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January 8, 2021

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Public administration degrees can lead to many different career paths. Students can combine their desire to serve the public with their unique skills and goals to determine which area of public administration they would like to pursue. Public administrators' salaries range from $75,000 to $100,000 annually. For those interested in the analytical side of public administration, job opportunities for operations research analysts are projected to grow 27% over the next decade, significantly above the national growth average. Public administrators' salaries depend on their job titles and degree levels. Combining a rapid industry growth rate, a variety of career possibilities, and high salary opportunities, public administration degrees offer exciting opportunities.

Should I Get a Doctorate in Public Administration?

Students develop many skills while obtaining a doctorate in public administration. They learn to apply research skills to succeed in the public administration field. For some students, online programs might be more suitable than on-campus programs, especially for students with family or professional obligations. Online programs offer flexible schedules to help students balance school with other obligations.

On-campus programs suit students who can focus primarily on school, and who enjoy learning in face-to-face settings while benefiting from on-campus networking opportunities. These students have the opportunity to build lasting connections with their instructors and peers, which can lead to job opportunities or chances to develop professionally.

What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Public Administration?

Equipped with a wide range of career opportunities, professionals with their Ph.D. in public administration can find work in almost any company. Professionals can choose from several areas in public administration, depending on their interests and skills. Graduates interested in healthcare can work as health services managers, while those interested in math and finance can work as budget analysts. Many programs allow students to prepare for a specific career by choosing a concentration, allowing them to gain the skills they need to thrive in their chosen career.

Urban and Regional Planner

Urban and regional planners create land use programs and plans to help build communities; revitalize physical facilities in towns, counties, cities, and metropolitan areas; and accommodate population growth. They work typical hours, plus some evenings and weekends.

Median Annual Salary: $71,490*

Budget Analyst

Tasked with helping public and private organizations and institutions manage and organize their finances, budget analysts prepare reports for companies to monitor their spending. They work in universities, private companies, and government agencies.

Median Annual Salary: $75,240*

Operations Research Analyst

These analysts use advanced mathematical methods to assist organizations with complex investigations. They work to identify and solve problems, and come up with methods for making better decisions in the future.

Median Annual Salary: $81,390*

Human Resources Manager

Human resources managers coordinate, plan, and direct organizations' various administrative functions. They also interview, recruit, and hire new staff members, and consult with top executives about strategic planning to serve as the link between employees and management.

Median Annual Salary: $110,120*

Health Services Manager

Responsible for planning, coordinating and directing medical and health services, health services managers often manage entire facilities, specific clinical departments or areas, or medical practices for a group of physicians. They also direct changes to keep up with evolving healthcare laws, technology, and regulations.

Median Annual Salary: $98,350*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Doctoral Program in Public Administration

One of the most important factors students should consider when choosing their program is the cost. Cost includes tuition, fees, technology costs, room and board, and course materials. Students should research each institution's projected education expenses. Program length is another determining factor, since each program has its own set of requirements, which can impact how long it would take to finish. Students can enroll full or part time.

Prospective students should also consider employment opportunities and quality of life in the area of their desired program. They should research the cost of living and decide if they would like to enroll in an online program or an on-campus one. Depending on their schedules and outside responsibilities, many students might prefer online programs, which tend to be more flexible. Not all doctoral programs offer specializations, so prospective students should consider whether they want to focus their degree in a specific area, and find a program that offers that concentration.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DPA?

The main difference between a Ph.D. and a doctor of public administration (DPA) lies in the curriculum. Students pursuing their Ph.D. take a more theoretical approach to their education, and must complete a dissertation to graduate. Dissertations use a theoretical approach in which students advance their professional knowledge through their work. A DPA takes a more practical approach in which their dissertations examine real-world problems. Because the dissertations differ in focus, they require students to take different approaches to their research methods. Dissertations requiring deep research may affect program length. Students should consider whether they would prefer more theoretical or practical methods of thought to determine which program is the best fit for them.

Programmatic Accreditation for Doctoral Programs in Public Administration

When choosing a doctorate program, students should pay close attention to accreditation. Credits from nationally accredited schools are often difficult to transfer to other institutions. Additionally, students at nationally accredited schools are often excluded from tuition reimbursement plans. Regionally accredited institutions are considered more prestigious, and graduates from those schools are usually eligible for tuition reimbursement plans. Many employers and higher learning institutions find candidates from these programs are more qualified and skilled than other candidates.

