How can online education benefit public service students?
Public service students will find online education particularly useful for the same reason most online students appreciate it— the ability to learn at their own pace. The primary reason many individuals choose a public service field is to help others, and as such, they often begin work in the field as soon as possible. That’s where the online programs come in; they allow students to continue working while taking courses. This flexibility allows additional time to volunteer and gain valuable real-world experience.
While online programs can allow students to accelerate their learning, the resulting heavy course load can make volunteering or working almost impossible. However, by allowing students to complete their degrees as soon as possible, they can resume their public service work quickly.
Can most public service degrees be completed online?
Many degrees common for those entering public service are available online. They include:
While many degrees for public service may or may not be available online, prospective students should have no problem finding an online degree that will provide the necessary education to achieve the desired professional destination.
What academic resources are available for online students pursuing a public service degree?
Online students seeking a public service degree will usually have available the same academic resources available as traditional students. However, much of this assistance will be available remotely. For example, at BYU – Idaho, online math students have chat access to a personal tutor. There will also be opportunities for academic assistance from the class instructor through online course delivery mediums, such as Blackboard or Moodle.
Do online students have access to financial aid and scholarships?
Yes! Online students are treated just like on-campus students and financial aid is no different. Whether it’s a state grant, federal loan or school-exclusive scholarship, all are viable options for online students. The only caveat is that the school offering the online degree or program must be accredited. Also, if there is a private scholarship, the sponsor reserves the right to include any eligibility requirement it wants, such as excluding online students (although this is almost nonexistent in practice).
To learn more about funding your online education, see Financial Aid for Online Schools.
How can students determine which online public service program is right for them?
Choosing the right online program for public service will depend largely on the needs and goals of the student. The following are a number of program characteristics students should pay attention to when searching for the right program.
Online Delivery Method
Course material can be delivered in a variety of ways. For example, with synchronous online learning, students will need to be at their computer at a certain time for a particular course requirement, such as a class discussion or lecture. There will also be relatively frequent deadlines for assignments. If a student needs more flexibility with coursework, then asynchronous online learning may be a better option.
With asynchronous learning, students can truly self-pace their learning. This might include watching a lecture whenever and wherever they feel like it or turning in an assignment when they are able to do so (within reason, and as long as the overall course is completed within a certain period of time).
Accreditation is imperative for anyone getting a degree, online or off. Accreditation can be thought of as a certification of a school or program by an independent organization, confirming that the curriculum meets basic academic standards. In other words, accreditation ensures the degree a student receives means something. If an online program or school isn’t accredited, stay away from it.
In-Person Curriculum Requirements
Online degrees allow students to avoid the physical classroom, but those who choose a career in public service often need the opportunity to help others in person. Finding a program that incorporates in-person requirements into the curriculum can be a nice bonus in that students can receive course credit for something they want to do anyway. For instance, at LSU’s online Master of Social Work program, students must complete two advanced field internship courses, which require students to be supervised in an agency setting while they prove their skills and knowledge.
Faculty and Alumni Network
Whether taking classes online or in person, networking is vitally important. Students choosing an online school should consider how well the program’s faculty is connected and where its alumni are. For example, students interested in working with a particular government agency might want to choose a program where they can learn from faculty who have worked there or opt for a school where numerous graduates find jobs in the preferred organization.
For more information about choosing a specific online program, click below to learn more about online learning.
Online Degree Programs
Know Before You Owe:
Paying for a Public Service Education
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program
What is the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF)?
This program allows individuals working for a nonprofit organization or the government to wipe away a portion of their student loan balance.
What types of public service employment qualify for this program?
Basically, any government job (state, local or federal) will qualify. A nonprofit organization must be a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization for associated jobs to qualify.
What are the eligibility and payment requirements?
Besides working full-time in public service, students must have made 120 qualifying monthly payments.
Are all types of loans eligible?
Any type of loan provided under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program will qualify. Additionally, the student must not have defaulted on the loan.
Is this program in jeopardy?
Officially, the PSLF program is not going away, as no official announcement has been made. However, the 2018 proposed budget set forth by the White House includes plans to eliminate the PSLF starting in July 2018. Keep in mind that this proposal must pass Congress and even if it does, there’s a chance that it will only apply to future students.
Additional Options for Loan Forgiveness
If the PSLF program is officially ended, all is not lost for those interested in public service. Below are a number of special government programs that allow students to reduce the amount they must pay for their student loans.
Under the Revised Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan, a student’s monthly loan payment is 10% of their discretionary income. If they make these payments for 20 or 25 years, any remaining balance is forgiven.
The Pay as You Earn Repayment Plan is similar to the REPAYE Plan, except payments only need to be made for 20 years before the balance is forgiven.
The Income-Based Repayment Plan requires students to make payments equal to either 10% or 15% of their discretionary income for either 20 or 25 years before the remainder is forgiven.
The Income-Contingent Repayment Plan requires 25 years of repayments, but each payment is the lesser of either 20% of the student’s discretionary income or what the student would be paying in a 12-year repayment plan.
To apply for any of these four repayment plans, students must submit an Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request. Additionally, none of these repayment plans are dependent on a student’s choice of academic study or profession.
Another option for those in public service is the Federal Perkins Loan cancellation. Under this option, a student may have a full or partial Perkins Loan cancellation if they work as a:
Teacher First responder
Public defender (attorney)
Early childhood education provider
Faculty member at a tribal college or university
The parameters for cancellation vary depending on the specific job, but most common is a total cancellation of the Perkins Loan after five years of service. Students might receive a partial forgiveness of 15, 20 or 30 percent of their loan for less than five years of service. Those interested in cancelling their Perkins Loan must contact the loan provider for more information.
Scholarships and Grants
American Radio Relay League:
Don Riebhoff Memorial Scholarship – $1,000
Applicants must be active amateur radio license holders pursuing a degree in international studies. The application deadline is late January, but applications can be accepted as early as October of the previous year.
Association of Government Accountants:
National Academic Scholarships – $1,500 to $3,000
Rising college freshmen or current undergraduate and graduate students may apply for these scholarships. Other eligibility criteria include the study of accounting, economics, finance or public administration and submission of the scholarship application by mid-April.
Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley
Michael P. Murphy Public Service Graduate Scholarship – $1,000
Open to residents of Dutchess County, New York, any student who will attend an accredited graduate school and pursue a career in government may apply for this scholarship by early May.
Goedeker’s Appliances Annual Public Service College Book Scholarship – $100 or $500
Students who are enrolled in an accredited college but who also work in a public service position may apply for this scholarship. Application deadline is early July.
Government Finance Officers Association:
Goldberg-Miller Public Finance Scholarship – $15,000
This scholarship is for graduate students who will enter state or local government finance. Applicants must be full-time students and apply for this scholarship by late January.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation:
Truman Scholarship – Amount Varies
Interested students must demonstrate a strong interest in a public service career. In addition to an exemplary academic record, preference will be given to students who will obtain a graduate degree in law, public administration, public health education, social work, international affairs or public policy. The application deadline is the first Tuesday in February.
International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts:
IALEIA Education Scholarship – $1,000
College students may apply for this scholarship if they are a member of the IALEIA (or the immediate family member of an IALEIA member) and studying in the criminal justice, statistics, intelligence or analysis field. The application deadline is the middle of February.
Greater Kansas City Community Foundation:
Vern Chesbro Memorial Scholarship Fund – Amount Varies
To apply, students must have graduated from a Franklin County high school and pursue a college degree in public administration or political science. The application deadline is early April.
Jewish Foundation for Education of Women:
JFEW Eleanor Roosevelt Scholars – Amount Varies
The JFEW sponsors a public service scholarship for women which helps pay for college and provides a summer internship stipend. Eligibility requirements include attending a postsecondary school in the New York City area, maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA and demonstrating interest in public service.
Tau Kappa Epsilon:
W. Allan Herzog Scholarship – $3,000
Active members of Tau Kappa Epsilon with at least a 2.75 GPA can apply for this scholarship as long as they are studying finance, accounting or economics. All applications must be submitted by mid-March.
