semesters and a summer session, students can complete the required 39 hours.

George Washington, American University, and Gallaudet University each only offer a traditional two-year MPA program of 39-40 credit hours to be completed in two years.

Affordable Masters in Public Administration Programs in California

The University of the District of Columbia and Strayer University offer the most affordable programs in DC. As of 2023, the cost of an MPA from Strayer is $2,000 per course for its ten-course program.

Strayer University

  • Washington, DC
  • Online

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Modality: Online

Program Overview:
Strayer’s MPA program teaches the principles of public administration, public policy management, and implementation. The program involves 10 master’s courses each 11 weeks long.

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The cost of tuition at the University of the District of Columbia is $513 per credit hour, plus a fee of $430 per semester.

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Modality: On campus

Program Overview:
UDC’s MPA program prepares students for a career as a public manager, planning specialist, or policy analyst in governmental, nonprofit, and labor organizations, with specializations in Nonprofit Management, Public Management of Procurement, and public Contracting. A semester-long capstone course is required to be completed in the final semester.

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These two schools are more affordable options compared to George Washington University at $1,990 per credit hour for more than $80,000 to complete the MPA program, and American University at $1,922 per credit hour at a cost of more than $75,000 to obtain an MPA.  Tuition costs at Gallaudet University are $1,119 per credit hour. However, consider that neither the University of the District of Columbia nor Strayer University is NASPAA accredited, which may be a consideration for MPA degree holders seeking more high-level career opportunities.

What Types of Careers Can I Pursue With an MPA Degree in Washington, D.C.?

Given the geographical proximity of DC, Maryland, and Virginia, there  is a wide array of career pursuits for someone with an MPA degree in the federal government, nonprofit organizations, and even the private sector. Here is a representative sample of the careers available to an MPA degree holder looking to work in Washington, DC.

Budget Analysts develop and monitor short and long-term financial spending projections for governmental agencies and the private sector. They track spending and future appropriation projections to assist agencies in effectively managing their budgets. Among the most prominent agencies that focus on the government’s budget is the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) which is primarily on the size and scope of the president’s budget request to Congress, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan agency that assists Congress by analyzes economic trends and program cost projections.

Management Analysts work in organizations to improve efficiency and analyze programs ranging from operations, budget/finance, and the implementation of new technology. They conduct interviews, research alternatives, and make recommendations to management based on their findings.

Policy Analysts advise executives, elected officials, and clients on proposals for new legislation, analyze existing laws and regulations, and make recommendations for changes. Policy analysts are employed in nearly every executive branch department and agency, both houses of Congress, nonprofit organizations, and lobbying firms.

Project Managers direct all aspects of project management including budget, scheduling, project milestones, and plan completion. They plan and present ideas to the project stakeholders during the planning phase. Once the project starts, they oversee spending to ensure that it stays under budget and give staff direction on how to finish tasks. Project managers assess the project’s effectiveness after it is finished by looking at financial information and results.

Public Affairs and Communications Directors handle outreach initiatives that assist government organizations and nonprofits in enhancing their public image. These initiatives include writing speeches, drafting press releases, and coordinating fund-raising events. are all possible.

Executives and Executive Directors can be found throughout the government and nonprofit sectors. Executives lead at the highest levels of organizations by creating long-term goals, overseeing daily operations, improving operations, measuring organizational effectiveness, developing a work culture, and developing and implementing strategic plans. Executives will usually have spent five or more years prior in a deputy executive or other senior management role.

The following list includes all master’s of public administration degrees offered in Washington, DC, beginning with the two accredited programs.

Additional Resource

  1. federal employees are in,their respective state’s total workforce.

MPA Programs in Other States