Interview with Rhonda Trautman, Ph.D. - Director of Online Programs for the Martin School of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Kentucky
About Rhonda Trautman, Ph.D.: Rhonda Riherd Trautman is the Director of Online Programs for the Martin School of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Kentucky. In the role as Director, Dr. Trautman oversees recruitment, admissions, and program planning for the online programs which include two online Masters (Public Financial Management MPFM and Public Administration MPA) and two online Graduate Certificates (Public Financial Management and Nonprofit Management). As an alum of the Martin School, she brings a unique view and perspective that allows her to effectively recruit, advise, and teach students to prepare them for successful careers.
Dr. Trautman currently teaches Tax Policy, Municipal Securities, Grant Planning and Management, and the Capstone class. As a former elected local official, her interests are in state and local budgeting and revenue policies, local government management, and public/nonprofit programming. She received her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky. After many years away from UK at the University of Arizona and other positions, she returned in 2015 to join the Martin School of Public Administration and Policy.
[GraduateCertificates.com] May we have an overview of the coursework and learning outcomes for the University of Kentucky’s Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management? How do the courses in strategic planning for nonprofits, organizational theory, financial management, and grant planning prepare students to lead organizations in the non-profit and public/government sectors?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] The Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management (GC-NPM) introduces students to subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of nonprofit organizations that make these organizations unique as compared to public or private entities. The classes described above address the ever-changing nonprofit environment focusing on more than just “management”. The classes also emphasize the value of public service, how to operate in a political environment, how nonprofits relate to and work with the public and private sectors, the interaction of external and internal resources, and financial constraints impacting decision processes as well as unique aspects of working with boards, donors, and outside funding agencies. All classes emphasize the importance of professional communication skills focused on both written and oral delivery.
The GC-NPM benefits students seeking careers in the nonprofit sector, mid-career individual seeking to boost their resumes or refresh their skills, as well government and private sector employees transitioning to or working with the nonprofit sector. Given the natural interaction between the public and nonprofit sectors, this certificate adds value to employees working in either.
The program was developed out of a response to the growing number of our masters students seeking training and education focused on this area – as a result, the program can be a stand-alone certificate or graduate students in our masters programs can concurrently enroll in the Graduate Certificate and graduate with both. Students enrolled in the Nonprofit Graduate Certificate concurrently with another of our masters programs have the choice of taking an internship as one of their course options. This experience is typically for those without work history and is supervised by the internship coordinator.
[GraduateCertificates.com] Could you please provide an overview of the Graduate Certificate in Public Financial Management? What kinds of roles does this program prepare students for, and what key skills and competencies do students learn? How do the courses in government accounting, public funds management, and governmental auditing equip students uniquely well for the public finance space?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] The Graduate Certificate in Public Financial Management (GC-PFM) was developed in 2015 as our first fully online program and is designed for working professionals and traditional students seeking to increase their public finance and governmental accounting knowledge. The program was initially created under the advice of faculty from both the Martin School and Vol Allmen School of Accountancy, filling a niche that other programs were not addressing.
The GC-PFM is one of the few graduate certificates offering focused study of government finance and governmental accounting in the same program. Faculty introduce students to in-depth concepts and policies with emphasis on budget development and analysis, revenue analysis, as well as the unique aspects of governmental accounting and auditing. We strongly believe the focus on governmental accounting and auditing sets our program apart from other similarly described certificates.
The underlying goal of this program and our other graduate programs is to prepare students to engage and communicate on a professional level with all sorts of audiences including elected officials, citizens, government employees, and others involved in the public sector. The courses equip students for careers as university and public school budget/finance officers, budget analysts, grant managers, and those dealing with the unique aspects of governmental accounting and auditing. Alumni from the program work at all levels of government and nonprofit organizations as well as some in the private sector. As with the Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management, students can complete the program as a stand-alone certificate or enroll concurrently in the program along with one of our masters’ programs.
Classes are offered at the same high-quality experience as our traditional on-campus programs with instruction provided by nationally recognized faculty with relevant backgrounds and expertise. This expertise and tradition result in the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration consistently ranking among the top graduate programs in public budgeting and finance by U.S. News and World Report – our current ranking is #4.
The Graduate Certificate in Public Financial Management engages students with a combination of self-study, peer/classmate engagement, and student-faculty interaction in an online learning environment in four 8-week classes over two semesters. We have found the 8-week course format is particularly beneficial to those who may be juggling other obligations such as jobs, families, and other responsibilities.
[GraduateCertificates.com] Could you explain how the Graduate Certificates in Nonprofit Management and Public Financial Management differ from the Master’s in Public Administration and the Master’s in Public Financial Management (MPFM), respectively? For students considering enrolling in either a graduate certificate program or a master’s degree in nonprofit management, public administration, and/or public financial management, what advice do you have in deciding the best pathway to suit their needs?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] We believe the wide range of programming we offer at the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration fits the needs and education goals of potential students, whether they are coming to us right out of an undergraduate program or have been out of school for decades.
