Earning an Online Public Administration Bachelor's Degree

The best undergraduate public administration programs teach students to manage and administer public organizations and programs within organizations.

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Earning a bachelor's in public administration can improve your career and salary prospects in public service. Some graduates go on to pursue a master's or Ph.D. The ideal students for an online public administration degree want to work in public service, work with professionals seeking salary increases, and those looking to make a career change. Enrolling in a public administration program online is a flexible, convenient, and affordable way to earn your degree. This guide offers more information about pursuing a public administration degree online.

Overview of Public Administration Degree Programs

Public administration is the study of the management of government and other public organizations. It seeks to understand how governments make decisions, evaluate policies, and create management strategies that help governments function effectively. Public administration bachelor's programs teach students public administration theory and practical skills like strategic planning, public finance, and policy evaluation. There are no in-person requirements for most public administration degree online programs. However, some give learners the opportunity to complete an internship, usually in their communities.

Graduates earn the skills necessary to work in the public sector as civil servants, managing administrative aspects of public organizations. Many graduates apply their public administration skills to other sectors and industries, including nonprofit organizations, research, education, and business. The career outlook for individuals who enter the field of public administration is strong, with higher than average job growth and salaries. Public administration graduates enter careers in the nonprofit sector, the government, and various for-profit industries. A bachelor's in public administration prepares students to pursue careers as executive directors of nonprofit organizations, human resources managers, political scientists, social and community service managers, and administrative services managers.

Public Administration Application Process

The application process and requirements for bachelor's in public administration programs vary by school. Most online public administration bachelor's degree programs require students to meet general undergraduate admissions requirements set by the college. Public administration students often declare their major after receiving admission to their school, sometimes after completing a certain amount of prerequisite coursework. Most schools require prospective bachelor's students to have a high school diploma or GED and hold a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Students need to submit high school transcripts and must submit transcripts for previously completed college coursework. Other common application requirements include letters of recommendation, an essay or personal statement, and an application fee. Some programs require an in-person or phone interview with admissions officers.

What Will I Learn in a Public Administration Program?

The best undergraduate public administration programs teach students to manage and administer public organizations and programs within organizations. Students learn to create and analyze policies, manage finances, and develop strategies for organizational success. Although most public administration programs focus on government agencies in the public sector, students can use many of the same skills in other industries.

Public administration curriculums explore issues like public policy analysis, project management, community development, campaign management, research methods, local government management, and financial management. Most bachelor's in public administration degrees require students to earn at least 120 credits, which usually consists of 50-60 general education, 25-30 elective, and 25-35 public administration major credits.

Below, you'll find a sample curriculum of bachelor's-level public administration courses. Specific course offerings and titles vary by program, but the curriculum below conveys a general understanding of what to expect from typical bachelor's in public administration programs.

Policy Analysis
In this course, students learn about the public policy process. It emphasizes public involvement in public policy and teaches techniques for interacting with the public. Students also explore cost-benefit analysis for making policy decisions and the role of the private-sector and nonprofits in shaping public policy. They learn research, analytical, and management skills useful in public administration careers.
Applied Research Methods for Policy and Management
This course introduces learners to the most popular research methods used in public administration. Students learn about research design, ethics, sampling, implementation, and presentation. They explore qualitative and quantitative methods, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, and statistical analysis. Students can use their research skills to evaluate and improve organizations.
Public Relations for Public Managers
Learners explore the ways administrators in public service manage public relations. The course covers public relations theory, strategies, and tools with an emphasis on issues public organizations face related to information handling and communication. Students learn techniques for building public support for public organizations, a skill useful in nearly all public administration careers.
Government and Administration of Metropolitan Areas
This class looks at the administrative issues of managing large, complex urban areas that encompass many political entities. Students explore trends in public administration and management. They investigate issues like managing transportation, housing, crime, economic development, education, and the environment.
Public Finance and Urban Infrastructure
Students learn theories of public finance, exploring issues such as expenditures, revenues, and budgetary processes. They explore the political, social, and economic issues that influence local and state government finances. Learners also investigate finance topics like property taxes, debt, user fees, and incentives, while gaining skills in capital budgeting.
Urban Environmental Issues
This course introduces students to natural resource planning issues that involve public service employees. It discusses environmental planning and policy, stakeholder involvement, and government responsibility. Using case studies, the course demonstrates local and state government strategies for protecting human health and the environment.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Public Administration?

Earning a public administration degree online prepares graduates to pursue careers in government management and policy at the local, state, and federal levels. They gain analytical, communication, leadership, decision-making, critical thinking, interpersonal, speaking, and organizational skills. Many other fields and careers outside of public administration also have a demand for professionals with these skills. The following section explores the core skills and potential careers and salaries for public administration graduates.

