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phd public administration onlineWhy get an online PhD or Doctorate in Public Administration and what is the difference? Below you can find the answers to the difference between degrees. You’ll also learn more about the study of public administration and its importance in our world as well as the best online PhD and Doctorate programs.

Why Do We Study Public Administration?

online phd in public administration, public administration degrees, online college, online degrees, online phd, online doctoratePublic administration is one of the most challenging, complicated, and vital parts of human society. Over the centuries, we’ve done significant work as a species to manage our collective needs and provide better outcomes for more people worldwide. The results have been mixed, but in general, we’ve trended towards an improved life quality for billions of people, expanding access to water, food, shelter, medical care, and employment that can sustain individuals and their families.

These improvements didn’t happen miraculously. They’re the product of governance and public administration, and the way the two regulate, create policies and lead in areas like infrastructure, education, healthcare, among many others.

online phd in public administration, online doctorate in public administration, public policy, public works, public administration, public administration degree, online collegeHowever, there are still billions of people on earth whose basic needs are not being met. If we want to improve their lives, there are tremendous obstacles that must be traversed, deflated, or dispensed with entirely. Wealth inequality, violence, and the inability to access education, healthcare, shelter, food, and water are some of the significant problems that desperately need solving on the local, national, and global levels. Public administrators are the people who work every day not only to bring those services and resources to more people but grapple with and change the systems that created these problems initially and maintain them today.

In a public administration doctoral program, you’ll learn to lead people, manage systems, create policies that make positive change, and be prepared to work in a number of different areas and organizations throughout the world.

Doctorate vs PhD: What is the Difference Between a PhD in Public Administration and a Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) Program?

Doctoral degrees are generally split between PhD’s and doctorates. In the former students are far more likely to work on theoretical issues, and prepare to become professors, do advanced academic research, and help inform practitioners and policymakers in their areas of discipline through their theoretical work.

In non-PhD doctoral degrees, students are more likely to study and work to become elite, top-level practitioners in their area of discipline. Graduates will often go on to work at the most supervisory, executive positions of organizations depending on their goals and interests.

online phd in public administration, online ph.d. , online doctorate in public administration, online degree programs, public administration degreeBoth doctoral degree types often feature a culminating project. In PhD’s, this often manifests as a dissertation or thesis based on original research, as well as defending it to a panel of academics. In more practitioner centered doctoral degrees, this can be a Capstone project that showcases the work and learning a student has done throughout the program.

In public administration, most graduates are expected to become practitioners. Obviously, there are plenty of professors, researchers, and other supporting academics that do research and educate in the area of public administration. However, public administration doctoral graduates are far more likely to do practical, tangible work in the field. Most doctoral programs in public administration reflect this need to educate future leaders and can prepare students to work in either education, research, or leadership roles regardless of whether they’re classified as a PhD or doctoral degree.

Now that we’ve explored some basic information about doctoral public administration degrees let’s explore the methodology we used to rank them:


In order to present the best online PhD and Doctorate Degree Programs in Public Administration, we searched the United States institutions of higher learning to find which ones offered the programs. After finding the programs, OnlineCollegePlan, then ranked according to:

Student Population (1/3 of score) – Institutions with larger student bodies were given favoritism based on the philosophy that those awarded a higher number of degrees based on their size. This also gives the impression of having experience as well as being a well-liked institution.

Affordability (1/3 of score) – Money is a big issue when it comes to many large purchases in life, and education is no different. Schools were ranked with the lowest tuition and fees receiving a higher ranking score. Tuition and Fees were researched using the NCES website. When given an option, in-state was chosen. The most recent Tuition and Fees are listed below in each description.

Student Opinion (1/3 of score) – Many people now turn to customer reviews before making a substantial purchase. With this in mind, Online College Plan checked out student reviews on and the schools with higher grades and star averages were awarded a higher number of points for the ranking.

