Doctoral Programs in Public Administration

Cole Neder

Cole Neder

Updated & Fact Checked: 05.21.2024

Introduction

A Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) is a terminal degree designed for professionals seeking advanced knowledge and skills in public administration, policy analysis, and leadership. It is typically pursued by individuals already working in the public sector or related fields who wish to advance their careers or transition into academia.

Obtaining a DPA can be a valuable investment for professionals seeking advanced knowledge and skills in public administration. While it requires a significant commitment of time and effort, the potential benefits, including career advancement and personal satisfaction, can make it a rewarding pursuit for those passionate about public service and leadership.

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Program Design and Overview

A DPA provides in-depth knowledge of public administration theory and practice, preparing graduates for leadership roles in government, nonprofit organizations, and academia. The time to complete a DPA varies but generally takes 3-5 years of full-time study. Part-time options are often available, extending the time to completion.

Curriculum Format

DPA programs typically include a mix of coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. Coursework covers advanced topics in public administration, policy analysis, research methods, and leadership. Students may also choose electives to specialize in areas such as nonprofit management, public finance, or environmental policy.

Comprehensive exams are usually taken after completing coursework and test students’ knowledge of the field. The exams may be written or oral and are designed to assess students’ readiness to move on to the dissertation phase of the program.

The dissertation is a significant research project that contributes new knowledge to the field and demonstrates the student’s ability to conduct original research. The dissertation process begins with the student selecting a research topic and developing a research proposal. Once the proposal is approved by a faculty committee, the student conducts the research, analyzes the data, and writes up the findings in a dissertation document.

The dissertation is a significant undertaking and requires students to demonstrate their ability to conduct independent research, analyze data, and contribute new knowledge to the field of public administration. It is overseen by a faculty advisor who provides guidance and support throughout the process. The dissertation is typically defended orally before a committee of faculty members who evaluate the student’s work and determine whether it meets the standards for the DPA degree.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for DPA programs vary but generally include:

  • A master’s degree in public administration, public policy, or a related field.
  • Minimum GPA requirements, often around 3.0 or higher.
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • A statement of purpose outlining career goals and reasons for pursuing the DPA.
  • Resume or CV detailing professional experience.
  • Some programs may require GRE scores, though this is becoming less common.

Benefits and Challenges

Pursuing a Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) offers numerous benefits for professionals in the field. One of the key advantages is the opportunity to deepen one’s knowledge and expertise in public administration, policy analysis, and leadership. A DPA program provides advanced coursework that allows students to explore complex issues facing public organizations and develop innovative solutions.

Additionally, earning a DPA can enhance one’s career prospects by opening up new opportunities for advancement into senior leadership roles in government, nonprofit organizations, and academia. The research and writing skills developed through the dissertation process are also valuable, enabling graduates to contribute to the field’s body of knowledge and make a meaningful impact in their chosen area of specialization.

Despite the benefits, pursuing a DPA also presents several challenges. One of the primary challenges is the time and commitment required to complete the program. DPA programs typically take 3-5 years of full-time study, and balancing coursework, research, and other responsibilities can be demanding, especially for working professionals. The dissertation requirement, in particular, can be a significant undertaking, requiring students to conduct original research, analyze data, and write a scholarly dissertation.

Doctoral Programs in Public Administration

American University

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The PhD in Public Administration and Policy at the School of Public Affairs follows the AU scholar-teacher model, preparing students for research and teaching careers in public administration and public policy. This full-time program emphasizes academic rigor and scholarly inquiry.

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Arizona State University

  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The PhD in Public Administration and Policy is a four-year, full-time program that prepares students for research-based careers in academia and policy. It offers a dynamic, cohort-based experience focused on applying analytical social science methods, building knowledge, producing high-quality academic research, and informing public action.

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Auburn University

  • Montgomery, AL
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Students take core courses such as Seminar in Public Administration and Policy, Research Design, Quantitative and Qualitative Methods, and Professional Development, along with electives in two chosen field areas. The program emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration and requires students to take a portion of their coursework at each campus.

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Boise State University

  • Boise, ID
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The curriculum is designed for both full-time students and working professionals seeking to enhance their policy analysis skills and methodological preparation. The program offers opportunities for full-time enrollment, supported by graduate research assistantships (GRAs).

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Carnegie Mellon University

  • Pittsburgh, PA
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program emphasizes interdisciplinary perspectives and the application of advanced analytical and theoretical models. Students benefit from close collaborations with faculty and explore the intersection of information systems, public policy, and management.

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Florida Atlantic University

  • Boca Raton, FL
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The FAU School of Public Administration offers a highly competitive Ph.D. program with concentrations in Organizational Studies, Public Administration Theory, Public Budgeting and Financial Administration, and Public Policy Studies.

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Florida State University

  • Tallahassee, FL
  • Online + Campus

Modality: Online/On- Campus

Program Overview:
The Ph.D. program at the FSU School of Public Administration requires 45 credit hours beyond the MPA degree. This includes 18 core course hours covering topics like Administrative Behavior, Institutions and Society, and Theoretical Perspectives in Public Policy.

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George Washington University

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Students specialize in one of the approved fields of study, conducting specialized research. The program is diverse and progressive, with about a quarter of each cohort comprising students from countries outside the United States.

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Georgetown University

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Online + Campus

Modality: Online/On- Campus

Program Overview:
The McCourt School and the Department of Government offer a dual MPP/PhD in Government program through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. This program allows students to combine applied interests and training in public policy with broader exposure to political theory and institutions.

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Jackson State University

  • Jackson, MS
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The university offers a wide range of graduate programs designed to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and practical experience needed for success in today’s job market.

