The 5 Best Online Master of Public Affairs Schools in 2023

Online Master of Public Affairs - featured image

Public Affairs refers to the relationship between an organization and individuals who play a crucial role in organization development. These ‘individuals’ vary based on an organization and its purpose. But in most cases, it focuses on customers, stakeholders, partners, consumers, communities, and the media.

The Master of Public Affairs degree gives students the chance to learn about these relationships and how they must be maintained. Like many businesses, the relationships established can make or break the organization.

In this master’s degree, you will learn to break down organizational management into finer pieces so you can thoroughly understand the ethics, functions, and views from your personal perspective.


When looking for degree programs focusing on the public domain, different degree specializations and majors sometimes run together, as far as what each program provides to a discipline is concerned.

With that, public affairs and public administration are somehow similar. What differs is the approach. A public affairs program works under a client-centered approach, while a public administration course is more of an employee-centered approach.


In a Master of Public Affairs program, there are different topics covered, depending on your specialty. For the generalist track, you will learn about the components of public affairs you need to become a well-rounded professional in public relations. Common topics include critical thinking and communication skills.

If you’re interested in the career path that will open after earning a master’s but don’t have the luxury of time to join an on-campus program, consider an online master’s program.

The 5 outstanding online graduate programs featuring the Public Affairs degree on our list share these features that demonstrate excellence:

  • 100% online or blended format of coursework to accommodate Master’s of Public Affairs students who are mostly professionals and could use the convenient class schedules,
  • Rigorous coursework emphasizing the many components of Public Affairs as a discipline, with a range of program specializations or concentrations that students can choose from,
  • Federal financial assistance programs and student discounts for qualifying graduate students,
  • A Learning Management System that features easy access to coursework and resources, and an engaging virtual platform for learning at the graduate level,
  • Academic personnel consisting of Public Affairs experts and/or terminal degree holders.
  • Student support services that assist students as they navigate their career paths upon completing their online Master of Public Affairs degree,
  • Credit transfers and accelerated degree completion options, depending on the graduate school and the program,
  • Proper accreditation from academic governing entities that establish the standards for the delivery of master’s program online, with emphasis on the Master of Public Affairs program,
  • Affiliation with industry organizations and other academic resources,
  • Positive feedback from students’ reviews.

The Best Online Master’s of Public Affairs Schools

The University of Missouri

The University of Missouri - Online
Online Master of Public Affairs

Through the Harry S. Truman School of Public Affairs, the University of Missouri offers an online master’s degree in public affairs, a great stepping stone for students who think that a society can be efficient if they collaborate among the public and private sectors or nonprofit organizations.

In this two-year program, students are slowly transformed into becoming public service professionals ready to inspire and take charge of others. The core courses instill a solid, high-level foundation, setting the stage for every student to draw their career path and knowledge with a specialization. Through this program, students will:

  • Develop a solid theoretical foundation in policy and management, and public affairs, and broaden your abilities in analytics;
  • Learn to use classroom knowledge to public policy and public management issues through real-world and practical experiences;
  • Improve your knowledge of the public policy sector via forum discussions, internships, and a capstone project;
  • Understand the different methods and techniques in promoting diversity from industry professionals like nonprofit and government leaders, or international scholars;
  • Learn the new ways in analyzing, evaluating, proposing, and facilitating solutions in dealing with the present policy challenges.
Standout Features:

All students will begin the program with core courses, then later receive advice from faculty members when choosing a specialization. The Truman School master’s program consists of two structures: the 36-credit hour, and the 30-credit hour.

The 36-credit-hour structure is a suitable format for professionals holding a bachelor’s degree but with only less than 3-5 years of work experience in public affairs (36 credit hours including 180 hours of internship and a capstone project).

The 30-credit-hour program is designed for mid-career professionals who have more than three years of progressive work experience (without the internship and capstone requirement).

In both these program structures, students will take 15 credit hours for the core curriculum courses, and another 15 hours for the specialization. Specialization areas include public management, nonprofit management, and public policy.

Did You Know?

With this master’s degree program format, students can concurrently earn another master’s program either in Master of Library & Information Science or Master of Public Health with an emphasis in Health Promotion and Policy or Veterinary Public Health.

The University of Missouri is a regionally accredited university by the Higher Learning Commission. Its online MPA program is also accredited by NASPAA (Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration).

Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana University Bloomington
Online Master of Public Affairs

Through the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University’s online master of public affairs is a 48-credit hour degree that takes two years to complete and will prepare students how to deal with the many societal challenges in leadership positions in a private or public sector, and nonprofit agencies.

The program addresses universal topics of climate change, social equity, ethical responsibilities, diversity, and racial injustice. Through these core curricula, you will learn the needed skills to put your knowledge of the field into action.

  • The class focuses on evidence and data-based problem solving, policy-making, decision making, justice, and social equity.
  • The course offers project and leadership management courses and training workshops in several areas like grant writing, capital budgeting, and research design.
  • This online master’s has a capstone project. Students are allowed to join an immersive international internship working with various clients in their home countries.
Standout Features:

Aside from enrolling in a public affairs master’s with a concentration in nonprofit management, this regionally accredited college also allows students to combine the program with the Master of Arts in Art Administration.

With the MAAA-MPA dual degree, you will develop public sector management for public organizations, public financial management for state and local governments, quantitative analysis, public policy, and budgeting, while simultaneously gaining knowledge in marketing law, arts management, and cultural policy.

Did You Know?

A Master of Public Affairs is considered one of the most valuable and versatile degree programs today– a combination of the Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration degrees. At Indiana University, the online degree program for a master of public affairs prepares students for various public service careers in today’s ever-changing society.

The US News and World Report rank Indiana graduate school as the top grad school in 2023 out of 270 schools in the nation. The online MPA program also holds the second spot as assessed by STEPS (Student Training and Education in Public Service) in 2022.

Syracuse University

Syracuse University
Online Executive Master of Public Administration

Syracuse University’s online Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program comes from the top-ranked Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs where students are prepared to push for change in their respective communities from the top levels of their own organizations.

This online master of public administration program has an outstanding list of faculty members who are also leaders in the field of political science and public affairs. Through this course, students can build genuine and solid connections with their peers while talking about ways in solving public service issues.

As with any public affairs program, this one is suitable for professionals who have experience managing public organizations, and want to push their knowledge even more. And since this is an online program, the MPA degree is also ideal for out-of-state students.

  • To be admitted, a student should hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school and should have no less than 5 years of work experience, holding a significant position in an organization (nonprofit sectors), in a private sector, or in government agencies.
  • Admission requirements include the usual application form, personal essay, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, and resumé. Applicants do not need to submit their GMAT/GRE scores.
Standout Features:

Topics included in this online master of public administration include:

  • Collaborating data analysis into policy-making and management
  • Handling budgets and assessing expenditures within organizations
  • Sustaining morality and ethics in various sectors that are facing questionable values
  • Leading organizations and teams collectively and joining diverse stakeholders

This program follows a core curriculum in leadership, management, and analytical skills.

Fundamental of Policy Analysis- Students will study fundamental economic analysis and principles and policy analysis techniques.

Managerial Leadership- You will understand the foundation of leadership theories and later on use them in managerial situations so you can improve managerial competencies and skills in public management, international affairs, and policy analysis.

Master’s Project Course- This course will teach you how to integrate the EMPA curriculum concepts and research methods in designing an evidence-based project paper that has a useful application to policy analysis, urban planning, and personnel administration in a real-world organization.

Did You Know?

Syracuse University is notable for its online learning environment that is not just a mere platform. It is a fully engaging digital campus specially designed both for local online students and international students.

The online campus gives you the same advantage as on-campus students get at a traditional brick-and-mortar university. Regardless of the online program you enroll in, you are guaranteed to get the best coursework with the most competent faculty. And yes, they do offer financial aid and some scholarships for eligible students.

Northwestern University

Northwestern School of Professional Studies
Online Master’s in Public Policy and Administration

Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies offers its online master’s in public policy and public administration is ideal for students seeking to develop their administrative, leadership, and analytical skills needed to create an impact.

This curriculum gives you a distinct and extensive opportunity to learn deeper about the analytical and administrative sides of public administration. This approach clings to the whole idea that every policy change is global, interconnected, and fluid. Thru this perspective, students will have the tools they need to excel in public administration and the inner drive to change at the international, national, or local levels.

  • Through this program, you will build the relevant skills needed across several fields: in public service, in a nonprofit sector, or in the federal government.
  • You will learn critical thinking skills needed to push change in nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or the education sector.
Standout Features:

As a student at Northwestern University, you will be under the helm of world-class faculty members including DHS Fellows, Fulbright Fellows, Civitas Scholar recipients, Congressional advisors, National Institute on Aging scholarship recipients, and many more.