Doctorate in Public Administration Program Admissions

Admissions teams work hard to evaluate applicants and determine if they fit the program. On-campus and online admissions tend to differ in terms of depth. Online applicants usually have to submit more materials than on-campus students do -- for instance, many online programs ask applicants to submit several letters of recommendation alongside their application and transcripts. Online and on-campus students have the same minimum GPA requirements, but admissions professionals often look closely at online students' transcripts to determine their ability to motivate themselves in an online program. Admissions officers make sure the students they admit to online programs can find success and thrive in a flexible setting. These extra steps are beneficial for both the university and the student, affirming that the applicant can commit to online coursework based on their credentials and academic history.


In order to obtain a Ph.D. in public administration, students must first earn their master's degree. Though not every DPA program requires an MPA, some do. Some doctorate programs require applicants to have prior field experience. Minimum GPA requirements vary depending on the university, but most require between a 3.0 and 3.5. Related licensure is not required to gain admission to a DPA program.

Admission Materials

Applications require students to input basic, generic information, and typically take students 20 to 30 minutes to complete. Students must provide transcripts from their prior graduate program. Most schools charge a fee for transcript requests. Many DPA programs require students to submit at least three letters of recommendation with their application. These letters should be from professional or educational references relevant to the program. DPA programs do not require students to submit test scores during the application process. Application fees are between $50 and $75, though schools sometimes waive these fees for students with demonstrated financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Program in Public Administration?

Students interested in tailoring their degree to their career goals or personal interests can explore DPA programs with concentrations. Concentrations are geared toward the specific areas of public administration, including healthcare administration, public management, and analytics. Not every college offers concentrations, and those that do have their own unique topics to choose from.

Concentrations Offered for a Doctorate in Public Administration
Concentration Description Careers
Public Management Focusing on the effective management of public organization, the public management concentration provides students with the skills they need to succeed as managers in public administration. The concentration focuses on developing managerial and strategic planning skills to help students manage organizations of all sizes. Students who earn their DPA with a public management concentration can work in public management in all types of companies.
Ethical Leadership Centered around addressing some of the most critical leadership issues in modern public organizations, the ethical leadership concentration allows students to expand their knowledge of ethics. Coursework focuses on the public sector, and how to develop meaningful, ethical leadership qualities. Students with an ethical leadership concentration may qualify for leadership roles in companies and government agencies.
Nonprofit Management Dedicated to understanding one of the major sectors of public administration, the nonprofit management concentration gives students an overview of all things nonprofit. Students learn how nonprofit agencies differ from public and for-profit entities regarding mission, funding, governance, and staffing. This concentration prepares students for successful careers in management at nonprofit organizations.
Analytics Focused on a large part of public administration, the analytical concentration explores critical issues related to data management in organizations. Coursework explores the concept of data as a resource, the database approach, the data environment, and the need for data modeling. Graduates with a concentration in analytics qualify for program analyst positions and other analytical careers.
Healthcare Administration The healthcare administration concentration provides students with the critical strategies and information they need to effectively manage issues specific to the healthcare sector. They learn to handle problems like reimbursement and profitability troubles, extensive regulation, and managing a highly educated, diverse workforce. This concentration prepares students to work in healthcare management and administration.

Courses in a Doctoral Program in Public Administration

Each university offering a Ph.D. in public administration has its own curriculum with courses unique to that specific program. Courses cover a variety of relevant material, which students must master to succeed in the public administration field.

Ethics and Social Justice

Students examine the philosophy of ethics in relation to social justice issues and the relationships between moral and ethical practices and effective leadership. Course topics include theories of economic power, disparity, and privilege, plus some of the ethical dilemmas society faces.

Strategic Planning and Management

In the strategic planning and management course, students focus on strategic planning in an organization's mission and vision, to maintain organizational sustainability. They develop practical skills and learn to effectively create strategic plans that focus on implementation, allocation, collaboration, and budgeting.

Public Policy, Advocacy, and Economics

One of the most detailed courses in public administration programs, the public policy, advocacy, and economics course explores trends, imperatives, characteristics, and consequences of public policy. Students discuss how global economies impact the political climate, and other influences in electoral processes.