No institutions were given priority or favoritism over another in this ranking and it was not requested. Information presented was researched by the staff of OnlineCollegePlan.

The Best Online PhD in Public Administration and Doctorate Degree Programs

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  1. MERIT: 215
    View Profile Average Cost: $22,548

    Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)

    Liberty University, Online Masters Degree, Online PhD, Online Degree

    Liberty University offers many online degree options, including a variety of online PhD programs and doctoral programs.

    Liberty University offers several online doctoral programs, which includes their online Doctor of Public Administration (DPA). It’s accredited by SACSCOC. The program requires 48 credit hours and takes approximately 2.5 years to complete.

    The program is intended for people that want to make small or large communities more pleasant and efficient. It’s often attended by educators or civil servants that want to begin or further their careers in government, higher education, or consulting, among other options.

    Students will study how government agencies function, and what impacts their leadership and ability to accomplish organizational goals. They’ll build significant experience in strategic planning, program creation and execution, comprehensive management techniques, and meeting goals through effective leadership.

    About Liberty University

    Liberty is a private, non-profit doctoral research university headquartered in Lynchburg, Virginia. It’s a Christian school that conveys most of its offerings online. The university was established in 1971 by Jerry Falwell.

    Today Liberty serves over 75,000 students across the globe. It has a 19:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Liberty students enjoy access to 290 bachelors, 315 masters, and 32 doctoral degrees conveyed through 17 different colleges. Most Liberty students earn their degrees online, and Liberty has provided distance learning programs since 1985.

    There are more than 250 different degrees and certificate programs that Liberty students can access online. The school is currently known as the nation’s largest nonprofit online university. Liberty University has been certified as a doctoral research university by the Carnegie Classification. US News and World Report has placed Liberty University at 230 in its National Universities category.

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  2. MERIT: 194
    View Profile Average Cost: $10,560

    PhD in Public Administration and Policy Online

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    Old Dominion University is one of the largest institutions offering online distance education and fortunately, this includes online PhD programs.

    If an online DPA doesn’t suit you and you are looking for the best online PhD program in Public Administration, this is the one. Old Dominion University offers a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Policy online. It required 49 credit hours (37 of coursework and 12 for student dissertations). This program was designed to teach the importance of cooperation and problem-solving expertise in policy-making and leadership. Students will study the obstacles that come up in multiple sectors, including businesses, non-profits, governments, communities, and even individuals.

    In the program, students will do advanced policy analysis, research in public administration, learn to report findings to different audiences, make educated administrative and policy decisions, and much more.

    ODU professors have significant experience in partnerships between public and private organizations, economic development, citizen participation, nonprofit and public management, among other disciplines. Graduates will be prepared for top positions in research, public service, education, or government/nonprofit management, among other outcomes.

    More about Old Dominion University

    ODU is a public, co-ed research university based in Norfolk, Virginia. It was established in 1930. Students can access 168 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Over 24,300 students are attending ODU. The school features an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

    ODU is known as one of the largest online distance learning institutions in the country. Its distance learning programming started in 1994 via satellite. Today students can access 60 ODU undergraduate and graduate degree programs with streaming video, satellite, 2-way, and internet conferencing.

    Their alumni network features over 100,000 graduates living in all 50 states and 67 countries across the globe. Students can choose to take their ODU classes online or at any of its 50 physical locations. USNR ranks it tied at 215 in the National Universities category.

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  3. MERIT: 186
    View Profile Average Cost: $6,410

    Doctor of Public Administration Degree

    online college programs, online phd, online doctoral degree, online masters degree, online master's, online courses

    The online DPA at Valdosta State University is one of their three online doctoral programs.

    Valdosta State University offers three online doctoral programs, one of which is an online Doctor of Public Administration Degree. It requires 54 total credit hours. Its core courses are conveyed on a two-year cycle, and there are Ph.D. concentration areas within the program. Students have an option to transfer in 15 hours of previously earned graduate coursework, pending acceptance.

