Doctor of Public Administration

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The Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.) is a terminal applied-research doctoral degree in the field of public administration (government), which is a sub-discipline of political science. The D.P.A. requires significant coursework beyond the masters level and a dissertation that contributes to theory or practice. Upon successful completion, the title of "Doctor" is awarded and the post-nominals of D.P.A. or DPA can be used.

Ph.D. vs D.P.A.[edit]

Like a Ph.D., a D.P.A. is normally a terminal research degree. The U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recognize the D.P.A. as an academically equivalent degree to the more common Ph.D. and they do not discriminate between the two degrees.

In many cases, D.P.A. programs are identical to Ph.D. programs. Additionally, the D.P.A. dissertation is usually at the same level as a Ph.D. in terms of effort, rigour, contribution to knowledge, supervision and assessment. A study published by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration titled What's in a Name? Comparing DPA and Ph.D. Programs "finds few differences between the programs, noting that degree title is more informative about the type of students recruited than outputs" (Journal of Public Affairs Education, v5 n4 p309-17 Oct 1999).

D.P.A. research is both theoretical and practical, but the research focus of the typical D.P.A. addresses applied issues, with the results providing professional outcomes that are of direct relevance to practice. While also intended to prepare graduates for academic careers, the D.P.A., by virtue of its focus on application of theory, has more practical application in managerial settings than the Ph.D degree. Most D.P.A. graduates lead careers as senior-level practitioners, while others enter academia. This is similar to other professional research doctorates such as the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D).

A Ph.D. is more concentrated on developing theory and conducting specialized scholarly research. This degree is more appropriate for people who wish to become professional researchers, or who wish to pursue a career in academia. Most Ph.D. graduates lead careers as university researchers and professors or as senior researchers in business or government.

Structure of Programs[edit]

Most D.P.A. programs require about 90 credit hours of combined graduate coursework. Students are expected to take a number of core classes, electives, research/method classes, and dissertation credits. Some programs also require comprehensive examinations. All programs require a doctoral dissertation that contributes to knowledge. Candidates typically work with a committee and advisors throughout the process and the dissertation eventually requires an oral defense to the student's committee. Curricula may be offered on a full-time or part-time basis. The normal duration of a doctorate should correspond to 3–5 years of full-time graduate study or 7–10 years of sustained part-time graduate study.

The D.P.A. is preceded by a master's degree, typically the Master of Public Administration or the Master of Public Policy. D.P.A. programs are most common in the United States and the Philippines. The D.P.A. degree may have a specialization such as management science, organizational behavior, implementation, non-profit management, public finance, national security, defense policy, education policy, environmental policy, international trade and immigration, policy making, policy evaluation, program evaluation, criminal justice, civil rights, health and welfare, federalism, strategic management, public health, administrative law, social welfare, tax policy, government-business relations, economic policy, public management, etc.

Like many Ph.D. programs, D.P.A. programs typically require a master's degree and significant work experience before proceeding.


The Doctor of Public Administration program is designed to provide senior-level public managers, or quasi-public managers, with the substantive skills, knowledge and values necessary in this area. Students in most programs develop a thorough knowledge of the legal, ethical and political environments of public administrators. Students understand the administrative functions of governmental agencies and gain expertise in strategic planning, advanced management techniques, program implementation and results-based leadership.

The official policy of NASPAA is that the doctorate is a research degree, regardless if degree title is PhD or DPA. Its "Policy on Doctoral Education in Public Affairs/Public Administration" (1983,1987,1) states that: "Doctoral programs in public administration...should prepare students to undertake significant research in their subsequent careers, whether in government, academic life, or other settings; the capacity to do significant research, rather than access to a particular career setting, is the appropriate goal of doctoral training."


D.P.A. holders typically practice in senior level positions in federal, state, or local governments—including elected office or practice in non-profit organizations or private sector organizations with some nexus to government. Some D.P.A. holders enter academia. The average experienced doctoral degree holder in the United States makes $100,511, but this can vary significantly depending on function, location, experience, skills, and sector.[1] Doctorate holders typically earn more if practicing and less in academia.


With the expansion of public government in size and scope, more public administration career opportunities exist than ever before. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics,, notes that public administration employees will be required for a variety of public, state or municipal agencies. Significant demand for public administration comes from 1996 legislation that empowers more local public governments to administer federal programs. Additionally, as some public sector activities become privatized, there is an increasing need for public administration-related skills, knowledge, and abilities in the private sector. Obtaining a doctor's degree in public administration earns the graduate a great deal of civic recognition and reward.

Sample Dissertations/Research[edit]

  • David Edward Freed of Lansing, Mich., earned a D.P.A. The title of his dissertation was "Implementing Organizational Change in a Public Agency."
  • Warren Charles Gregory of New Castle, Pa., earned a D.P.A. The title of his dissertation was "Symbolic Politics: Government's War on the Working Class."
  • Roxana Marie Hopkins of Marshall, Mich., earned a D.P.A. The title of her dissertation was "Site-Based Management and Student Achievement."
  • David Paul Moxley of Lathrup Village, Mich., earned a D.P.A. The title of his dissertation was "Foundations of Board Development: Theory and Practice in Community Service Organizations."
  • Riste Simnjanovski of Beaumont, Calif., earned a D.P.A. The title of his dissertation was "Military Preparedness, Educational Policy Isomorphism: An Examination of Convergence Between Presidential Oratory and Educational Policy."
  • Angela E. Pool-Funai of Cedar City, Utah, earned a D.P.A. The title of her dissertation was "Virtual Fundraising: Policy, Technology, and Philanthropy."

See also[edit]


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