As part of this, as Director of the online programs at the Martin School, I frequently get questions from applicants about how the graduate certificates differ from our masters programs (MPA and MPFM) and which avenue is best for their particular needs and goals. This usually leads to a discussion of the potential student’s current employment status, past education history, career goals, family situation, other life demands, etc. For example, those who have been out of school for a while but with years of relevant work experience are often a bit leery of returning to school or are unfamiliar with demands of online education. In those cases, I often advise to start with a Graduate Certificate to “test the waters” to see if the courses and learning environments suits their needs.
It is always great news to hear when that student decides to move forward and complete a masters based on the positive experiences they had in the certificate program. Based on past years enrollment numbers we see anywhere between 30-40% of certificate students continuing into a masters program. To encourage this, students successfully completing the Graduate Certificate in Public Financial Management can move seamlessly into the Master of Public Financial Management Program with all the classes transferring. Courses in the Nonprofit Management Graduate Certificate may also apply towards either the MPFM or MPA if students choose to apply.
Students applying to the online MPA or MPFM programs are mix of recent graduates seeking full-time graduate education and the university experience, mid-career students looking to change jobs or enhance career goals, and part-time working students seeking to improve their education resume. The recent graduates, by definition, tend to be younger and may or may not be living on or near campus. These students tend to engage more in campus activities albeit still attending classes in an online setting. The other online masters students attending part-time are typically older, many with families, jobs, and other responsibilities. They appreciate the online format as well as opportunities to take a part-time approach.
Further, by design, the MPFM program is offered only as a part-time program due to the high number of working students seeking this degree. Students take two classes each semester (in 8-week and 4-week sessions) during the fall, spring, and summer semesters allowing for graduation in two years.
[GraduateCertificates.com] The Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management has both hybrid and fully online course delivery options, while the Graduate Certificate in Public Financial Management is offered fully online. What online learning technologies do these two programs use to facilitate interactions between students and faculty, as well as peer-to-peer discussions?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] As a way of meeting the needs of traditional and non-traditional students, we offer our programs in a variety of formats and schedules. Because the Graduate Certificate in Public Financial Management (and related MPFM) was designed with the non-traditional students’ needs in mind, the courses are offered in 8-week sessions allowing students to take only one course at a time. Further, the classes in the Public Financial Management programs are asynchronous in format offered by way of the University’s Canvas platform.
Coursework is designed to engage students weekly through assignments, recorded lectures, instructional videos, narrated PowerPoints, discussion boards, readings, exams, and other activities with the same level of detail and content as our on-campus programs. This allows working students some flexibility with their schedule while experiencing the same high-quality education as our traditional on-campus degrees. As such, we have received a great deal of positive feedback from students in the Public Financial Management programs complimenting how the 8-week, asynchronistic format helps them balance work, family, and other demands.
Comparing to the Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management (GC-NPM), classes are offered in the more traditional 16-week format; students may pursue the program fully online or opt to take two of the classes on campus. By offering students the choice to take some classes on campus, it allows students to experience the university environment in a different way. Depending on the option the student chooses for the GC-NPM, the classes range from asynchronistic and synchronistic online formats to traditional face-to-face classes. The online courses are delivered using a variety of formats including Zoom lectures (recorded or live), guest speakers, group activities, etc. with all course assignments, readings, and resources provided via Canvas.
Currently many non-traditional “working” students pursue the fully online format with on-campus graduate students pursuing the hybrid strategy concurrent with their other masters’ programs. In addition, we are finding more students from across other University graduate programs enrolling in our Graduate Certificates to supplement their graduate degrees in Social Work, Geography, Business, Arts Administration, and many other areas further emphasizing the application of these certificates to a broad range of interests and careers.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What are the admissions requirements for the University of Kentucky’s Graduate Certificates in Nonprofit Management and Public Financial Management? How are these admission requirements different from those of the Master’s in Public Administration and the MPFM? How do you recommend students put forth a competitive application for the graduate certificate programs?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] Application requirements for the Graduate Certificates include undergraduate transcripts, resume, and personal statement. The Graduate School at the University of Kentucky requires a minimum GPA of 2.5 however in certain cases, we petition for exceptions based on an individual’s work experience, career standing, and other experiences. We realize that some mid-career individuals returning to school after years (sometimes decades) since their undergraduate program deserve credit for life experiences and work achievements. As such, I encourage students to share life experiences and career goals to help the admission committee understand why the program is of interest to them and how it will help with career goals. Once admitted, if a student does well with a 3.0 or higher in the graduate certificates, we will consider their application for one of our masters’ degrees.