Performance Management and Evaluation

Focusing on public sector performance measurement, the performance management and evaluation course discusses benchmarking in strategic management ideas and principles. Students explore how changes in an organizational culture and climate can impact operational strategies. They also learn to address internal and external politics of program planning.

Collaboration and Networked Governance

Examining the concepts and practices of managing networks, the collaboration and networked governance course focuses on theories; processes of designing, developing, evaluating, and sustaining networks; and analytical skills. Course topics include maintaining successful collaboration efforts among private, nonprofit, and public organizations, and budget integration.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Public Administration?

The average student takes three years to earn a Ph.D. in public administration. Part-time students may take longer to complete their DPA, but full-time students usually take about two years to finish their coursework requirements and one year to complete their dissertation. Some programs allow students to take more credits each semester to complete their coursework requirements faster, allowing them to earn their Ph.D. in public administration more quickly.

How Much Is a Doctorate in Public Administration?

The cost of a Ph.D. in public administration varies depending on many factors. DPA programs have different tuition costs and structures depending on the university. Most public universities charge higher out-of-state tuition rates for non-resident students. Many colleges without a specific rate for online students allow them to pay in-state tuition regardless of where they live, since these students don't use on-campus resources. The average tuition for in-state students pursuing their DPA costs $45,000.

Beyond tuition, students must consider additional costs including technology costs, fees, and financial aid. Students must look into how much their rent or their on-campus housing will cost them each year, along with student fees. Once students have calculated their overall education expenses, they can subtract their financial aid from the total cost, and decide what they are able to afford.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Public Administration Prepares For

Certified Public Manager

Once an individual completes the CPM certification, they are recognized as a certified public administrator/manager. For the certification, individuals must graduate from a training program accredited by the National Certified Public Manager Consortium. Managers usually work in the public sector as they oversee agency departments and specific components of the government.

Certified Government Financial Manager

CGFM certifications are awarded by AGA. Individuals in these programs demonstrate competency in government accounting, financial reporting, auditing, internal controls and budgeting at local, state, and federal levels. Individuals with this certification can expand their career opportunities in the public policy and administration field.

Resources for Public Administration Doctorate Students

Serving as an online guide to government services and information, is very useful to students pursuing their Ph.D. in public administration. Students can search through a variety of topics and services to gain an understanding of the facets of public administration.

Partnership for Public Service

The Partnership for Public Service website provides students with resources to explore issues, programs, events, policies, and research in the public service field. The partnership works to make government more efficient, and its website allows students to discover the role they can play in the organization's mission.

Fire Science Online

Fire Science Online is a public service resource for women. Female students enrolled in public administration doctoral programs can use the website to explore resources and articles on how to become successful women in the field.

U.S. Census Bureau

Students can access the U.S. Census Bureau online. The site serves as a source of data regarding the people and economy in the United States. Students can use the site to help with their research and writing on public administration and policy.

Students can access to review federal legislative information in the United States. This site can help them with research projects, writing assignments, and other projects related to public policy.

Professional Organizations in Public Administration

DPA graduates can join a variety of professional organizations, which offer several benefits. When professionals join an organization, they may access resources specific to their field, including publications, training events, and seminars. These resources can add to each individual's professional development, propelling their career forward. Additionally, public administration organizations host different events to serve as networking opportunities, allowing professionals to connect with others in their field to explore potential job opportunities. Networking also allows professionals to build lasting professional contacts and relationships that could be beneficial in the future.

ASPA is the top interdisciplinary public service organization. The organization sets out to advance the art, teaching, science, and practice of public and nonprofit administrations, and works to build bridges between those who pursue public purposes internationally and at home. ANM is dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of the groups, individuals, and organizations that provide assistance to communities and nonprofits with the intention of achieving positive social change. Established in 1971, COMPA is a section of ASPA. The organization's mission is to serve and help public administrators, students, and public service professionals by increasing the role minorities play in setting public policy. With more than 11,000 members, ICMA works to identify and speed up the process of adopting leading local government practices to improve the lives of residents. The organization works to be the leading association of local government professionals committed to supporting and creating strong communities around the world. Dedicated to improving public management and policy by ensuring excellence in analysis, researcher, and education, APPAM promotes its mission by involving policy makers, scholars, and practitioners in their governance.
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