As part of GPN's series on Master's of Public Administration (MPA) degree programs and their value to government administrators, here are the views of William C. Rivenbark. He is director of the MPA program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The UNC offering is a full-time, two-year program that serves up to 60 students annually. With courses ranging from management, leadership, to public policy analysis and project evaluation, the program educates leaders for local, state, and federal governments and nonprofit organizations. According to school officials, the program ranks among the leading public administration graduate programs in the country, particularly in city management.

In January 2013, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government welcomed its first cohort of students to MPA@UNC, the online format of the Master of Public Administration program. MPA@UNC combines the flexibility of online education with the best features of an on-campus experience. The online offering includes live online classes led by UNC faculty, self-paced coursework, and hands-on learning through a professional experience component. Here are the views of William C. Rivenbark.

GPN: Is 2015 a great time to earn an MPA for government administrators?

William C. Rivenbark: There is a great need in the world of public service today for individuals who will take on leadership roles, find innovative as well as pragmatic solutions to public challenges, and inspire others to create lasting and positive change in their organizations and communities. UNC MPA alumni attain leadership positions in every level of government, including law enforcement and the military, and in nonprofit and private organizations that support the public interest.

The leadership skills acquired in the program apply across sectors and industries: building and leading diverse teams, managing complex projects, analyzing data and situations, communicating effectively, effecting change. Essentially, the MPA program prepares its graduates to be leaders and make an impact in the community and field of their choosing.

GPN: Does UNC have any advice for our web readers on choosing an MPA program?

WR: Seeking a graduate degree in public administration requires a commitment of time and resources. Therefore, I strongly encourage prospective students to select a program that delivers on two levels. One, investigate whether a program is designed to directly support its mission. For instance, the UNC MPA mission is to prepare public service leaders. Our curriculum is designed to build competencies in the skills needed for public leadership. Two, be sure that the program you select will educate you for the career you envision. Match your career goal—whether that’s local government or international scholarship—choose a program that includes that focus.

GPN: What makes the UNC MPA program unique?

WR: MPA students work with faculty who are engaged in helping state and local officials solve public problems through the UNC School of Government. As the largest university-based local government training, advisory, and research organization in the United States, the School of Government offers up to 200 classes, seminars, webinars, and specialized conferences for more than 12,000 public officials each year. In addition, faculty members annually publish approximately 50 books, manuals, reports, articles, bulletins, and other print and online content related to state and local government.

The synergy from its affiliation with the School of Government benefits the MPA program in a variety of ways. All School of Government faculty members are engaged in programs that serve state agencies and local governments. These professors, working with government officials every day, naturally bring to the classroom a practical, professional orientation that is appreciated by students.

GPN: Can you please tell us about the UNC MPA on-campus and online offerings?

WR: The Carolina MPA program is offered in two formats: on-campus and online. The campus format is a full-time, two-year program that serves up to 60 students annually on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

MPA@UNC, the online format, is designed for working professionals and others who require flexibility and want to remain in their current communities or organizations. MPA@UNC combines the flexibility of online education with the best of an on-campus experience through the delivery of live online classes led by UNC faculty, self-paced coursework, and hands-on learning through a professional experience component.

GPN: Does the UNC MPA program have a specific focus?

WR: Students can tailor their study to specific focus areas including local government, nonprofit management, and community and economic development, or can attain a truly generalist degree.

GPN: Can a student combine MPA study with other graduate disciplines?
WR: In response to the increasing complexity of work in the public arena, students can broaden their education beyond a traditional public administration curriculum.

On-campus students can select from among a variety of dual degrees with other UNC programs, including law, planning, information/library science, and social work programs. And MPA@UNC students can enroll in cross-university online courses from other top-ranked graduate schools to round out their education, including graduate programs in business, public health, social work, and law.

GPN: Thank you, William C. Rivenbark, for your views.

In the video, graduates, faculty and administrators talk about the online MPA@UNC program. The offering gives students from around the world the opportunity to earn an MPA degree.

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