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Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Public Administration

An online degree in public administration prepares students for government service, policy making, and nonprofit work. Learn more about the best schools for this program as well as specialization areas, common courses, and career options for graduates.

Top Schools for Online Bachelor's Programs in Public Administration

The best universities for online undergraduate degrees in public administration feature curricula that tackle aspects of public governance like budgeting, policy development, and personnel management. They have earned regional accreditation and provide a variety of student support services.

1. Northern Arizona University

Location In-State Tuition & Fees
Flagstaff, AZ $11,896

The online bachelor's program in public administration at Northern Arizona University focuses on public policy, budgeting and finance, organizational theory, leadership, and ethics. Students who have earned an associate's degree can pursue a related program, the Bachelor of Applied Science in Applied Science - Public Administration, which offers a similar core curriculum. The university's online programs are delivered in either traditional or competency-based format. The former features multiple start dates, interactive classes, and credit-hour based tuition while the latter allows students to start anytime, design their own schedule, and take as many courses as they can for a fixed six-month subscription rate. With accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, the school maintains institutional quality by providing student support services such as online library access, tutoring, mentorship, and 24/7 technical support.

2. Troy University

Location In-State Tuition & Fees
Troy, AL $8,908

Troy University offers an online bachelor's program in political science with a concentration in American politics and public administration. The curriculum includes courses on the three branches of the U.S. government, administrative law, public policy, and personnel administration. Online courses are delivered in nine-week terms, and students can complete their coursework on their own schedule through the Canvas Learning Management System. They also have access to various resources such as 24/7 tech support, online tutoring, online library services, and proctoring services. Troy has a pipeline set up for finding internships and work upon graduation -- local businesses, government units, and private organizations partner with the university to offer tuition scholarships, application fee waivers, and other benefits for their full-time employees across the country. Troy University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

3. Central Michigan University

Location In-State Tuition & Fees
Mount Pleasant, MI $12,960

Central Michigan University's online undergraduate program in public and nonprofit administration features core courses in public sector management, budgeting, and human resources as well as nonprofit leadership. Online courses are delivered in 8, 12, and 16-week formats, a flexible system that lets students take courses on their terms. Graduates of the program can qualify for the Certified Nonprofit Professional credential, provided that they complete certain courses and extracurricular activities. The university provides a variety of support services for online students such as tutoring for math and writing, proctoring, library research, and financial education. It is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

4. Florida International University

Location In-State Tuition & Fees
Miami, FL $6,565

Florida International University offers an online bachelor's program in public policy and service with core courses in policy development, urban governance, public sector budgeting, and administrative leadership. Students with an associate degree from an accredited Florida college can advance directly to the 60 credits of required courses. FIU is one of the largest online schools in the U.S., employing over 1,400 online instructors and catering to more than 42,000 students each year. As part of its support initiatives, the school provides a success coach for every online undergraduate student; other services include leadership development programs, tutoring, and 24/7 technical support. FIU has earned accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

5. Florida Atlantic University

Location In-State Tuition & Fees
Boca Raton, FL $4,879

The online undergraduate program in public management at Florida Atlantic University offers core courses in organizational behavior, quantitative inquiry, supervisory practices, and administrative process and ethics. Courses are delivered through the Canvas platform, and students have access to online academic advisors, tutorial support, financial aid counseling, and other support services. The university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and an active member of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.

Rank School Name Location In-State Tuition & Fees
6 University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus Denver, CO $9,335
7 West Texas A & M University Canyon, TX $8,135
8 California State University-Northridge Northridge, CA $6,977
9 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC $4,277
10 Fayetteville State University Fayetteville, NC $5,274

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2019-2020 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

How to Choose an Online College

In choosing an online school, students can consider these factors to help them determine which institution suits them best.

Program Cost

Most colleges charge tuition on a per-credit basis, but some may provide a lower rate for students who enroll in more courses per term than for those who take fewer credit hours. While public schools often charge a higher out-of-state tuition for non-residents, some institutions offer a flat rate for online programs regardless of residency. Students should compare technology fees as these can vary widely, from $40 to $120 per course. Other fees to look out for include application fees, proctoring fees, assessment fees, and graduation fees. Students may also incur expenses for travel and accommodation for programs that require internships and on-campus residency. They will, of course, have to invest in a personal computer and high-speed internet connection as basic requirements for online classes.

School Size

Students often have more programs and areas of study to choose from in a big university, while smaller colleges tend to have a sharper focus on specific disciplines such as healthcare or business. Class sizes also matter a lot, especially in synchronous sessions. A smaller student-to-faculty ratio allows for more productive class interactions and better access to instructors for consultations.