You will also develop a technical and theoretical understanding of sociological, demographic, and economic tools, and thoroughly discuss present debates on different topics like international trade, world economic systems, global resource allocation, and monetary policy.

Did You Know?

This master’s program is offered in accelerated full-time and part-time formats for everyone– on-campus students or online enrollees. The part-time option gives you five specialization choices along with various electives so you can make the course study you need to complete your career goals.

There is also a one-year accelerated option or part-time, nonresidential study. Regardless of the study option you choose, it’s expected that you will engage and learn from faculty members with an excellent background in the field.

American University Washington

American University Washington
Online Master of Public Administration and Policy

Of the many schools offering public affairs programs, American University in Washington DC is among the country’s top-ranked universities. For more than 80 years, its School of Public Affairs has molded so many students and made them into public management leaders working in the federal government and nonprofit sectors.

  • In this online master’s program, students are armed with the contextual, ethical, analytical, and substantive knowledge and skills crucial to the efficiency of leading public programs and advising public policy, personnel administration, and even debt management.
  • These skills are in demand across public, private, and nonprofit organizations at all levels of government.
Standout Features:

After completing this 2-year online program, students will have helpful skills in the field like:

  • Analyzing administrative problems in relation to government regulations, and making solutions thru one’s knowledge in organizational management, organizations culture and structure, and human resources system.
  • Creating, assessing, and communicating public programs and policies thru various methodological skills, including politics, economics, applied research, and statistics.
Did You Know?

The US News and World Report ranks American University as the tenth school with the best public affairs programs. Because of its excellent professors, relevant and challenging curriculum, and high job placement rates upon graduation, the school has remained one of the best options for students who wish to further their skills in public affairs and public administration.

What Public Affairs Professionals Do

Public affairs professionals are the ones that develop ad manage policies, programs, or protocols that serve the general public. The field covers a wide range of government activities, as well as social and business services, thus making it one of the most career-worthy professions.

While there are so many possible careers in public affairs, there are three specific ones in the public affairs field: budget analysts, public relations specialists, and social or community service managers.

Budget Analyst: This professional develops the overall budget of an organization, and monitors the program and spending costs of the body. He must hold a business degree, though a public affairs master’s is even better. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary (2021) of a Budget Analyst is $79,940.

Professionals in this line of work are sometimes referred to as fundraising managers.

Public Relations Specialist: A PR specialist must hold a bachelor’s in public relations, communications, or journalism. He is responsible for communicating a client’s goal and mission to the public and preparing the needed information for the media. Job growth for this career is 11% between 2020 and 2030.

Social or Community Service Manager: You need to hold a bachelor’s degree in public administration or urban studies to qualify in this field. You are responsible for assessing the needs of the community through research methods and from there, craft policies and programs to address the need of the public and the nonprofit sector.

Online Master of Public Affairs - fact

The Education You Need in Public Affairs

The education to pursue will depend on the position you want in the industry you plan to work in. Entry-level positions usually need an associate or bachelor’s degree, while the higher-level management positions require a graduate degree.

Although there are specific public administration and affairs degree programs, there are other programs that are just as relevant in the field, including public relations, human services, urban affairs, human resources, public policy, and criminal justice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the expected salary as a Public Affairs Specialist?

According to the US BLS, PR specialists had a median salary of $62,800 in 2021. Human resource managers take home $126,230 every year. In that same year, criminal investigators and police detectives had a median salary of $83,640.

Are there any alternative careers in Public Affairs?

Public affairs, as a whole, is a very broad field which is why it’s not a surprise to see different careers within the field that will require the same skills.

Those with a solid mathematical background relevant to a budget analyst can become cost estimators. After you complete your undergraduate degree, you can provide estimates regarding money, labor cost, or time.

You may also want to become a fundraising manager. In this career, you can make and execute different campaigns about how to earn money. Additionally, those who wish to directly work in a local community may consider becoming social workers.

Key Takeaways

  • A Public Affairs master’s degree is strikingly similar to the Master of Public Administration program as both tend to focus on the necessity of having the right leadership in public service organizations. However, as a discipline, public affairs focus more on an organization’s need for efficient communication, partnerships, and connection to people.
  • Nevertheless, both programs are for students who have a passion to take on leadership positions.

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor