Dr. Stuart Henry, Director, School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University

Stuart Profile 4-13_edited-3

Dr. Stuart Henry, Director of the School of Public Affairs at San Diego State University, joins us today to discuss public administration.

#1 Can you tell us about the online MPA program offered at San Diego State University?

We‘ve offered a Masters in Public Administration at SDSU for over 45 years. But a number of factors came together to propel us toward offering the degree in a fully online format.

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We have been offering the MPA at various distant sites, including the Imperial Valley Campus in Calexico, 110 miles from San Diego, but also on site at various California cities such as Vista, Oceanside and, most recently Carlsbad where, in May 2012, we graduated 21 of their cities’ employees. At their graduation ceremony many asked “When will you offer the next cohort?”

We thought we cannot spread ourselves across all these populations without additional resources, and in the current budget climate that was not happening. So we came up with consolidating all these distance operations into one online program, and recognizing the needs of the working adult, practicing professional and the need for career development among in-serve public administrators we designed the new online degree to serve the needs of precisely that population.

The typical and targeted student for this master’s degree is serving in a managerial capacity in local, city or state government or a non-profit organization and has, or will have 2 years of experience by the end of the program. The program is not intended for pre-service students, though they are welcome to join out face-to-face program.

#2 How long does a typical online MPA program take at San Diego State University? What is the maximum and minimum time of completion?

In the face-to-face MPA students taking 9 units a semester, (full-time for a graduate programs), complete the 36 unit program in 4 semesters ( 2-years). Most in-service students take longer because they a working and studying part-time 6-hours a week (3-years).

The online program takes just 1 year 4 months (or 16 months). In subsequent years students who hop cohorts can take the program over a longer period but these will be exceptions as part of the attraction is that a student can improve their credentials and promotion prospects in just 16 months. Doing so is likely to give them an early promotion, or make them much more competitive in the job market.

#3 What do you think makes San Diego State University’s MPA stand out from other online MPA programs?

San Diego State is an exceptional applied research university and the only university among the California State University’s 23 campuses to be designated as a Carnegie Research Intensive University. Its quality and distinction have been demonstrated in numerous ranking systems.

Our MPA was ranked 5th in the state, below USC, UC Berkley and UCL, and the PG Naval Academy; we are ranked no 1 of the CSUs. But we also stand out because of the support we provide the online student which ranges from: interaction opportunities face –to-face with the faculty and staff though a week-end orientation, and weekend capstone on campus conference. We also provide in-person technical support from tech persons and program administrators. And we will be providing scholar-practitioners to every student, who they can call with questions and concerns

#4 How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online MPA program?

Our MPA is accredited by NASPAA the national standard for the profession. A school that is not accredited can still provide a substantial education but the rigor and oversight of NASPA ensures that we are on the cutting edge of the field and meet nationally established standards for the field.

#5 There is some debate as to whether or not online MPA degrees are as worthwhile as traditional MPA degrees. What steps does San Diego State University take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they’d receive in a classroom?

First, the national accreditation by NASPAA requires that the content, the course content and the faculty are the same for the online and face-to-face programs. Second, the university does not allow faculty to teach on the program unless they have been through a substantial one-semester training program though the Universities online Course Development Institute. Finally, the program provides substantial advising, technical and mentorship support. This is unique among such programs.

#6 What are the advantages to earning a MPA degree in general?

The MPA is the recognized gold standard for students working in any organizations providing public service and offering programs for the public good. It is parallel to the MBA for business students. They learn about organizational behavior, leadership, management, human resources, public finance and public policy as well as skills in research methods, statistics and GIS. Students in the MPA learn the latest research in the field and best real-world practices from our professional practitioners. Because of this promotional possibilities with an MPA are significantly enhanced.

#7 Does San Diego State University offer job placement for students who graduate in public administration?

Not officially. But we have a full-time Internship Coordinator and Careers Advisor who serves all of our programs and she has built incredible network contacts with agencies throughout the region. Because of the high reputation of our MPA students often find that their prospective employer got their own MPA from State, and knows the quality of the program first-hand. We also have a large community-based advisory board comprised of leaders of regional agencies and a pool of part-time practitioners who regularly teach classes for us. In fact our Internship Coordinator, Patricia Frosio who also graduated from our MPA program, has taught in the program part-time for 10 years and she also administers the online MPA. Since the online degree targets in-service students who are already working in managerial positions in PA, job-placement is not so much a factor as promotion and career move possibilities.

#8 What type of financial aid packages are available for students in public administration? Are there any fellowships, grants and scholarships available?

Students can qualify for financial aid, even for the online program. We hire up to 12 students a semester as GAs. The School has several scholarships including: the Fowler, the Walshock, the McGrory , the Clay, the Smith and the Slater-Price.

#9 Do you have any advice for students enrolling in an online MPA program for the first time?

Yes, to make sure that they make full use of the support services that we offer, particularly technical support, advising support and academic support, including our mentor network. And at the orientation session, be sure to form a relationship with other members of your cohort. Research shows that students engaged in peer-based learning communities are most likely to succeed.

#10 What do you enjoy most about your position at San Diego State University?

This is a large state university that operates at the program level like a small college. Students interact with faculty in staff on a regular basis and our motto is “we care and we can help.” We produce minds that move municipalities!

SDSU is a leader among the 23 campuses of the California State University system in research and scholarship and its programs are top ranked. The university is not top-down; it allows faculty and administrators the freedom and support to innovate and that is evident in the ranking metrics such as the retention rate, graduation rate, fundraising/give back rate and external research funding received. This past year SDSU was ranked by US News and World Report as 14th in the nation in the category most up and coming and #1 in the nation as most improved in national university rankings!

For more information on the online MPA programs offered at San Diego State University, visit them online.

Thank you Dr. Henry, for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!