10 Best Online Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) Programs [2020 Guide]

Explore the 10 Best Online Doctor of Public Administration Programs for 2020. Compare DPA programs, career paths, and salaries.

Doctor of Public Administration

Public administration careers are on the rise, and a doctor of public administration online might be just what you need to distinguish yourself from other job applicants.

It’s a high-level degree, so it will require a certain amount of commitment, but the benefits can be substantial.

Best Online Doctor of Public Administration Degrees

Public administration is a broad field with many specialties and sub-specialties.

At its core, it’s about working in governments and nonprofits to handle budgets, policies, laws, social programs and other things that impact local communities. Potential jobs can include:

  • City manager
  • Budget analyst
  • Human resources director
  • Administrative services manager
  • Nonprofit program director

If you get a PhD, you can also explore careers in academia like researcher and university professor.

As for the degree itself, you’ll have a few different options. You can go for a Doctor of Public Administration (DPA) for the most straightforward credentials, or if you’re keen on getting that Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) on your resume, you can enroll in a PhD program with a concentration in public administration.

Research has shown that there’s little difference between DPA and PhD programs. They teach the same courses, and they’ll require the same amount of time, effort and research.

Doctor of Public Administration Careers & Salaries

Doctor of Public Administration Careers & Salaries

According to PayScale, the average salary for a bachelor’s degree holder in public administration is $66,000 per year, while students with a master’s degree in public administration online have an average salary of $67,000 per year. They don’t have figures listed for a doctorate degree, but it’s safe to assume that they’re in the same range.

What kinds of jobs can you get with these paydays? It depends on what you want to do. Online DPA programs can prepare you for many different careers, including:

Careers Annual Average Salary
Government Affairs Director $96,000
Management Consultant $87,000
Human Resources (HR) Director $85,000
Project Manager $73,000
Director of Fundraising Development $69,000
Communications Manager $63,000
Urban Planner $62,000
Budget Analyst $60,000
Grants Manager $58,000
Nonprofit Program Coordinator $47,000

As you look at these numbers, it’s important to remember that salaries will vary depending on the specifics of your job.

For example, management consultants in California earn 18.9 percent more than the national average while the same professionals in Boston earn 0.5 percent less.

Fortunately, your degree title won’t make a difference. There are no salary disparities between DPA and PhD holders, so financially speaking, it doesn’t matter if you get a DPA or PhD in public administration online. Your acronym won’t impact your paycheck.

Choosing an Online Public Administration Doctorate Degree

Public Administration Doctorate Degree student studying online

It’s one of the first questions to ask yourself when considering an online PhD in public administration: “Which degree program is right for me?”

Ultimately, the decision will come down to both practicalities and preferences. You’ll need to choose a college that fits within your budget and offers the courses, credits and learning options that you want.

You should also consider the usual things like tuition and graduation rates.

Your personal checklist might look a little something like this:

  • Accreditation: Look for regional, national or programmatic accreditation. There are searchable databases online if you aren’t sure about the accreditation status of your school.
  • Admissions: What are the deadlines? Will you need GRE or GMAT test scores? What’s their acceptance rate?
  • Faculty: The quality of a school’s professors can make or break its doctorate program. They should be accomplished individuals with strong backgrounds in public administration.
  • Online Format: Some schools have “synchronous” classes where lectures and discussions are hosted through live video conferences. Others have “asynchronous” classes that are self-paced with individual study through pre-recorded materials. Which online learning method is better for you?

Your checklist might look different from another student’s. That’s okay. Everyone has their own priorities when it comes to choosing a PhD program.

Admissions Requirements

Public Administration Doctorate Degree student studying on her laptop

Competition can be fierce when applying to graduate programs. The classes are smaller, and grants and scholarships are often distributed on a “first come, first served” basis. For the best chance of success with a DPA online, you’ll need to be familiar with the admissions process and what it requires.

  • Transcripts: Competitive schools will want to see a high GPA. Others might accept lower GPAs on a conditional basis or with other academic factors considered.
  • Test Scores: It’s common for doctorate programs to require the GRE or GMAT.
  • Resume or CV: You don’t need professional work experience to apply for graduate school, but if you don’t have a resume, you’ll need a CV. A CV can also be useful if you’re already researching or publishing.
  • Letters of recommendation: Most colleges will ask for 2 – 3 letters of recommendation from mentors or professors.
  • Statement of Purpose: This is your letter of intent to the university. It’s the place to outline your goals, interests, academics, extracurriculars and more.

It’s recommended that you start applying for grad schools 4 – 8 months in advance. Since it can take time to gather all of your admissions materials, this might mean sending out for transcripts and recommendation letters 6 – 12 months in advance.


Doctor of Public Administration Accreditation

As a graduate student, you’re probably familiar with accreditation. You might even know your way around the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database already.