    This program is a terminal degree for practitioners looking to grow careers in non-profits, government, or non-government organizations (NGOs). Students will deeply explore and understand the communication, leadership, management, and problem-solving skills necessary to succeed in these environments, among other outcomes. This program offers eTuition based on in-state rates and is built for working professionals.

    More About Valdosta State University

    Valdosta State University, a public university, is one of the four member institutions of the University System of Georgia. The school was founded in 1906 in Valdosta, Georgia.

    Valdosta State University offers a variety of degrees at every level of education. These include Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Education Specialist, and Doctoral degrees as well as Certificates. The University programs are offered through colleges of Arts, Arts and Sciences, Education, Business Administration, and Nursing. Also, the Graduate School at Valdosta has Divisions of Social Work and Library Science.

    More than 11,300 comprise the Valdosta student body, and the school boasts a 20:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The school is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to provide associate through doctoral degrees.

    USNR ranks Valdosta in the 230-301 bracket of the National Universities category. Its public administration programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.

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  4. MERIT: 179
    View Profile Average Cost: $12,120

    Doctor of Public Administration

    Walden University, online doctorate, online degree, online college, online masters, online bachelor degree, online certificate program

    There are more than 80 online degree programs offered at Walden University at every level, including online PhD and online doctoral degrees.

    While checking out the top online doctoral programs, be sure to look at Walden University’s online Doctor of Public Administration program. It’s an applied program that was created to forge leaders of the future. Students will build incredible management skills, solve pressing problems, and much more in government and related areas.

    The program features residencies with team-based experiences that explore practical case studies that study organizational issues and their solutions. You’ll also study cutting-edge public administration practices, applied research, and management at global levels.

    Students in this program have up to eight years to complete it. It requires 53 credits, in addition to five credits per semester of Doctoral Capstone work until the Capstone is completed.

    More About Walden University

    Walden is a for-profit, private university in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was founded in 1970. Walden is among the 80 universities owned or managed by Laureate Education Inc, most of which are based outside the country. Walden serves nearly 49,700 students and offers a 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio.

    Walden University is accredited regionally by the Higher Learning Commission. Since 1990 it’s been a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional accreditation agency. A Senate committee that looked at Walden’s tuition rates in comparison to similar universities praised its pricing.

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  5. MERIT: 176
    View Profile Average Cost: $14,579

    Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)

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    Capella University offers a variety of online PhD programs and doctoral degree programs.

    Among its online PhD programs and Doctorates, Capella University offers an online Doctor of Public Administration. It can also be taken in person. The program features 16 core courses, two residencies, and a Capstone project. It requires 74 total quarter credits, 18 of these can be transferred. The program prizes diversity, strong ethics, and cultural awareness.

    This program aims to build skills and aptitudes in leadership, critical thinking, communication, and much more. You’ll learn how to support communities, public interests at multiple levels of society, and make your mark on public policy. 84% of Capella’s doctoral alumni reported satisfaction with their experience in 2018.

    More About Capella University

    Capella is a private university based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was founded in 1993. Capella is primarily an online institution, and students can choose between 142 specializations -graduate and undergraduate, more than two dozen certificate programs, and individual courses of which there are more than 1600.

    Capella first began offering Bachelor degree programs in 2000. In 2006 it became a publicly traded company. Capella serves more than 37,000 students (22:1 student-to-faculty ratio). Its student body hails from 50 states and dozens of other countries.
    Its faculty is anchored by almost 1,500 professors, the vast majority of which have doctoral degrees in the fields they teach. Capella offers open admissions to any student that can pass a Capella-approved exam, letting many students who don’t have traditional education experiences to earn degrees.

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What is Public Administration?

online phd in public administration, online doctoral degrees, online phd degree programs, online college, online courses, politics, governmentPublic Administration is a relatively young discipline that has developed increasing importance in our complex society. It functions as both an academic discipline and an applied practice, managing public programs and implementing the results of politics into everyday life. Many government employees and most public servants are considered public administrators. Degrees in public administration are helpful for anyone who seeks to work in government, companies that work with government agencies, such as consultants, organized interest groups, and charities.

In the US, Woodrow Wilson is considered the father of Modern Public Administration, as the future president published an essay in 1887 titled “The Study of Administration,” which argued that Public Administration should not merely be considered a subset of Political Science (as it was in the 1880s), but instead be valued as its own program. Additionally, he put forth that public administrators should be held accountable to political leaders, who in turn should be transparent with and accountable to the citizenry.

online phd programs, online phd in public administration, online doctoral degree programs, online doctorate, public administration programs, dpa, phdThe academic pursuit of Public Administration sets out a network of interdisciplinary “pillars,” the primary six are: human resources, organizational theory, policy analysis, statistics, budgeting, and ethics. Public Administration draws from the academic resources of Economics, Statistics, Sociology, and Psychology, in addition to its deep roots in Political Science. Having a strong quantitative background, while useful, is not necessary to pursue a degree or career in public administration.

What is Public Policy and Administration?

online phd programs, online doctoral programs, public administration degreePublic Policy and Administration is the scientific study of the politics of institutions, structures, and organizations. Public Policy specifically targets how government and non-government actors engage with public problems and interact with each other, analyzing both the creation process of solutions and the implementation of those solutions. The intended and unintended consequences are evaluated to ensure that organized interests and government work towards positive results for the citizens.

Public Administration takes a more inward lens on government agencies and bureaucracies, examining the actions and conduct of officials and public servants vertically within one agency and also how those agencies attempt to productively interact with each other. Political institutions, legal structures, and historical context all comprise areas of study for public administration.

online phd programs, online doctoral programs, best online phd programs, top doctoral programsThe two branches work in concert to analyze the breadth of American and comparative politics, sifting through tradition to discover best practices and optimize the function of the state. These disciplines are perfect for people who are considering working for the government, consulting, or non-profits; essentially any role in government or that partners with government agencies. MPA students are often specialized in management and concern themselves with the technical implementation of policy. Students earning their MPP work more with the analyzation of policies and to recognize and recommend sound institutional policies.

Additionally, programs like these are inherently multi-disciplinary, so degree holders are not limited to specific subsets of industry, but instead are broadly prepared to tackle institutional problems with a developed and varied skillset.

So, Why Public Administration? What Can You Do With a Public Administration Degree?

online phd programs, online doctoral programs, online masters programs, online bachelor's degree programs, online college, public administration degreesPublic Administration is an excellent fit for people who care about the common good and social welfare. The discipline is founded on critically examining the function of government and trying to improve the efficacy and productivity of the implementation and application of policy. Additionally, the integral relationships with lobbying groups, contractors, consulting firms, non-profits, and charitable organizations mean that a Public Administration degree can be useful in almost any industrial or social sphere that interacts with government.

So if there is a particular issue that a prospective student cares about, such as shoreline preservation, education equity, or healthcare access, a public administration degree is a viable entry point into that sphere. Whether the hiring company is Shell or Chevron employing Public Policy hirees in the Gulf region, or charter networks lobbying for increased funding, or even a health insurance company trying to ensure they are following all their legal responsibilities, the multi-disciplinary nature of these programs gives students a well-rounded understanding in ways such as:

  • how to acquire and apply statistical insights
  • breakdown complex ideas to persuade stakeholders to buy into the course of action
  • and prepare them to deal with all sorts of real-world problems.

online master degree, online master's degree, political science degree, master of political science, master of science, master of arts, MA in Political Science, MS in Political Science, MS in GovernmentEven a simple Bachelors degree in Public Administration has a median salary of $65,000, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. With each increased level of degree, the median salary jumps up a significant amount, with those holding Master’s degrees in the discipline earning a median of $92,000.

What Can I Do With a Masters in Public Administration?

