Earlier this year, U.S. News & World Report released its 2021 rankings of the Best Public Affairs Programs in the country.
Augusta University’s Master of Public Administration program was ranked as one of the top 150 Best Public Affairs Programs in the nation.
Ranked at No. 141 out of almost 300 MPA programs across the country, Augusta University’s MPA program ranking increased by 20 points from last year, according to Dr. William Hatcher, program director and an associate professor of political science.
“The United States has more than 300 graduate programs in public administration, policy or affairs. Of those programs, there are more than 15 Master of Public Administration programs in the state of Georgia,” Hatcher said. “The rankings are based on peer evaluations of each program. This year, we were excited to be ranked in the top 150 programs in the nation.”
Of the 15 MPA programs across the state of Georgia, Augusta University’s program is currently ranked No. 4 behind the respectable programs at University of Georgia, Georgia State University and Georgia Tech, Hatcher said.
“Being ranked by our peers as one of the top 150 programs in the nation is a testimony to the work being done by our faculty, students and alumni,” Hatcher said. “The ranking shows what we already know — that Augusta University’s MPA program provides our students with a quality education that will help advance their careers.”
The MPA program at Augusta University has grown in size over the past few years from about 26 students in the spring 2016 semester to a peak of about 65 students in 2018, Hatcher said.
“Due to our excellent graduation rate and short time from start to finish, we graduated over 35 public servants last year, so our current enrollment is around 50 students,” he said, adding the degree is extremely versatile. “The MPA is a degree for professionals who want to advance their careers in public service, so most of our students work for government or nonprofits. However, among our alumni and graduates of other MPA programs throughout the nation, many go to work for the private sector as well.”
An MPA degree from Augusta University can take graduates in many directions depending on their particular interests, Hatcher said.
“In government, our graduates manage cities and counties, direct economic development efforts for communities, supervise planning work for cities and counties, help with grant writing for state agencies, and many other vital positions,” Hatcher said. “Many of our alumni work for nonprofit organizations, with our graduates directing some of the community’s large nonprofits such as Helping Hands in Aiken, South Carolina.
“Lastly, a number of our alumni work for Augusta University in key positions such as directing academic advising, managing graduate programs, helping design online courses and directing institutional effectiveness.”
One of the keys to the success of Augusta University’s MPA program is the faculty making it as flexible as possible for students, Hatcher said.
“We want to ensure that graduates have the core competencies for public administration, which are found throughout our required courses,” he said. “But we also give students a great deal of flexibility with their elective courses, so they can build focus areas that help them advance their specific career goals. These focus areas are represented in the program’s certificates and concentrations.”
Currently, the program offers a certificate in nonprofit leadership, a certificate in urban planning and community development and a concentration in criminal justice.
Students can earn these certificates in key areas of public service in conjunction with their MPA and without having to take additional hours beyond MPA’s overall 36 credit hours, Hatcher said.
“In recent years, we’ve seen an interest in nonprofit leadership,” Hatcher said. “Before the coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit sector was growing faster than the private sector. And earning an MPA with a certificate in nonprofit leadership is excellent preparation for a career managing and leading nonprofits.”
Understanding the importance of nonprofits to communities, the Department of Social Science and Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Augusta University have put together a bachelorgre of arts degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Administration that was recently approved by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and will start in the fall.
“Last year, we also created a certificate in urban planning and community development,” Hatcher said. “We did this because there are a large number of planning and development projects ongoing around the CSRA, and we wanted our students to have the skills to help be involved with those projects and future ones as planners, developers and city/county managers.”
The department also has a concentration in criminal justice to serve the need of public safety in the community. Many of the graduates of Augusta University’s MPA program have excelled in their careers.
“We have more than 200 amazing alumni, so I could give you a book here,” Hatcher said, chuckling. “In the area of nonprofit leadership, Carmen Landy is the executive director of Helping Hands of Aiken. In the area of city and county management, we have a number of alumni who manage local communities. For example, Todd Glover, until recently, was the city administrator of North Augusta and was instrumental in developing the community’s new mixed-use district that includes the GreenJackets’ stadium and a Crowne Plaza hotel. He is currently the executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina.”
In addition, John Waller is a former colonel in the U.S. Army and currently serves as the city administrator of Grovetown, where he has been helping lead that community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hatcher said.
“We have others who manage Morgan County in Georgia and Edgefield County in South Carolina,” he said. “In the area of public safety, Patrick Clayton is one of our alumni, and he serves as the chief deputy of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. And in the area of higher education administration, Mickey Williford is one of our alumni and serves as interim vice president of institutional effectiveness at AU. Additionally, Dr. Kathryn Martin is one of our alumni, and she serves as associate dean of regional campus for the Medical College of Georgia.”
Graduates of Augusta University’s MPA program have also stepped up to the plate to combat COVID-19 across the country, Hatcher said.
“As public servants, our students and alumni are on the frontlines responding to the crisis,” he said. “One of our current students works in community outreach in the medical industry, and for weeks, she’s been supervising the making of personal protective equipment, a job that she was doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
A master’s degree from Augusta University’s MPA program not only provides vision and direction, but also a great deal of job security. The majority of MPA students at Augusta University are either employed while completing their programs or obtain employment soon after graduation.
“Most of our students — it hovers around 70% — are employed in full-time positions while they earn their MPAs with us,” Hatcher said, adding that an MPA degree typically fares well during trying economic times. “Given the severity of the current economic crisis, few degrees will fare well in the short term, and recent economic numbers show certain parts of the public sector being hit hard. However, in the long term, government and nonprofit organizations are needed, and many of the jobs that are available to MPA graduates will bounce back with an economic recovery.
“Overall, the MPA is a versatile degree that will help people make a difference in their communities while also improving their careers.”