Credit Transfer Policy

In general, credits earned at regionally accredited schools are easier to transfer. For students who are looking to start with an associate's program, check if the community college has articulation agreements with four-year institutions. These agreements make it easier for credits to be accepted into a bachelor's program. Some schools also award credit for relevant work experiences, apprenticeships, and other forms of professional training.

Program Delivery Format

Some universities provide more flexibility with their online programs, offering multiple start dates or even allowing students to start anytime. Courses can be offered in conventional 16-week formats or in accelerated 8- or 9-week terms, which gives students the option of finishing their programs earlier. Other schools allow students to complete their degree piecemeal and take courses on their own schedule, which fits better for those who work full time or have other commitments.

Overview of Online Bachelor's Programs in Public Administration

An undergraduate program in public administration provides training in the various aspects of managing public and nonprofit organizations.

Admission Requirements

A high school diploma or a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) are basic qualifications for admission to an online bachelor's program. Some schools require a minimum GPA and SAT or ACT test scores. Transfer students must submit official college transcripts as well as their high school transcripts and SAT/ACT scores if they have fewer than 60 transferable credits.

Specializations

Some online public administration programs offer concentrations in the following fields.

Nonprofit Management

In this specialization, students will focus on the history and context of nonprofit work and will receive management and leadership training specific to nonprofit organizations. Graduates of this track may qualify for the Certified Nonprofit Professional (CNP) credential after completing additional requirements.

Emergency Management

The emergency management specialization is designed to equip students with the necessary skills to design and implement programs on disaster preparedness, emergency response, community resilience, and recovery. Some programs provide more specific concentrations such as emergency medical services and fire service administration.

Justice Administration

This concentration examines how the concepts of justice administration can be applied at the federal, state, and local levels. It also aims to tackle policy issues, challenges, and feasible solutions.

Environmental Management

This specialization looks into laws and government regulations that affect environmental issues. It explores how policymakers can balance environmental protection and sustainability with economic growth.

Healthcare Administration

The healthcare administration track develops management skills specifically for hospitals, long term care centers, and other health facilities. Students are expected to learn about the core principles of healthcare systems and the challenges faced by healthcare managers.

Common Courses

Online students can expect to take these courses as part of the core curriculum in public administration.

Introduction to Public Administration

This course explores basic theories and concepts of public management, including the roles, responsibilities, and operations of government agencies. It also provides an overview of the critical skills and knowledge that public administrators must have in order to be effective in their organizations.

Budgeting

A course on public sector budgeting focuses on principles and strategies of financial management in government organizations. It examines factors that shape financial priorities and how budgets can impact program implementation and policy decisions.

Human Resources Management

In this course, students have a chance to learn about the functions of the human resources department with a particular focus on the public sector. Discussions will cover compensation programs and employee benefits, training and development, equal employment opportunity, and disciplinary issues.

Research Methods

This course looks into public sector research tools and how research results can be used to inform organizational decisions. Topics may include qualitative and quantitative methods, sampling, surveys, experiments, and research ethics.

Program Length

Similar to on-campus baccalaureate degrees, online programs in public administration normally take four years to finish. Some online schools, however, grant transfer credits generously and offer accelerated course formats that can make it possible to complete the program in as few as two years. Students can also take courses part-time and earn their degrees at their own pace.

Accreditation of Online Schools and Programs

Accreditation is a voluntary evaluation process that most schools undergo to ensure that they are capable of providing quality education and support services. Students can only apply for federal financial aid if they attend an accredited college. Accrediting organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation are in charge of the assessment process and the final decision to grant accreditation.

Regional Accreditation

This type of accreditation is typically granted to not-for-profit schools offering four-year degrees and graduate programs. Students from regionally accredited institutions will be able to transfer credits more easily to other schools with regional or national accreditation.

National Accreditation

For-profit institutions that provide technical and vocational programs are often granted national accreditation. Credits from these colleges can only be transferred to other nationally accredited schools but may not be as easy to transfer to regionally accredited institutions.

Programmatic Accreditation

This type of accreditation is focused on a specific academic department or program within a college such as healthcare, social work, education, or business. Programmatic accreditation can be granted to undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs.

Financial Aid for Online Students

A wide variety of federal and private grants and loans are available to online students. Below is a brief overview of a few options.

FAFSA Requirements

Students who want to apply for financial assistance must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Required information may include social security number, driver's license, federal tax information, records of untaxed income, and information on other assets.

