10 Best Online Doctor of Public Administration and Policy for 2018

It might seem like any idiot can get into politics – and it’s true. But in many cases political figures are just figureheads, not making policy, writing legislation, or enforcing anything. In other words, if politicians were all there was to government, there would be no government. It’s the work of administrators, civil servants, and bureaucrats that make the government work (or keep it from working, from time to time). That is the realm of Public Administration.

What is Public Administration Education?

Public administration education prepares students for work in government, nonprofit, and private industry that has a bearing on government – everything from waste and recycling to mental health and safety. The academic study of public administration is a strictly 20th century concept, starting in the mid-century when government began ballooning with public works, infrastructure, entitlement programs, and growing government agencies.

Public administration research and education studies elements of bureaucracy, including budgeting, organizational leadership, human resources management, ethics, and more. It’s a highly interdisciplinary field, as it must be – government is complex, with a lot of moving parts, a lot of people, and a lot of money. Public administration programs have to draw on business and management, social sciences, economics, even psychology, to give students a full picture of how government works – the real, nitty-gritty of how government works, not the rosy, idealistic picture from civics class.

Why Get an Online Doctor of Public Administration Degree?

It’s possible to start a career in the civil service with only an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, but for working, mid-career professionals in the field, a higher degree may be key to advancement. For many, a master’s degree will give workers all the credentials they need for promotion. However, a doctoral degree can provide a faster track to executive roles.

There are two main types of doctoral degrees in public administration:

  • For students who want to go into teaching and research as university professors, the PhD in Public Administration is the standard, since PhD programs are more focused on research and theory than day-to-day public administration work.
  • For those who intend to take on executive positions in public agencies or private industry, the Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) is a professional degree more focused on advanced skills and applicable knowledge.

In other words, the PhD teaches students to research and teach, and the DPA teaches students to lead in the workplace.

Online programs are typically more effective and attractive for working professionals, since they allow students to work around their current schedules, and avoid the headaches of relocating for a degree program. Many online degrees can be earned anywhere, full-time or part-time, without any residency requirements. However, it’s important for prospective students to know their online doctor of public administration program is coming from a reputable university.

That’s why Online PhD Programs has done the research to find the most reputable online DPA online and PhD in Public Administration online programs. Online doctor of public administration programs can be found at a wide range of nonprofit and for-profit, traditional and experimental universities. But all of the online programs featured on the Top 10 Online DPA Programs ranking are regionally-accredited and recognized for quality.

NOTE: At this time, there are only 10 national online DPA or Public Administration PhD programs available that meet our qualifications. Because of the limited field, this top 10 is presented simply in alphabetical order, rather than as a quantified ranking.

1. California Baptist University

California Baptist University – a Southern Baptist-affiliated, private Christian university – was founded in 1950 as a small bible college. CBU grew steadily, attracting students to its beautiful campus in what was then rural Riverside, CA, and earning regional accreditation along with accreditations for its various programs. However, CBU really took off with the advent of online education. From education and nursing to business and engineering, CBU has become one of the most prominent names in online education, providing students with professional and academic degrees that are rooted in Christian faith and practice. Several of CBU’s online programs have received top 10 rankings from U.S. News & World Report, and have earned accolades across the internet for their working-adult oriented online programs.

The CBU online Doctor of Public Administration degree program builds on CBU’s established strengths in online delivery, as well as its long-standing commitment to community and social well-being. Students work through the DPA online program in a cohort, developing virtual relationships for support and development, while concentrating on just one online course per 8-week term. Students must also complete a dissertation led by faculty members with extensive real-world experience in all sectors of public policy. The 50-credit program can be completed in just 3 years, getting graduates out into leadership positions ranging from private industry to government agencies and educational institutions. This online doctor of public administration program shows the capabilities of California Baptist University, a name on the rise.

Degree: Doctor of Public Administration

2. Capella University

When educational entrepreneurs Dr Harold Abel and Stephen Shank founded Capella University in 1993, their purpose was to provide convenient graduate and professional education for working adults. Fortunately, they were just in time for online education to become a viable option, and Capella’s early adoption of fully online degree programs helped make the regionally-accredited, for-profit university a household name. Capella also made outreach to military, minority, and nontraditional students a priority, earning a reputation for diversity and student support. Capella’s emphasis on market-ready degrees extends throughout their online programs, including those offered by the School of Public Service Leadership. Accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NSPPAA), the Capella School of Public Service Leadership is dedicated to the highest standard of public service education.