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Mississippi State University

  • Starkville, MS
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Ph.D. in public policy and administration with a diverse faculty engaged in broad research. Many faculty members have governmental service experience. The program features a favorable faculty-to-student ratio, fostering close faculty contact.

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New York University – Wagner

  • New York, NY
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
NYU Wagner’s doctoral program focuses on providing theoretical and methodological training to produce insights for effective public and nonprofit programs and policies. The program is interdisciplinary.

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North Carolina State University

  • Raleigh, NC
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The Ph.D. in Public Administration requires 72 graduate credit hours, comprising 60 credit hours of coursework and 12 credit hours of dissertation research. Students with a relevant master’s degree may be eligible for up to an 18-credit hour reduction.

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Northern Illinois University

  • Dekalb, IL
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The Department of Political Science at NIU offers a strong Public Administration (PA) program, known for its national reputation and the high number of alumni placed in U.S. graduate-level teaching positions.

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Ohio State University

  • Columbus, OH
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The Glenn College offers a selective, research-oriented doctoral program preparing students for university careers in teaching and research, as well as senior-level research roles in government, nonprofits, and business organizations.

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Old Dominion University

  • Norfolk, VA
  • Online + Campus

Modality: Online/On- Campus

Program Overview:
The program emphasizes the creation and dissemination of knowledge to advance public service in a multi-sector environment. It focuses on collaborative decision-making and problem-solving across governments, nonprofits, businesses, community groups, and individuals.

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Pennsylvania State University – Harrisburg

  • Middletown, PA
  • Online + Campus

Modality: Online/On- Campus

Program Overview:
The Ph.D. program in Public Administration offers a dynamic learning environment focused on enriching scholarship, fostering research, and advancing professional careers. Students can collaborate with their committees to design their own specializations.

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Rutgers University

  • Newark, NJ
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Prepares students for careers as scholars, researchers, and teachers in public affairs and administration. The program aims to advance students’ research and analytical proficiency, deepen their understanding of theoretical frameworks, and cultivate effective teaching skills.

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Syracuse University

  • Syracuse, NY
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program aims to develop students’ competency in core subject matter and methodologies, provide a strong understanding of the intellectual tradition of public administration, and cultivate them as active researchers from the outset.

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Tennessee State University

  • Nashville, TN
  • Online

Modality: Online

Program Overview:
This synchronous online program is tailored for working individuals, a unique feature among research doctorates in public administration. Most students continue to work full-time while pursuing the PhD, as core classes meet once weekly in the evening.

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University at Albany (SUNY)

  • Albany, NY
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program emphasizes creating and implementing rigorous research designs, using quantitative and qualitative methods, contributing to theory development, improving practice in the public and nonprofit sectors.

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University of Georgia

  • Athens, GA
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program emphasizes research and maintains high admission and evaluation standards. Graduates have received national dissertation awards and are placed in Research I institutions in the U.S. and leading institutions globally.

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Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program requires a minimum of 96 semester hours of coursework beyond the baccalaureate, with up to 32 semester hours granted for those holding a Master of Public Administration from UIC or an equivalent program.

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University of Kansas

  • Lawrence, KS
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Students complete seminars and independent research courses to develop competency in public administration history, theory, methodology, discipline specialization, and complementary fields. The program prepares researchers for academia or careers involving innovative research in public affairs, policy, planning, and management/governance.

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University of Kentucky

  • Lexington, KY
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Graduates are expected to apply research and analytical methods to analyze policy and administrative problems, and have an in-depth understanding of policy issues in a functional public affairs area. Most incoming students hold a master’s degree in related fields and have a strong background in research methodologies.

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Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program emphasizes collaborative research projects with faculty experts, providing students with opportunities to publish in top academic journals. Coursework consists of small seminars, allowing for intensive study and close interaction with faculty.

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Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The curriculum includes academic coursework, field exams, a dissertation proposal, and a doctoral dissertation. Core theory seminars, research courses, specialization courses, and teaching and professional development workshops are part of the coursework.

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University of North Texas

  • Denton, TX
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program benefits from its location in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, providing opportunities for research on current public issues. The faculty are distinguished scholars with established research agendas and a collaborative approach, offering a strong foundation for students aspiring to academic leadership and scholarship.

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University of Southern California

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
All Ph.D. students receive funding for four years through fellowships and assistantships, with additional support available for conference travel. The program’s faculty are distinguished scholars who mentor students in scholarly research, leading to publications and conference presentations.

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University of Texas at Arlington

  • Arlington, TX
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Faculty specializations include economic and community development, education, environmental, transportation and welfare policies, intergovernmental relations, organizational structure and change, and public finance/budgeting.

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University of Washington

  • Seattle, WA
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The program offers a rigorous and supportive educational experience for those interested in pursuing applied research careers in academic, government, and nonprofit organizations.

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Valdosta State University

  • Valdosta, GA
  • Online

Modality: Online

Program Overview:
The program, tailored for professionals in the field, consists of 54 semester-hours of coursework. It includes foundation and core courses, theory and methods courses, elective courses, and capstone/project credits.

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Virginia Commonwealth University

  • Richmond, VA
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
Specializations in public policy, public administration, criminal justice policy, and urban policy. The Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs is highly ranked, with the graduate program in public affairs ranked No. 39 in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report.

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute

  • Arlington, VA
  • Campus

Modality: On-Campus

Program Overview:
The CPAP Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Affairs focuses on scholarly inquiry addressing contemporary public administration and policy issues. It emphasizes public service values, equity, and ethical leadership.

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