A Masters in Public Administration is one of the most flexible and relevant masters degrees that a graduate student can pursue. The multi-disciplinary pillars of Public Administration, reaching across human resources, organizational theory, policy analysis, statistics, budgeting, and ethics, provide a strong basis for any student to breach the professional world. The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration tracked the fields that Master of Public Policy or Administration were employed in six months after graduation in 2015 and they include:

  • best online phd programs, online doctoral programs, online public administration degrees, online degrees, online college, online courses23% are working for a domestic nonprofit
  • 7% for a local government
  • 15% for a state/provincial/regional government
  • 12% for a non-research/consulting business
  • 11% for a national or central government
  • 8% are in the research/consulting private sector
  • 5% are in a government not in the same country as the program the graduate completed
  • 4% are in an international nonprofit and pursuing further higher education (i.e. a PhD)
  • 1% has entered military service.

The sheer variety displayed here demonstrates how valuable and applicable the skill set developed by a Master of Public Policy or Administration can be. The ability to process and interpret data while aligning those analyses with a directive or critique of efficacy is tremendously relevant in almost every sphere of industry.

Specific roles across different sectors can include:

Private Sector:
  • Government relations manager
  • online doctoral programs, online phd programs, online masters degree, online bachelor's degree programs, online degree, online collegeProgram analyst
  • Program manager
  • Public relations and marketing manager
  • Consultant
  • Community relations manager
Non-profit Sector:
  • Advancement or development manager
  • Policy research assistant/associate/fellow
  • Program manager
  • Government relations advocate
  • Community outreach manager
  • Assistant professor/lecturer
Government Sector:
  • Legislative aide
  • Program analyst/administrator/manager
  • Budget analyst/manager
  • City manager
  • Representative/senator/elected official
  • Diplomat

What Can I Do With a PhD in Public Administration?

Anyone considering a PhD in Public Administration should be intrigued by comparative policy, smirk at the Economist’s snark, and be endlessly fascinated by the tinkering of technocrats. A PhD, or, Doctor of Philosophy, is a specific type of doctorate that usually focuses on an academic specialty. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Education do not differentiate or discriminate between a PhD in Public Administration/Public Policy or a Doctorate in PA/PP (DPA/DPP). Therefore someone pursuing Public Administration to this level is likely to be very passionate about developing theory and conducting specialized scholarly research.

online phd programs, online doctoral programs, online doctorate, online DPA, online degree programsThe bulk of PhDs work remains a balance between teaching college students, staying abreast of the new work in their field, and trying to publish academic papers. Publishing new and original research is often a periodic requirement for tenured professors, so that means having a breadth of knowledge about what research questions are currently being asked and having ideas about how to refine, broaden, or add on to the expanding body of literature.

Life in the ivory tower has its perks, but leaving the academy to join a consulting firm or deigning to join leadership at a government agency is also a viable path for a PhD, depending on whether the pursuit of dollars or public service is the aspiration.

What Can I Do With a Doctor of Public Administration Degree?

A Doctor of Public Administration, or DPA, is a terminal degree of study, considered by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation to be functionally equivalent to a PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy) in Public Administration. Technically a PhD is a more academic, research focused endpoint, while a Doctorate is a broader term with more of a professional practice connotation.

online doctoral programs, online phd programs, online doctorates, online DPA, online masters, online public administration degreesSo while the research and teaching roles available to a PhD are also available to DPA/DPPs, the DPP/DPA is more likely to be for people working in either the private sector or for the government. This higher level of certification is for those with career ambitions of reaching for senior leadership roles, such as board members, directors, vice presidents, or even members of the Cabinet. Having the academic affirmation of expertise in addition to professional experience lends extra weight to a candidates application and in work communications.

Most programs require 90 credit hours of coursework to earn the title DPA/DPP, taking 3-5 years of full-time work or 7-10 of part-time study. Additionally, many have a specialized focus of research to reach expert level knowledge in a smaller realm, as opposed to the more generalist expectations of a Master of Public Administration.