Were you aware, however, that accreditation is just as important for a doctorate degree as a bachelor’s or master’s degree? Some might even argue that it’s more critical than ever. Since grad school can get expensive, you’ll want to be completely sure that your degree is recognized as legitimate.

If you need a refresher, here are the three types of accreditation:

  • Regional
  • National
  • Programmatic

Regional and national accreditation is known as “institutional” accreditation since it’s given to colleges as a whole. Programmatic accreditation, on the other hand, is given to specific departments and programs within colleges.

Regional or national accreditation is a must. Programmatic accreditation is optional, so it’s okay to look at online DPA programs without it, but it’s a nice bonus if you can find it.

Public Administration Professional Organizations

Public Administration Professionals attending a seminar

As a public administration student, you might benefit from joining an industry organization. It can provide many resources and opportunities while you’re in school, and once you graduate, it’ll serve as a network of like-minded professionals within your field.

Here are just a few names to consider:

  • Alliance for Nonprofit Management: The ANM is dedicated to the management of both government and non-government nonprofits. It offers countless events and awards as well as discounts on industry-related products, services and certifications.
  • American Society for Public Administration: With more than 10,000 members, the ASPA is one of the world’s largest organizations for public administration professionals. Members enjoy access to conferences, journals, job listings and e-learning platforms.
  • International City/County Management Association: The ICMA runs through local chapters to support government operations throughout the country. Its services include everything from webinars to leadership development programs.

This is a small list of professional organizations for public administrators. There are others, so don’t be afraid to strike out on your own and look for them. Your DPA online can be used to gain entry into many different professional networks.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

Financial Aid for PhD in Public Administration students

Despite what you may have heard, it’s entirely possible to get financial aid for a doctorate degree. While it’s true that your options will be more limited as a grad student than an undergrad, there are still ways to get help with funding your online PhD in public administration.

The first step is filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It will determine your eligibility for several types of assistance, including:

  • Grants: As a PhD student, you won’t qualify for things like the Federal Pell Grant anymore, but you might get lucky with a school-based research or academic merit grant.
  • Loans: You can’t get a subsidized loan anymore, but you can still take out an unsubsidized one. You might also qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan, also known as a “Grad PLUS Loan,” which is specifically meant for graduate students.
  • Work-study programs: Work-study opportunities are available to both undergraduate and graduate students, so it’s just a matter of finding a job that works for you.

Another option is scholarships. You can find need-based scholarships for students at every level of study, so if you’re under a certain income threshold, they’re worth considering. If you have a good GPA, you might also look into merit-based scholarships.

Last but not least, do a little research into fully- or partially-funded doctorate programs. These programs will waive your tuition in exchange for things like researching and student teaching, and some will even provide a monthly stipend.

As you might imagine, you’ll have a lot of competition for a fully-funded PhD, but it doesn’t hurt to at least read about them.

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

PhD in Public Administration student studying at a cafe

It can take anywhere from 3 – 8 years to earn a PhD. It’s hard to get more specific since there are so many factors that go into a graduate school timetable:

  • Will you be studying full-time or part-time?
  • If you’re enrolling online, will the program have any face-to-face requirements? This can slow down your degree if you have to travel for internships or exams.
  • Does your school have credit requirements? Some doctorate programs will monitor your credits just as vigorously as they do with undergrads; others will stop requiring or tracking your credits once you meet a certain threshold.

If you’re eager to finish school as quickly as possible, the good news is that a doctorate in public administration is usually on the shorter side. With dedicated, full-time study, you could be done in 3 – 4 years.

What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Public Administration?

Project Manager talking to colleagues while working on a project

A traditional or online public administration degree can open many doors, especially when it’s a specialized, high-level degree like a PhD.

Do you want to create change in your community? Look for a job with the government or with a nonprofit organization. Your degree can qualify you for work as an administrator, director, policy planner, budget analyst or human resources specialist.

Do you enjoy academia? Consider a career as a government researcher or college professor. This is a common track for PhD students, including ones who are studying public administration, so the infrastructure is there for you.

You could even take your degree and go into politics. Many mayors, chiefs, directors and police commissioners have backgrounds in public administration. Internationally, there are also a number of presidents and prime ministers who have studied public administration.

There are many places to take a DPA or PhD. You just have to tailor your career path to your unique strengths and interests.

Is a Doctorate in Public Administration Worth It?

Doctorate in Public Administration student studying at a cafe

While everyone has their own opinion about the value of a college degree, a PhD in public administration can definitely pay off. The field is growing, and the average salary for a doctorate holder is more than $66,000 per year.

When you calculate the money that you might put into a degree versus the money and career growth that you might get out of it, the balance is usually in favor of going for it.

What is the Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Public Administration Graduates?

