Online PhD in Public Administration

Earning a PhD in Public Administration online is an avenue often pursued by experienced administrators and public policy leaders. By analyzing and solving some of the most challenging regulatory, technological and socio-economic issues facing government agencies and non-government organizations today, graduates with doctoral degrees in Public Administration have the opportunity to make responsible, positive contributions while opening doors to greater earning power and professional success. There are two kinds of doctoral degrees in Public Administration: the Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) and the PhD in Public Administration. The PhD program focuses more on developing theory through scholarly research while the DPA uses both theoretical and practical applications. An example of an online school offering an accredited DPA with a specialization in General Public Administration is Capella University, while Walden University offers an online PhD in Public Policy and Administration with a myriad of specializations. Most online PhD programs in Public Administration offer concentrations that include: Administrative Theory & Inquiry; Criminal Justice; Emergency Management; Health Administration; Non-profit Management; Organizational Studies; Public Budgeting and Financial Administration; Public Policy and Management; Public Policy Studies and many more. Online doctoral degrees in Public Administration usually take about three to five years to complete.

About Online PhD Programs in Public Administration

Online doctoral programs in Public Administration are usually more interactive than traditional courses. Doctoral candidates are expected to participate in weekly discussion boards, group projects, study scholarly readings, and write lengthy papers. In addition to course work, Public Administration PhD candidates must conduct in-depth research within their area of interest and write a dissertation reporting the findings and discussing future implications. Most online doctoral programs in Public Administration, such as the Doctor of Public Administration program offered at Capella University, will expect students to attend mandatory conferences, seminars and other situations to satisfy the field experience requirements of the degree.

Year One:

  • Public Services Theory, Issues and Research. In this course, students examine the historical and contemporary roles and relationships of the public sector in the United States, focusing on developing the critical-thinking and analysis skills needed to apply theory to local, state and federal levels of government.
  • Theories of Leadership and Public Administration. In this course, students explore the interactions between political leaders and lobbyists, strategies for motivating a civil service-protected workforce, and skills for effectively communicating at various levels.
  • Foundations for Doctoral Study. In this introductory course offered at Walden University, assignments focus on writing, critical thinking skills, and the integration of professional practice.

Year Two:

  • Ethics and Social Justice. In this course, students explore the ethics and social justice issues related to economic disparity, power and privilege using demographic data, current social trends and themes.
  • Global and Diverse Societies. In this Capella University course, students examine the challenges of working across cultures to create and enhance public value, unbiased solutions, and effective public administration systems and polices that improve process and practice.
  • Public Administration and Community Collaboration. Students study the theories of participative government, community development and change management related to collaborations between government and communities.

Year Three:

  • Finance and Budgeting for the Public Sector. In this Walden University course, students gain an understanding of theories underlying fiscal policy by reading and analyzing budgets, financial statements and financial reports.
  • Writing a Quality Prospectus. Students are asked to complete a 15-20 page prospectus outlining their dissertation's problem statement, research references and the implementation and evaluation plan for solving the dissertation's problem.
  • Theory Development in Public Administration Research. In this Capella University course, students analyze both current and emerging trends in public administration theories and develop a research proposal in preparation for their dissertation.

Some online PhD programs in Public Administration may require a number of residencies to be completed. These residencies can act as field experience requirements, where students attend professional conferences held by organizations such as the American Society for Public Administration or the American Public Health Association, conduct interviews with interest group representatives, and compose papers for publications in peer-reviewed public service journals. In many online PhD programs in Public Administration, 20 credit hours of dissertation courses and research are required. An example of a dissertation completed in a doctoral Public Administration program is An Empirical Identification of an Appropriate Inflation Definition and an Inflation Targeting Monetary Policy.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Public Administration

By earning a doctoral degree in Public Administration, public policy professionals can increase their chances of earning higher salaries and gaining more top level job positions within a host of different fields including law, socio-economics, consulting and more. Because many of the Public Administration PhD programs offered online offer a list of specializations to choose from, graduates can have a very specific area of expertise that can be appealing to potential employers. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth will be much faster than average, they still predict that competition will be very fierce. Graduates with PhDs who have experience in political science and qualitative and quantitative techniques will have better job prospects. While learning in an online classroom puts you at the forefront of a technologically expanding method of learning, one of the drawbacks of earning your doctorate in public administration online is that you will be lacking the one-on-one interaction with instructors and classmates. Fortunately, in online programs such as the ones offered by Capella University and Walden University, there are field experience requirements that allow for more interaction with faculty and other doctoral candidates, as well as more interaction with research subjects and professionals within the field of public administration.

Application & Admission Requirements

To be considered for acceptance in most accredited online PhD programs in Public Administration, prospective candidates should already possess a master's degree from an accredited institution and a cumulative grade point average of 3.00. Master's degrees can be in Public Administration, Business Administration, Education, Government or Urban Planning. Prospective doctoral candidates can also have J.D. or Doctor of Law degree prior to applying to most online PhD programs in Public Administration. Applicants must also submit a completed application, official transcripts from an accredited post secondary institution, a detailed résumé, and a statement that outlines your professional and personal goals in addition to your academic, research and work experience. Relevant work experience usually entails professional success as program managers, administrators, educators, consultants, analysts, or human resources leaders in government, non-profit organizations, and private sector organizations. Most online PhD programs in Public Administration expect degrees to be completed within 7 years.

Career Options & Job Market

With an online PhD in Public Administration, graduates have a number of career opportunities in city, state and national government to choose from, such as positions in planning, education, consulting, law, and non-profit organizations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public managers and public policy researchers were earning a median annual wage of $68,570 in 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in Public Administration will grow much faster than the average for all occupations. Possible career options include university professor, government public policy researcher, government agency administrator, public policy consultant, and non-profit administrator. Graduates of online doctoral programs in Public Administration can also pursue careers in sociology or political science. Sociologists can work as researchers, administrators and counselors and are mostly employed by scientific research organizations, social advocacy organizations, and within state and local government, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

Pursuing an online PhD in Public Administration can be cheaper than attending a traditional bricks-and-mortar institution. For example, tuition for Capella University's online Doctor in Public Administration program is $2,480 per course, and approximately $3,100 per quarter for action research and dissertation courses. Tuition for Walden University's online PhD in Public Policy and Administration program is $455 per quarter credit hour, not including a $60 technology fee and a $935 fee for each 4-day residency required to complete the program. Another way to get funding is through humanities and social science organizations such as the ACLS who offer scholarships, fellowships and competitions for PhD candidates.

  • ACLS Public Fellows Program. Offered by the American Council of Learned Societies, this fellowship rewards stipends of $50,000 to $78,000 and places fellows in staff positions at government and non-profit organizations.
  • Walden University Commitment to Social Change Scholarship. For incoming doctoral students who demonstrate the capacity to bring about positive social change, this scholarship rewards two recipients with $25,000 and another six students with $5,000.
  • Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship. This fellowship awards a $25,000 stipend plus research funds of up to $3,000 and university fees of up to $5,000. Sixty-five doctoral candidates are chosen annually.

Essential Advice

  • Weigh your options and do the research. You'll need to know for sure whether an additional degree will increase your earning potential more than a bachelor's or master's degree in a similar field would.
  • Try to obtain a scholarship, fellowship or grant. Studying at a PhD level is costly, and you may not be able to predict how many years it will take you to complete it.
  • Talk to current doctoral candidates and graduates about course load, time management, what admission materials they submitted, and so on. This is the best way to learn if the program is right for you.
  • Check the school's credentials. Once you find a program, make sure it is accredited by an accrediting institution recognized by the United States Department of Education.