Where Can I Work If I Study Public Administration?

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Public Administration is an incredibly flexible degree that can be used in almost any professional sphere besides the biggest employer of Public Administration degrees, the government. Any large bureaucratic corporations as well as any organizations that interact with the government frequently actively recruit Public Administration degree-holders.

Obviously, the US government and associated agencies, plus state and local governments are always looking for people with a background in Public Administration. Things like the Department of Transportation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Department of Agriculture all need employees who can interpret legislation and directives from the White House, process data from varied sources, and apply those insights to those directives.

Beyond being on the public payroll, organizations like Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, and the Red Cross are frequent employers of Public Administration degree-holders. Any non-profit, charity or organized interest group that interacts with the government is likely to strongly consider hiring anyone who has a background or degree in Public Administration.

Journalism is also a popular landing place for workers with Public Administration degrees. Sifting through the breadth of information passing through a news headquarters like CNN or MSNBC requires a keen mind that has been trained to siphon out the crucial aspects of an unfolding story or current event.

The multi-disciplinary background and emphasis on effective communication skills make PA degree holders tremendously valuable. Even in large traditional corporations, a background in analyzing complex data, critiquing the bureaucratic processes while implementing efficient changes is a highly sought after skill set.

What is the Average Public Administration Salary?

online phd programs, online doctorate programs, online degrees, online programs, online collegeThe average salary under the search “Public Policy” on Glassdoor is $67,690. This includes any job postings that have that phrase, so incorporates a wide range of industries, roles, experiences levels, and degrees that Glassdoor has access to. A more pertinent way of breaking down the earning potentials of Public Policy and Administration degree-holders is parsing it by the level of degree held.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the median salary for someone with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration is $65,000.

degree, diploma, credentialsAfter attaining a higher level degree that earning potential will increase. A Master’s degree in the same field yields a median income of 92,000 annually, again according to the Georgetown University CEW, with the 75th percentile of earners that have a Master’s in Public Administration and Public Policy reach up to $142,000. Considering that the US median income overall was a mere $59,000 in 2017, it seems like a Master’s in Public Administration/Public Policy is a very worthy investment.

Glassdoor’s sample size is more limited, whereas the professional academic researchers of Georgetown likely provide a more accurate data sample and a snapshot of the productivity of MPA/PP degree-holders.

What Organizations or Associations Can I Join When Working in Public Administration?

online phd programs, online phd degrees, online doctorate, online doctoral programs, online college programs, public administration degrees, phd in public administration, online dpaNo matter what field you work in it can be useful to join a professional organization or association that can help you develop your professional skills, provide support and guidance, as well as help you network within the industry and develop contacts. The Graduate School of Public Policy University of Berkeley compiled a short list of professional associations that are relevant to those who work in Public Policy, including:

  • American Association for Budget and Program Analysis (AABPA)
  • American Evaluation Association
  • American Society of Public Administration
  • The Association for Public Policy Analysis & Management
  • Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL)
  • Government Finance Officers Association
  • International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
  • Municipal Management Association of Northern California
  • State and Local Government Management Associations (via ICMA)
  • National Associations Related to State and Local Government (via ICMA)
  • National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers
  • National Association of Counties
  • National Forum for Black Public Administrators
  • National League of Cities
  • International Local Government Associations (via ICMA)
  • US Conference of Mayors

These are prime examples of professional organizations designed to help public servants find support in a community of peers, learn from shared experiences, and find new professional opportunities. This is hardly an exhaustive compilation of the resources available to Public Administration and Policy support groups but is a focused example of how specific these groups can be. Regardless of how niche a role or job may seem, it is highly likely that some sort of professional society exists to assist people in that position.

Not sure if these online PhD programs in Public Administration are what you are looking for? Check out below for related articles and rankings or feel free to browse around.

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