Scholarships and Grants

Grants are types of financial aid that don't require repayment. These can be awarded based on various criteria including financial need, academic achievement, traits, athletic abilities, and chosen field of study.

Federal Grants

The Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) are the two major federal grant programs that are offered to students in high financial need. Grant amounts vary each year; for 2020-2021, the Pell Grant provides a maximum of $6,345 while the FSEOG usually awards between $100 and $4,000.

State Scholarships

State scholarships are awarded to qualified residents based on financial need, academic merit, or particular careers. Students may need to attend certain state schools to be eligible for these types of grants.

School Scholarships

Some colleges and universities might award grants to students with exceptional academic performance or leadership qualities. Certain scholarships are reserved for specific demographics such as women, veterans, and nonprofit workers.

Student Loans

Student loans are types of financial aid that need to be repaid with corresponding interest.

Federal Loans

Federal student loans have fixed interest rates and are available in four types.

  • Subsidized Loans - These are provided to undergraduate students with high financial need.
  • Unsubsidized Loans - Undergraduate, graduate, and professional students can apply for these loans without the need to prove financial constraints.
  • PLUS Loans - These loans are available to graduate and professional students as well as parents of undergraduate students. A credit check is required.
  • Consolidation Loans - These are provided for students who want to combine all their federal loans into one servicer.

Private Loans

Private loans are offered by financial firms such as banks and credit unions. Interest rates may be fixed or variable, but they usually cost more than federal loans.

Federal Work-Study Program

Under this program, students with financial difficulties can take on paid part-time work thanks to the Federal Work-Study Program. Jobs are often community service-oriented or related to the student's area of study.

Job Options, Salary, and Career Outlook for Public Administration Graduates

An online program in public administration is designed to prepare students for management and policy-related roles in government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Graduates can also work as analysts and consultants in the private sector.

Administrative Manager

Administrative services managers are responsible for planning and implementing activities required for the efficient operations of an organization. Their main tasks include supervising administrative personnel, taking stock of needed supplies and services, recommending improvements to procedures and regulations, and ensuring that facilities are complying with environmental and safety regulations.

Budget Analyst

Budget analysts make sure that institutions operate in a cost-efficient manner. They assess budget proposals, monitor expenses, review programs, anticipate future funding needs, and make recommendations on funding allocations. Budget analysts who work in public agencies may have to participate in legislative hearings to explain their proposals.

Community Service Manager

Community service managers are in charge of running social service facilities for various demographics such as veterans, children, older adults, or people dealing with homelessness, unemployment, and mental health issues, among others. They supervise administrative staff, coordinate outreach programs, evaluate the effectiveness of services, and provide recommendations for improvement.

Human Resource Specialist

Human resource specialists perform a broad range of duties such as recruiting and interviewing applicants, preparing compensation and benefits packages, processing payroll, and managing employee training programs. They also make sure that the organization is adhering to federal, state, and local labor regulations.

Urban Planner

Urban and regional planners are tasked with designing land-use programs that cater to community needs while accommodating business growth. Their work involves research, data analysis, and collaboration with various stakeholders. Some planners may focus on specific areas such as transportation, urban design, or preservation of historical sites.

Occupations Median Annual Salary (May 2019)* Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Administrative Manager $96,940 7%
Budget Analyst $76,540 4%
Community Service Manager $67,150 13%
Human Resource Specialist $61,920 5%
Urban Planner $74,350 11%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Organizations for Public Administration Professionals

Public administrators can benefit from joining membership organizations that provide networking events, training programs, and other professional resources.

American Society for Public Administration

ASPA's membership includes city managers, elected and appointed officials, nonprofit workers, and scholars. Members can see free webinars, get newsletters, peruse job listings, attend conferences, and find volunteering opportunities.

Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management

APPAM is open to public policy practitioners, students, researchers, and retired professionals. With a focus on research and education, APPAM organizes conferences and publishes a peer-reviewed journal. Other membership benefits include access to webinars and podcasts, a job board, and networking events.

Alliance for Nonprofit Management

Nonprofit professionals, organizations, foundations, and schools comprise The Alliance community. Members have free access to conferences, webinars, and other events as well as discounts on subscriptions, online courses, and certifications.

International City/County Management Association

With over 11,000 members worldwide, ICMA provides professional development initiatives, technical assistance, research, and training to local administrative officers and their staff. They also organize workshops, webinars, and conferences for their members. Other benefits include job postings, career counseling, and discounts for events.