Capella’s online Doctor of Public Administration degree program is designed to provide working professionals with the highest level of leadership preparation. Students in the DPA online program learn from experienced scholar-practitioners, who are not only steeped in theory and research, but in actual public policy practice. The Capella DPA focuses on applicability, giving students the tools to apply their learning in ethics, research, management, and decision-making to their careers immediately, while preparing them for future career goals. Fully online coursework allows students to keep their jobs while learning in a highly developed online community. Two structured, 4-day on-campus residencies are required during the online doctor of public administration program.

Degree: Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)

3. Northcentral University

Northcentral University was a pioneer in online education, becoming one of the first fully online universities in the nation when it was founded in 1996. With a focus on programs that would have immediate impact on its students careers, Northcentral earned both regional accreditation (a rarity for online, for-profit colleges) and accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the standard for business education. These recognitions made Northcentral an early, reputable choice for online students, and Northcentral remains dedicated to the practical needs of working professionals and other nontraditional students.

Northcentral University’s ACBSP-accredited business programs are designed for working adults who need flexibility and convenience as their earn their credentials. Northcentral offers two paths for professionals in public administration to earn a doctorate. The Northcentral PhD in Business Administration, Specialized in Public Administration, is for students more interested in conducting research and education students in public administration. The Northcentral Doctor of Business Administration, on the other hand, is a professional doctorate focused on the highest level of expertise for future executives, administrators, and consultants in public policy and administration. Both stand as examples of excellence among online doctor of public administration degree programs.

Degree: PhD in Business Administration – Public Administration specialization; Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) – Public Administration specialization

4. Saybrook University

Saybrook University is one of the most unique institutions of its kind, focused on graduate programs rooted in humanistic psychology. Saybrook began as the Humanistic Psychology Institute, a research center at CSU Sonoma founded by somatic studies pioneers Eleanor Criswell and Thomas Hanna. As a highly progressive, nontraditional university, Saybrook focuses on professional education from an interdisciplinary, humanistic perspective, emphasizing leadership, service, and sustainability. Saybrook provides low-residency degrees and certificates in areas like leadership, counseling, holistic medicine, health and wellness, and more. Students come to Saybrook from a variety of backgrounds, including academia, activism, and service, but leave committed to making the world a better place for people.

Saybrook’s online PhD in Transformative Social Change is dedicated to research in human rights, peace, and social justice, using a base of interdisciplinary knowledge to improve communities and individual lives. Students work to design programs and plans that will make positive social impacts in a variety of settings, from organizations like Amnesty International and Greenpeace to education and nonprofit leadership. The program includes field research and direct action, developing students into valuable research-practitioners who can apply their findings and knowledge to real experience. It’s an online doctor of public administration degree program like no other, from a university like no other.

Degree: PhD in Transformative Social Change

5. Texas Southern University

Texas Southern University is one of the nation’s most prominent and respected public historically black universities, founded in 1927 as a junior college for African-American students. Demand for education among Houston’s black community was enormous, and within five years the junior college had become a full, regionally-accredited 4-year college, and a comprehensive university in less than 20 years. Today, TSU is one of the largest public HBCUs in the US, and is regularly ranked among the best universities for minorities. Among TSU’s schools, the Jordan-Leland School of Public Affairs has developed an influential reputation in Houston and throughout Texas, focusing on community support and development for African-Americans in the region.

Texas Southern’s online Doctor of Public Administration degree program, newly announced, will capitalize on TSU’s influence and connections throughout the the Houston metropolitan area and in Texas. The first program of its kind in Texas, TSU’s DPA online program builds on the Jordan-Leland School’s previous online master’s programs in Public Administration and Administration of Justice, using TSU’s respected faculty to their potential. With the Jordan-Leland School’s connections, graduates will enter the job market with confidence, making TSU’s online doctor of public administration the newest in a long line of excellence online degrees.

Degree: Doctor of Public Administration*
* not yet admitting students

6. Union Institute & University

Union Institute & University is a unique research university focusing on distance and low-residency degree programs for primarily working adult and nontraditional students. Union’s beginning came in 1964, when Goddard College, along with eight other institutions (including Bard, Antioch, and Sarah Lawrence) formed an experimental research school. With a focus on progressive, open education, interdisciplinary study, and social engagement, Union took on an English “tutorial” model, with students working directly, one-on-one with professors to develop their curriculum. Today, Union Institute & University continues in its outreach to nontraditional students with progressive, socially conscious programs focused on applying research to the public good.

UI&U’s online PhD in Public Policy & Social Change degree program exemplifies all of the qualities that make Union special. Students are steeped in research, theory, and practical skills necessary to advocate for positive social change from within the system, whether as professors, government or nonprofit agents, or community activists. The low-residency program offers all courses fully online, with twice-yearly campus visits in January and July. Students work through the online doctor of public administration program in a cohort format, providing support and encouragement through the process. From power and conflict to politics and policy, Union Institute’s Public Policy & Social Change PhD prepares students to use their knowledge wisely.