It’s a good time to go back to school. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track the occupational outlook for public administrators, it does offer a growth rate of seven percent for administrative service managers and 13 percent for social and community service managers.

This is higher than the national average on both accounts.

Can I work While I Obtain my Online Doctorate in Public Administration?

In general, many students work while they attend graduate school. No matter if you were taking an online MPA program no GRE, or an online DPA, you can still work in your free time. In fact, one of the benefits of getting your PhD in public administration online is the fact that you won’t be tethered to a campus while you study.

You can learn anywhere and anytime as long as you have an Internet connection.

What Does an Online Public Health Doctorate Degree Cost?

Public Health Doctorate Degree student studying in his office

The cost of a doctorate degree can vary. Some schools will charge you by the credit; others will have a flat tuition rate for the first two years of study and a reduced rate for every year after that.

Financial aid can also play a role in your costs. There are fully- and partially-funded doctorate programs, and depending on their fine print, they can cover everything from tuition to textbooks. Some will even offer a monthly stipend for qualifying students.

In short, every PhD program is different, so their prices are different as well.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate Degree in Public Administration

Each of the universities included below are regionally accredited and offer public administration doctorate degree online.

#1  California Baptist University

California Baptist University campus

Founded in 1950, California Baptist University offers private education for students looking to incorporate their belief system into their academic life. Serving students of all faiths, CBU is a Christian college that offers online and campus-based degree programs, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

Some majors include education, healthcare, and science.

  • Doctor of Public Administration

California Baptist University is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#2  Capella University

Capella University campus

Created in 1993, Capella University offers private distance learning programs for busy or working adults. Students at Capella University can complete their degrees at their own pace using the accelerated learning program options. Other students chose a more guided curriculum as they work to earn an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degree.

  • Doctor of Public Administration

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#3  Liberty University

Liberty University campus

One of the nation’s most longstanding postsecondary schools is Liberty University, which was created in 1771. Liberty University offers a faith-based private education to students who want to be part of a global learning community.

Liberty University has more than one-hundred academic majors that help students obtain an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degree of their choice.

  • Doctor of Public Administration

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#4  Northcentral University

Northcentral University campus

The 1996 opening of Northcentral University marked a new era of education for students seeking a dynamic private education from an online school. Northcentral University allows students worldwide to access bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs on their schedule.

Flexible education at a low tuition rate helps more individuals achieve their educational goals.

  • Doctor of Public Administration

Northcentral is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#5  Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University campus

Old Dominion University is recognized worldwide for the research and innovations that come from its academic institution. Opening in 1930, Old Dominion University has a variety of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees that can be obtained online or on-campus.

Working with students across the globe, ODU encourages students to become involved in their many research opportunities.

  • PhD in Public Administration and Policy

Old Dominion University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#6  Saybrook University

Saybrook University campus

Commenced in 1971, Saybrook University is a small academic facility that serves less than 1,000 students each year. Located in Pasadena, California, Saybrook University has several paths to master’s and doctoral degrees. SU teaches students the importance of social justice, environmental awareness, and leadership in all degree programs.

  • PhD in Transformative Social Change

Saybrook University is accredited by the Senior Commission of Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#7  Union Institute and University

Union Institute and University campus

Union Institute and University began in 1964 and provides students with a variety of academic programs that lead to a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. Known as a private research university, UIU allows students to study through an online curriculum or campus programs. Notable alumni include authors, political leaders, and entrepreneurs.

  • PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies – Public Policy and Social Change

Union Institute & University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#8  Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University campus

Valdosta State University commenced in 1906 as a public school for higher education. Spanning the globe, Valdosta State University serves students throughout the United States and in a multitude of other counties by offering virtual learning and traditional college settings.

VSU has a range of degree programs, including two-year, four-year, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

  • Doctor of Public Administration

Valdosta State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#9  Walden University

Walden University campus

Founded in 1970, Walden University is committed to being a leader in private education. Offering both online and campus-based programs, Walden University serves thousands of students worldwide each year.

Undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees in an assortment of academic majors are available at WU. Popular programs include education, business, and liberal arts.

  • Doctor of Public Administration

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

#10  West Chester University

West Chester University campus

West Chester University started in 1871 as a private school or teaching. Throughout the years and undergoing many changes, West Chester became a comprehensive public institution that offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level degrees in various academic areas.

WCU is a competitive school to get accepted into, and the payoff is a first-class education for an affordable price.

  • Doctor of Public Administration

West Chester University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Getting Your Public Administration Doctorate Online

Public Administration Doctorate degree student studying online

If you’re interested in public administration, a doctorate degree can be a great way to build your skills, bolster your resume and break down the barriers of your local government or social service groups.

It’s a field where you can effect real change, but you’ll need to be qualified for the jobs before you can do it. Enroll in a university program to get started.

Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart