Graduate Certificate Programs in Public Administration - Campus and Online Programs
Updated: November 27, 2023
Public administration graduate certificate programs are career-oriented academic programs designed to provide college graduates and mid-career professionals with post-baccalaureate training and instruction in the knowledge and skills required to manage personnel, projects, and programs in government agencies and non-profit organizations. These programs typically consist of a small cluster of graduate-level courses – four or five courses is common – that can be completed in one year or less even by students who opt to remain employed while in school. While most post graduate certificate programs in public administration admit candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field, some programs require applicants to hold a master’s degree and may be designated as post-master’s or post-graduate certificate programs in public administration.
Public Administration Explained
Public administration involves the management of non-profit groups and local, state, and federal agencies. It requires a command of the major functions of these organizations. These functions include, but are not limited to, project, program, and personnel management, finance and budgeting, logistics, and policy analysis and implementation.
In this regard, public administration is similar to business administration. However, public sector organizations operate in a legal and regulatory environment that differs from that of private enterprise, and the priorities and imperatives in public administration diverge from the goals of most businesses and corporations. Thus, effective public administrators, including city, county, and state executives, federal agency managers, and non-profit directors, must familiarize themselves with specific approaches to organizational management, from hiring and personnel management practices, to the budgeting and financial compliance rules and regulations that pertain to the public and non-profit sectors.
Identifying and Classifying Public Administration Graduate Certificate Programs
There are several key features that distinguish public administration graduate certificate programs from other types of graduate certificate programs and from degree programs in the field of public administration. A graduate certificate in public administration is an academic program typically offered through a school or department of public administration, public policy, public affairs, political science, or professional studies at a college or university that has undergraduate and/or graduate programs in public administration, public management, public affairs, and/or public policy. In fact, many graduate certificate programs are comprised of four or five courses that are part of a master’s degree program in public administration or a related field, and typically credits earned in a graduate certificate program may be eligible to transfer towards a master’s in public administration degree if a student opts to pursue further graduate studies in the future.
While graduate certificate program formats and structures vary by school and by program, public administration programs generally consist of four or five courses that provide students with an overview of the public and non-profit sectors, public policy analysis, organizational leadership, and the management of budgets, personnel, and projects in the public sphere. These programs can typically be completed in roughly one year, which is about half the time it takes to earn a master’s degree in public administration. Common names for certificate programs in the field include:
- Graduate Certificate in Public Administration
- Graduate Certificate in Public Administration and Policy
- Graduate Certificate in Public Management
Like graduate certificate programs in other fields, public administration graduate certificate programs are designed for students who have already completed their undergraduate studies and who hold a bachelor’s degree. These programs are also typically appropriate for students who hold a master’s degree in a field other than public administration and who are interested in pursuing a career in public administration without having to complete an additional master’s program. There are also post-master’s graduate certificate programs in public administration that require applicants to hold a master’s degree. However, most public administration graduate certificate programs are post-baccalaureate programs that do not require a master’s degree.
Note: The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) accredits master’s programs in public administration but does not specifically accredit certificate programs in public administration. NASPAA accreditation is a voluntary process that master’s programs undergo as a means of assuring that the program meets certain standards for professional training and instruction in public administration. Since public administration graduate certificate programs commonly consist of master’s in public administration courses, NASPAA accreditation may be a relevant consideration when researching graduate certificate programs in the field.
Public Administration Graduate Certificate Coursework
A typical graduate certificate in public administration program consists of a relatively small cluster of courses, including core requirements that cover topics central to understanding and operating organizations and agencies in the public sphere. Students in these programs generally take one course that provides an historical overview of the public and non-profit sectors, as well as an examination of contemporary issues in public administration. In addition, they receive training in organizational leadership, financial management, legal and ethical issues, and workforce management and development for public administrators. While course names and specific curricular requirements vary by school and by program, the core curriculum for public administration graduate certificate programs commonly includes the following types of classes:
- Introduction to Public Administration – An overview of the theory and practice of public administration, including the history of public administration and the current state of affairs in the public and non-profit sectors.
- Organizational Management in Public Agencies – An empirical analysis of organizational structures and behavior in public agencies, and strategies for personnel management, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication in governmental and non-profit organizations.
- Public Budgeting & Financial Management – Theories and applied practices of public sector budgeting, financial reporting, taxation, and asset management.
- Human Resources & Public Personnel Management – Managerial philosophies and techniques as applied and practiced in the human resource function of public administration, including an examination of hiring and promotion processes, recruitment efforts, and workforce diversity and inclusion.
- The Ethics of Public Administration – An examination of the philosophical and practical issues pertaining to ethical decision making in the public sphere.
Some public administration graduate certificate programs have a set curriculum, while others allow students to choose one or more electives. Common topics for elective coursework in public administration at the graduate level include: public policy analysis; local government management; the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and public relations for public administrators. Finally, some graduate certificate programs in public administration may require or give students the option of completing a credited internship at a public agency.
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Public Administration
Graduate certificate programs are commonly offered in formats designed to accommodate working professionals and others who have significant commitments outside of school. One effective way that many colleges and universities achieve this is through the use of online instructional tools and technologies.
Online graduate certificate programs in public administration provide students with the same coursework and training as campus-based programs but do so via web-based platforms and learning management systems (LMSs) that deliver lectures, instructional modules, and coursework to students anywhere with a secure Internet connection. Thus, students are able to complete all or most of a certificate program’s requirements from their homes and offices without having to travel to a school’s campus. In addition, online education gives students the freedom to apply to programs regardless of where the college or university is located, which is especially helpful for students who do not live near a school that offers an applicable program.
It is important to note that there are several key differences in online programs that students may want to take into account when choosing a program. For example, some programs utilize synchronous instruction, while others deliver all of their instruction asynchronously. Synchronous instruction takes place in real-time and requires students to be logged on to a program’s LMS for live classes. For programs that utilize synchronous sessions, they are often one or two times per week in the evening to accommodate students who live in different time zones. Conversely, asynchronous instruction encompasses a range of learning activities that students can access at their convenience, including pre-recorded lectures and on-demand instructional modules. For programs that mainly use asynchronous instruction, students are typically not required to log in for live sessions, and they are notified well in advance if any synchronous discussion or lecture sessions are required. In many cases, any synchronous sessions are also recorded for viewing by students who were not able to attend in real-time.
Both methods for delivering online instructional have been proven to be effective, but they offer somewhat different learning experiences. Synchronous instruction provides more structure and interactivity/opportunities for discussion, but those benefits may come at the expense of less scheduling flexibility. As a result, synchronous instruction may appeal to students who prefer online instruction that more closely approximates an in-person lecture or seminar. Asynchronous instruction is inherently less rigid in nature, but programs that rely solely on asynchronous instruction generally require students to exercise more self-discipline to ensure that assignments are completed on time. For both methods, professors are often available by email or video conferencing, and often have live office hours for students who need help with the material.
Another consideration when exploring online graduate certificate programs involves campus visits. While most online public administration graduate certificate programs do not have any campus-based requirements, some programs may hold orientations and/or a limited number of in-person instructional sessions that require students to travel to campus. Programs that require more than two or three campus visits are generally classified as hybrid or blended programs, as they offer a mix of online and campus-based instruction.
|Featured Online Master's Programs in Public Administration|
Online Master of Public Administration and Policy
University of Delaware
Online Master of Public Administration
Anna Maria College
Online Master of Public Administration
Online Master of Public Administration
Arizona State University
Online Master of Public Safety Leadership and Administration (MPSLA)
Examples of Online Graduate Certificates in Public Administration
The programs listed below provide a sample of online graduate certificate programs in public administration:
University of Virginia offers a Graduate Certificate in Public Administration program through its School of Continuing & Professional Studies. The program consists of five online courses, totaling 15 graduate credits, and can be completed in 12 months. Students in the program take four required courses: Introduction to Public Administration; Public Policy Analysis; Public Organization Management; and Public Budgeting & Financial Management. They are then given the option of an ethics course or a course in environmental policies and practices. Visit the University of Virginia’s School of Continuing & Professional Studies at www.scps.virginia.edu to learn more.
Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies offers an Advanced Public Administration Certificate Program that is designed for students who hold a graduate degree. This post-master’s certificate program gives students the option of taking all of the certificate’s required courses online or attending some or all of their classes on campus. The program’s curriculum consists of a Fundamentals of Public Administration course, plus three courses that students select from Northwestern’s online Master of Arts in Public Policy & Administration program. Visit Northwestern’s School of Professional Studies at sps.northwestern.edu to learn more.
University of Missouri’s Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs offers an Online Graduate Certificate in Public Management through Mizzou Online. The four-course, 12-credit certificate program has two core requirements: Human Resources Management & Development in the Public & Nonprofit Sectors; and Public Budgeting and Taxation. Students then take one of the following two courses: Strategic Management of Public Service Organizations; or Local Government Management. Finally, students choose one elective in consultation with an academic advisor. Visit Mizzou Online at online.missouri.edu to learn more.
Indiana State University offers an Online Graduate Certificate Program in Public Administration through its Department of Political Science. The program consists of four courses that confer 12 graduate credits and that can be completed in two semesters. These courses include: Proseminar in Public Administration; Organizational Behavior in Public Agencies; Public Personnel Management; and Budgeting in Governmental Agencies. Visit Indiana State University’s website at www.indstate.edu to learn more.