Why an online MPA degree can be ideal for your busy schedule
Talking to your friends and acquaintances, you likely hear one of them saying something along the lines of, “I wish I had gotten my MPA. I could’ve done so much with that.” Or maybe you’ve said it yourself. It can be hard for you to imagine continuing your education when there are utility bills and rent or mortgage payments that need to be dealt with immediately.
Fortunately, the steadily increasing popularity – and widening availability – of distance learning options means you don’t have to abandon your dreams of getting a Master’s in Public Education. According to the Center for Education Statistics, in 2012, 18 percent of graduate students were exclusively using distance learning. Not long after, in 2015, NECS data pointed out that 28.5 percent of students at all levels were enrolled in at least one online learning course. Additionally, in both echelons, distance enrollments at for-profit schools, which have been the subject of controversy in recent years, have begun to decline as public and private not-for-profit enrollments have gone up. This can be viewed as a sign of an increasing confidence among American students in online education.
Taking all this into account, it could be time to reconsider distance learning. Even if your schedule is packed, the online MPA program at Rutgers-Newark allows you to learn at your own pace and not be locked into a classroom structure. Let’s take a comprehensive look at some of the most important advantages distance learning can offer even the busiest people in the public sector.
Fit distance learning around a public service career
The biggest impediment for public sector or nonprofit employees who’d like to continue their education with an MPA is the need to work. It can be easy to write off getting your master’s degree as a pipe dream if you think of school in a traditional manner. But as the Open Education Database explains, if a daily commute is one of your least favorite elements of your professional routine, a distance learning grad school program won’t add to it. Even if you opt for a blended approach – splitting coursework between the classroom and online – you won’t have to be physically present at the campus on a regular basis.
It hardly matters whether the public sector career you’re working toward via distance learning is related to your current job. But if you work in a government position and seek advancement, this affords you several advantages. Students working toward an MPA will cultivate knowledge and skills applicable across a broad range of disciplines, from the administration of a charitable organization to the management of a political campaign. According to the OEDB, your employer may hear that you’re taking grad-school courses and be impressed, seeing this as evidence of dedication. A supervisor might even be motivated to consider you for promotion and trust you with more sensitive, important matters as a result.
Cost, another potential obstruction to public-sector professionals seeking a master’s, is also mitigated by distance learning. As the OEDB notes, you cut commuting, room and board, and in some cases textbook costs out of the equation. You can keep earning income from your current position, and the organization you work with may cover some of the costs. For example, a study conducted by researchers at the Metropolitan State University School of Law and Criminal Justice found that 56 percent of U.S. law enforcement personnel claimed their agencies helped subsidize their education. Merit- or need-based scholarships or financial aid may also be available, though the requirements for receiving it vary by institution.
Proven effectiveness of distance learning
Whether you’re the aide to a state senator or work in an entry-level urban planning position, the free time of public-sector employees is in short supply. You don’t have time for things that don’t engender results. Fortunately, distance learning does. Although the view of it throughout academia has been uneven, this method of education is being accepted at a greater level throughout recent years – because its results speak for themselves. According to the 2015 Survey of Online Learning sponsored by the Online Learning Consortium, more than 65 percent of academic leaders believe that online education programs are “critical to the long-term strategy of [their] institution[s].”
The study also found that college and university staff members believe there to be no difference in effectiveness between face-to-face and distance learning programs. In fact, a fairly nominal but growing number of academic leaders consider online education to be “superior” or “somewhat superior” to classroom-bound courses: 17 percent of those surveyed expressed this viewpoint. And while there are academic administrators who still believe that distance learning is at least somewhat inferior to traditional coursework, the number of those holdouts is decreasing, with only 28.5 percent of respondents saying as much.
Ideal for busy people in public sector
The in-person social experience of higher education is not a major part of distance learning programs, whether they’re blended or fully online. This could seem on its face like a drawback, but for MPA students structuring their coursework around a high-pressure government job with long workweeks, it can actually be an advantage. While you might miss some of the physical socializing and camaraderie, you also avoid the intrapersonal drama seen on so many college campuses – something you simply don’t have time for if you’re balancing work and education.
More importantly, discussions may be even better in the online space. According to U.S. News & World Report, the freedom from a physical classroom may prompt shy students or those with social anxiety to more readily voice their opinion. This increases their comfort level and can also improve the course discussion as a whole via online forums. When all students are on equal footing, a more diverse range of beliefs and ideas is likely to emerge. This will be incredibly valuable to MPA students, as they will need to understand the needs of multiple demographic and interest groups when working to create and manage public policy.
Learning and completing coursework almost entirely in an online space also serves as a beneficial skill-building opportunity. So many verticals in the public sector of the workforce conduct business in the cloud due to its ability to store and manage public records, such as census data and tax information. Finally, U.S. News points out that online learning bolsters your digital communication skills. Communicating with instructors and fellow students requires utmost clarity to avoid misinterpretation, and that will be doubly important in crafting and overseeing civic processes that can affect the lives of millions.
The online Master of Public Administration from Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) gives students a broad understanding of the field and its relevant issues. Students become competent at defining public problems, analyzing quantitative and qualitative data, developing and communicating creative solutions, and implementing ethical and practical courses of action.