Degree: PhD in Public Policy & Social Change

7. University of the Rockies

Founded in 1998, the University of the Rockies is a unique professional studies school dedicated to psychology and related human services degrees. With its roots in psychology, Rockies has become a nationally-recognized leader in fields that put people first: social science, organizational leadership, education, criminal justice, and more. UoR’s commitment to humanity is evident in its education, as well, since the University of the Rockies has put access, opportunity, diversity, and student support at the center of their curriculum. University of the Rockies is a regionally-accredited, for-profit university, and its convenient online programs for working adults and other nontraditional students are earning more recognition all the time.

University of the Rockies’ online PhD in Human Services degree program is primarily focused on the needs of working professional students. Students in the Human Services PhD program learn to use the latest research findings and techniques to help the poor, addicts, victims of domestic violence, and other at-risk populations. Graduates come out of the program prepared for roles as managers and administrators, or as researchers and educators. Specializations in Mental Health Administration or Nonprofit Management, as well as the standard program, help students focus their learning on their career goals. All coursework is fully online, but students must attend three weekend-long workshops on campus in Denver, CO, during the course of their program.

Degree: PhD in Human Services

8. Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University is part of the University System of Georgia, a comprehensive, regional public university dedicated to the educational needs of South Georgia. VSU was founded in 1906 as a normal school, bringing teacher training to the southernmost point in Georgia, where adequate education was lacking. Over the 20th century, Valdosta State grew enormously, responding to the call for academic and professional degree programs as the region grew. A much-loved regional university, Valdosta State is recognized for its commitment to student support and for its diverse, 11,000-strong student body, made up primarily of Georgians, but including students from all 50 states and around the world.

Valdosta State’s online Doctor of Public Administration degree program is a prime example of the way VSU prioritizes access and usefulness. The DPA online program is designed for working professionals in the field who want to increase their credentials and take on higher leadership responsibilities. As a professional degree, the DPA emphasizes practice over theory, giving students a deep grounding in management, leadership, analysis, and problem-solving. This 54-credit program accepts up to 15 transfer credits, and courses are offered on a 2-year cycle. Not only do the fully online courses allow students to keep their job, but all students receive in-state tuition rates, no matter their residency. VSU’s online doctor of public administration program gets dedicated professionals into their roles quickly and conveniently – to everyone’s benefit.

Degree: Doctor of Public Administration (DPA)

9. Walden University

When Walden University appeared in 1970, it was conceived as a bold experiment in decentralizing higher education and opening up access, appropriate to its time. Walden made a national reputation by providing low residency graduate degrees for working adults, first in education, then in a growing number of fields. Walden became a household name after offering one of the first fully online master’s degrees in the nation, beginning in 1995, and today Walden is internationally recognized for high-quality online degrees. Walden is a regionally-accredited, for-profit Public Benefit Corporation, tying its business success to its service to the community, and its basic formula of providing the best possible distance degrees has never faltered.

Walden offers two doctoral programs dedicated to public administration, giving students a valuable choice between a practice-focused or an academic-focused degree. The Walden DPA online degree program offers students an education geared toward applied research and leadership within the public sphere. With a professional doctorate, students learn leadership, management, and problem-solving based on current knowledge. Walden’s online PhD in Public Policy & Administration, on the other hand, is more focused on creating knowledge through research and educating the next generation of professionals. Students can choose from 13 specializations for a degree tailored to their career goals. Walden’s choices for an online doctor of public administration degree are like no other.

Degree: Doctor of Public Administration and PhD in Public Policy & Administration

10. West Chester University of Pennsylvania

West Chester University is the largest member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the state’s premier system of regional public universities. WCU dates back to a private academy that operated beginning from 1812 until it was taken over by the commonwealth in 1871 to start a state normal school. Since that time, West Chester has remained dedicated to providing the highest level of educational opportunity for the people of western Pennsylvania. Its proximity to Philadelphia has helped make WCU a major, comprehensive university of more than 16,000 students, and U.S. News & World Report names WCU among the top 20 public regional universities in the North.

Part of West Chester University’s outreach to Pennsylvanians includes its top-notch online programs, which are earning WCU national attention. The WCU online Doctor of Public Administration demonstrates the university’s interest in cutting-edge, in-demand online degrees. This interdisciplinary DPA online program brings together courses from Public Policy & Administration, Social Work, and Criminal Justice. Students are prepared for leadership in high-level executive and administrative roles in government, nonprofit, and private industry related to public policy. As the DPA is a professional degree, students focus on applying research and knowledge, using their learning to solve the challenges of modern urban life. It’s a top-notch online doctor of public administration degree program from a trusted educator.

Degree: Doctor of Public Administration