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4 Features to look for in quality online MPA programs

September 30, 2021 by University of Massachusetts Global


If you already work in the public or nonprofit sector, you’re aware that it’s full of passionate, talented people who are eager to make a positive difference in the world. Now that you have some experience under your belt, you might be considering pursuing a leadership role to maximize your impact. Earning a Master of Public Administration (MPA) could go a long way toward bolstering your career advancement opportunities, but not all programs are created equal.

To help you differentiate between a high-quality online MPA program and a mediocre one, we enlisted the help of Dr. David Gonzalez. He is an associate professor of public administration and organizational leadership at University of Massachusetts Global and has assisted many students to graduate from the MPA program. Keep reading for a breakdown of the most important features to consider while researching your options.

4 Key attributes of an effective online MPA program

“Most of the students I’ve worked with are busy professionals with complex lives who are looking for something practical but based in theory,” Dr. Gonzalez says. “Something that is doable while still being rigorous and challenging.”

If this describes what you are looking for in an MPA program, consider the following features when evaluating your options.

1. Faculty with real-life experience in the field

Learning from faculty with relevant experience is crucial for all graduate students, especially those studying public administration. Quality MPA programs should be led by professors who can help students develop the essential skills needed to navigate the realities of the public sector, which has many unique challenges.

At UMass Global, for instance, courses are taught by faculty with decades of professional experience in nonprofit organizations and public sector entities. Dr. Gonzalez himself is a scholar-practitioner who works in the emergency management unit of the La Habra Police Department. He points out that sharing this collective wealth of knowledge with students happens naturally in the classroom.


Our curriculum is directly informed from our experience — everything we talk about comes from real-world examples.

Dr. Gonzalez adds that his fellow instructors are just as immersed in their respective fields. “Not only do my colleagues have the necessary academic training, but they are also all well versed in holding the shovel, so to speak.”

2. A focus on practical applications

MPA students are doers, not passive viewers. They want to learn tangible skills that can be put into practice. To accomplish this, you need to have a strong foundation in academic theory as well as the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned directly to your work.

As you’re comparing MPA programs, look for those that teach you how to:

  • Create and implement strategies to improve the public administration process
  • Interpret multiple data inputs to draw informed conclusions about public policy development that allow you to make smart recommendations
  • Apply evidence-based methods to strategic governance and stewardship of public services and resources
  • Build mutually beneficial relationships with other public service organizations to foster increased collaboration
  • Leverage data to make smart financial decisions for your organization
  • Apply ethical reasoning to generate solutions for relevant case studies

The UMass Global MPA degree emphasizes the importance of gaining practical experience during school and includes plentiful opportunities throughout the program. According to Dr. Gonzalez,


It’s as hands-on as you can be without actually running the city.

The MPA program at UMass Global even has its own advisory group comprising city managers, department heads and nonprofit executives. They work with professors to make sure the curriculum reflects the realities of the profession and add valuable insight into current trends, challenges and developments.

3. An emphasis on evidence-based and ethical decision-making

Of everything that students learn while obtaining an MPA degree, it’s particularly important to gain an understanding of how to make informed and ethical decisions. This means learning to evaluate different types of data, weighing that information against policies and considering all the evidence before deciding.

At UMass Global, there is no single course about ethics — it’s woven into every subject. Dr. Gonzalez says:


As public servants, we’re tasked with making decisions that benefit the people we serve.

He further explains, “Sometimes those decisions might go against your interests or aren’t the ones you would personally choose, but that’s not the job. You have to do what’s best for everyone.”

UMass Global courses look to the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) Code of Ethics, which upholds the following principles for public servants:

  • Advance the public interest
  • Uphold the constitution and the law
  • Promote democratic participation
  • Strengthen social equity
  • Fully inform and advise
  • Demonstrate personal integrity
  • Promote ethical organizations
  • Advance professional excellence

These responsibilities probably look different than those you see in many other professions. In the private sector, decisions hinge on profitability. In the public sector, however, decisions are made based on public value. Though keep in mind that, as Dr. Gonzalez points out, “Things like justice, peace and security can all look very different depending on who you ask.”

4. Courses that reflect the realities of public service today

Public service is an immense sector that encompasses all kinds of organizations. Good MPA programs provide courses that cover a wide array of relevant topics to prepare graduates to become leaders in many professions. A few possible MPA career paths include social and community service managers, urban and regional planners, and fundraising managers. Dr. Gonzalez goes on to explain what makes UMass Global’s program so special:


Our MPA training really equips students with confidence and courage, and that gets passed on to others within their organizations and community.

MPA students at UMass Global have the chance to customize their degree to focus on what is most relevant to their personal and professional goals. They can choose from a variety of electives or even specialize in one of the following designated emphasis areas:

  • Business Intelligence and Data Analytics
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Organizational Leadership

Regardless of which path a student chooses, they can be sure they’re receiving the practical, academic and ethical training they need to succeed in public service.

Increase your impact with a great online MPA program

You now know just how important things like faculty experience, practical application, ethical decision making and relevant course work are to preparing you for your future.

If you’re committed to furthering your education with a Master of Public Administration, your best bet is to find a flexible, affordable and supportive program.

Learn more about how you can equip yourself with the strategies needed to make meaningful contributions to your organization with an online Master of Public Administration at University of Massachusetts Global.

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