The online Master of Public Financial Management (MPFM) as well as our online Master of Public Administration (MPA) require the same items as well as 2 letters of recommendation. The GPA requirement for the MFPM and MPA is 2.75. Given a lot of students come to our masters’ programs without a lot of work experience, we use the undergraduate degree performance more heavily for admission, although we take a holistic approach to admissions for all programs.
Of note, none of our graduate programs discussed here require the GRE or GMAT for admission although they can be submitted if available. We do not have any pre-requisites for the MPFM although a background in accounting may be helpful, but not required. The MPA requires college level microeconomics and proven success in a quantitative class such as college algebra – both can be completed as part of the 1st semester in the program.
[GraduateCertificates.com] Can you briefly talk about the professors and instructors who teach in the graduate certificate programs, including how their areas of expertise support students’ professional goals? Outside of faculty guidance and support in classes, as well as office hours, what support structures are in place for students of the University of Kentucky’s Graduate Certificate Programs in Nonprofit Management and Public Financial Management?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] The Martin School of Public Policy and Administration strives to ensure students in our online programs have the same quality experiences as those coming to our campus. Faculty in the online programs (Masters and Certificates) include a wide range of backgrounds, research interests, and teaching experiences that are applicable to areas of public and nonprofit financial management. Instructors include tenured faculty, junior faculty, and adjuncts with professional experiences relevant to the programs.
Graduate certificate students are enrolled in the same classes as online masters’ students to assure equal access to information and instruction strategies. Faculty in the online programs engage frequently with their students by way of Zoom meetings, discussion boards, emails, and other means. Faculty clearly address how this will occur by posting a “faculty interaction and availability” statement along with a list of university resources such as the writing center, online library services, mental health/counseling services, academic advising, financial aid, etc. on the Canvass course site.
Staff at the Martin School connect frequently to online students to help with applications, course enrollment, degree applications, and other activities. Online students are also included in all activities such as open houses, guest speaker series, recruitment events, graduation events, and other special events whether that be virtually or on-campus. We also engage online students by providing job postings and connecting them to alumni via events and email communications.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What have been the latest developments in the field of nonprofit management and public finance, and what makes the job markets for these fields particularly robust? How does the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky ensure that the coursework for its Graduate Certificate programs stays up-to-date and prepares students for the latest developments and needs in the government and non-profit spaces?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] Faculty and administrators at the Martin School continually look for ways to make the program curriculum relevant and timely, addressing the continuous changes in the public and nonprofit worlds. For example, we recently added strategies to address diversity, equity, and inclusion principles more effectively within course assignments and activities. We also update readings and discussion boards to include timely topics.
Via an annual faculty retreat, we assess program content, course sequencing, elective options, and other elements to keep the program up-to-date and applicable to the needs of today’s students. For example, for the past two years, my course in tax policy investigates the impact Covid-19 has had on state and local budgets, revenues, and forecasts by way of discussion boards and other written assignments. Students also do assessments of “real-time” local government budgets and accounting documents (CAFRs) in other classes. We also include guest speakers who address current affairs and topics relevant to public and nonprofit organizations.
[GraduateCertificates.com] In your opinion, where do you see graduate certificate programs residing in the overall post-baccalaureate education landscape, and at the University of Kentucky’s Martin School specifically? How do you see graduate certificate programs as a post-baccalaureate option evolving?
[Dr. Rhonda Trautman] I see the benefits graduate certificate programs through several lenses. First, as a standalone program, it allows students who might not otherwise pursue a master’s degrees to refresh their understanding of public and nonprofit management as well as learn about current trends and contemporary concepts (as described in my earlier answer). This includes students who have been out of school for a while, those who did not do well as an undergraduate but have years of work experience, or those with a fear of returning to school full-time.
Second, it also allows those same students to decide if pursuing a master’s degree is doable. Once they understand they can perform at the graduate level, it reduces a lot of the fears and concerns about plunging full force into a master’s program, whether that is at the University of Kentucky or elsewhere.
Third, I see the graduate certificates as a great way for our masters’ students to supplement their university experience, providing a “area of specialization” on top of the master’s degree. This is in line with traditional “areas of concentration” that we are more familiar with, but it is more defined. Graduate students appreciate the ability to concurrently enroll in a master and certificate program, ultimately receiving university credentials in both as it adds value to their education outcomes and career opportunities.
Fourth and finally, in our case specifically, graduate certificates are a way for students pursuing other types of graduate degrees outside the public and nonprofit field of study such as social work, business, etc. to add course content not available within their programs. Graduate Certificates offered by the Martin School allow these students to interact more effectively with and understand public and nonprofit organizations as it relates to their workplace and careers.
As far as the future trends, I expect graduate certificates to expand in enrollment as well as in scope of topics and areas of interest at the University of Kentucky and at the Martin School.
Thank you, Dr. Trautman, for your detailed discussion of the Martin School’s Graduate Certificates in Non-Profit Management and Public Financial Management, as well as your insight into the graduate certificate landscape as it pertains to public administration and non-profit leadership!
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