Core Skills Learned in Public Administration Programs

Students who pursue a degree in public administration gain political and business skills that prepare them for fulfilling careers in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and for-profit corporations. Traditionally, public administration graduates work in government policy and management, but the skills they gain easily translate to other sectors. Public administration is a complex field that encompasses many different issues. Because of this, skills emphasized vary by program.

Public administration students gain an understanding of a variety of issues, such as budget management and other finance issues, strategic long-term planning, research design and methods, the importance of collaboration with the public, and policy development and evaluation. They learn how to create, implement, and evaluate strategies for effectively managing organizations.

Public administration programs also teach learners how to communicate effectively with diverse groups of people and hone interpersonal skills. Some programs emphasize public speaking skills, which managers of organizations often need. One of the most important skills public administration students gain is the ability to lead an organization and take responsibility for its overall functioning. Every industry and sector values leadership skills and the ability to see the big picture.

Potential Careers and Salaries

Earning a public administration degree online opens the door to careers in the public and private sectors. Public administration majors often work in government management and policy at the local, state, and federal levels. Some find management and administrative positions in the nonprofit sector, while others take positions at for-profit businesses. Potential careers for public administration graduates include human resources directors, political scientists, social and community service managers, executive directors of nonprofit organizations, and administrative service managers. Public administration graduates pursue careers that involve management, administration, or leadership.

Annual median salaries in public administration outpace the national average, starting at around $64,000 for social and community service managers. Potential public administration careers and salaries vary by region, experience, and level of education. The chart below outlines possible careers and their annual mean salaries.

Career Profiles - Descriptions & Salaries

Executive Director, Non-Profit Organization

Annual Median Salary: $65,002 Executive directors lead, manage, and guide their organizations, usually with the help of a board. They hold responsibility for day-to-day operations, strategic planning, fundraising, and staff management. Some employers may require a master's degree.

Human Resources (HR) Director

Annual Median Salary: $110,120 HR directors manage, plan, and coordinate the administration of organizations. They deal with recruiting, hiring, and interviewing staff members. They also work on strategic planning with top executives and act as a liaison between management and employees.

Social and Community Service Managers

Annual Median Salary: $64,100 Social and community service managers lead community groups and social service programs. The manage workers, perform administrative duties, analyze program effectiveness, and coordinate funding for their programs and organizations. They typically need a bachelor's at minimum.

Administrative Services

Annual Median Salary: $94,020 Administrative services managers coordinate, direct, and plan the administrative or support services that organizations require. Specific job responsibilities vary, but often include coordinating things like record keeping, office maintenance, and facilities issues. They typically supervise other clerical and office workers.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Public Administration?

An online bachelor's in public administration degree prepares graduates for entry-level careers in the field. However, those interested in mid-level, leadership, and more specialized roles may want to earn a graduate degree in public administration to maximize their career possibilities. Students who decide not to pursue education beyond a bachelor's in public administration can still advance in the field. Many employers place a premium on relevant experience and will offer promotions to those with extensive professional experience in the field.

Public administration professionals without a graduate degree can also move up by continuing their education outside the classroom, taking advantage of professional development opportunities such as attending conferences, workshops, and webinars. Public administration professionals can also advance their careers by relocating to areas where demand is greater for skilled and experienced public service employees, such as state capitols.

Accreditation for Public Administration Bachelor's Programs

Prospective students who want to earn a public administration degree online should make sure the program they choose holds regional or national accreditation. Attending an accredited university signals that the school meets minimum standards of quality. Students who attend an accredited college can be reasonably sure they will receive a quality education and learn the skills they need to succeed in their chosen field. Also, students who attend schools that lack accreditation often do not qualify for federal financial aid and have a hard time transferring credits to other colleges. Accrediting agencies include the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the New England Commission of Higher Education.

While some fields of study also offer separate programmatic accreditation, bachelor's level public administration programs do not. However, the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration provides accreditation to master's degree public administration programs.

Public Administration Professional Organizations

Students and recent graduates of online public administration bachelor's degree programs benefit from joining professional organizations. Most groups offer discounted membership rates to students and early-career professionals. Becoming a member of a public administration organization opens the door to networking opportunities, professional development events, and members-only job boards and other career resources. Membership proves an excellent way to stay up-to-date in the field.

American Society for Public Administration:
ASPA promotes the public service profession, facilitates international collaboration, and provides professional development and networking opportunities. Members include researchers, civil servants, scholars, elected officials, and nonprofit managers. It also organizes an annual conference, publishes a journal, and offers eLearning opportunities.

National Academy of Public Administration:
The Academy furthers the field of public administration. Its focus areas include intergovernmental evaluation, organizational assessment, and performance management. The Academy brings together groups of public administration fellows who provide expertise, conduct studies, and write reports. It also organizes working groups and professional development and networking events.

American Political Science Association:
APSA leads the political science profession and represents more than 12,000 members. It promotes global explorations of citizenship, politics, and democracy. The APSA promotes and publishes scholarly research, offers professional development programs, organizes conferences and other events, and maintains a job board.

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