Women’s Overseas Service League:
Women’s Overseas Service League Scholarship – $500 to $1,000
This scholarship is intended for female students devoted to helping the public service profession. Primary eligibility requirements include evidence of prior commitment to public service and having completed at least 12 credit hours of postsecondary school work while maintaining at minimum 2.5 GPA.
Expert Advice: Planning for & Making the Most out of Your Public Service Degree
Dr. William Hatcher is Director of Augusta University’s Master of Public Administration program and an Associate Professor of Political Science. His research focuses on the administrative features of community development and public finance. His research agenda tries to understand why public administration scholars and practitioners often have different opinions regarding the efficacy of certain administrative practices. His research has appeared in journals such as American Journal of Public Health, Journal of Public Affairs Education, Public Administration Quarterly, and The Review of Regional Studies.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about work in public service, and how can students get a true view of the career they want to pursue?
First, many feel that they’re going to start at a top management position. Public organizations, like the private sector, are institutions where employees have to work their way up the ladder to executive positions.
Students in public affairs are attracted to public service in hopes that their work will make a difference. At times, students can become frustrated that government is slow to change. Professors in public affairs programs need to stress the incremental nature of public service.
What can students in college do to enhance their marketability to potential employers upon graduation?
For students in public affairs programs, there are three areas of their resume to focus on during graduate school:
- Networking with professionals in their desired area of public service.
- Learning about the intersections between informational technology and public service.
- Appreciating the importance of courses that may not be “fun” like public budgeting and quantitative analysis. Being able to conduct data analysis is an important tool for public affairs graduates.
What advice would you give to students who wants a career in helping people, but are having trouble choosing the right degree program for their needs?
Easy. Enroll in a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program. MPA degrees are versatile academic programs. Graduates work in government, nonprofits, and the private sector. Students are trained in a wide range of skills and techniques, such as human resource management, leadership, data analysis, program evaluation, budgeting, policy development and implementation, general management, and many other areas. For most programs, students will have the ability to pick electives in their desired areas of expertise in public service.
MPA programs are going to teach students the tools that they need to advance their careers in public agencies, nonprofits, and even the private sector.
Joining Professional Public Service Groups & Organizations
From professional development opportunities to paying for school, many of the following organizations serve as a great resource for students as well as professionals.
American Bar Association (ABA)
The ABA’s mission is to find ways to improve the legal profession. It supports law students by providing access to learning and networking opportunities.
American Foreign Service Association (AFSA)
The AFSA advocates on behalf of members of the United States Foreign Service by offering scholarships and internships, as well as general information about the career.
American Society for Public Administration (ASPA)
Those interested in public and non-profit administration will benefit from joining the ASPA. They will find networking opportunities, scholarships, student newsletters and access to the Student and New Professional Summit.
Association of Government Accountants (AGA)
The AGA works to help financial management professionals in the public sector. Membership benefits include skill building, promoting accounting and auditing standards, scholarships, education opportunities and job postings.
Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)
The FLEOA is dedicated to helping current and future federal law enforcement officers by providing legal help to active duty law enforcement officials and scholarships to Academy (student) members.
Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA)
The GFOA works to help government finance officials better manage their local government operations. Student resources include scholarship and internship opportunities.
International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA)
The IALEIA is a professional organization that supports and advocates for law enforcement analysts. It also provides scholarships, networking and career resources.
International City/County Management Association (ICMA)
This organization is intended for any professional who serves local governments or otherwise has an interest in city and county governance. Student members can take advantage of job postings, internship and fellowship opportunities.
National Council of Nonprofits
The National Council of Nonprofits assists nonprofit organizations at all levels of government and allows for student membership at state chapter organizations. Student benefits include member discounts, job postings and professional advice.
Partnership for Public Service
The overarching mission of the Partnership for Public Service is to improve the operation of the federal government and encourage individuals to seek a career in public service. One of the best benefits for students includes the Public Service Internship Program.