Schools of Government Support Good Governance

Every election cycle brings political debates over public policy choices. Once the voters have spoken, elected leaders at all levels of government turn to professional public administrators to implement those policies. Effective and efficient public administration depends on specialized knowledge, technical skills, and organizational competencies that can be attained or improved through study at a school of government. 

What Is a School of Government?



Schools of government offer professional education in disciplines that are essential to good governance—public policy, public finance, budgeting, management, human resources, health and human services, ethics, and more. Their mission is to prepare students to be leaders, managers, and analysts in professions that serve the public interest.

Schools of public administration, public policy, or public affairs are peers with schools of government and often cover some of the same subject areas. Some combine with programs of social work, criminal justice, political science, or economic development. By far, the most common degree offered for an audience of public leaders is the Master of Public Administration (MPA). 

Courses of study span a range of hard and soft skills, from statistical analysis and financial modeling to public speaking, team building, and executive leadership. Most programs focus on grounding students in a public service perspective, understanding the policy process, and using evidence-based decision-making.

Is Attending a School of Government Worthwhile? 

The benefit that schools of government and MPA degrees provide is well recognized across the United States and internationally. The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) is the largest and foremost association of practitioners, teachers, and students, with 8,000 members in chapters across 34 states and 39 nations.

The Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) accredits graduate-level programs in the United States, Egypt, China, and the Republic of Korea. Of NASPAA’s 284 member institutions, the UNC School of Government is among 192 accredited graduate programs.

Both ASPA and NASPAA are affiliated with the Global Network of Schools of Government, sponsored by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which represents 39 member or partner nations.

A 2014 survey by Governing magazine found that 88 percent of senior state and local public officials who had earned a graduate degree in a government-related field said their coursework prepared them for their current careers, and 91 percent said they would prefer to hire someone with a graduate degree in a government-related field. More than two-thirds of the survey respondents held master’s degrees in public administration or public policy.

What Distinguishes The UNC School of Government?

The UNC School of Government, created in 2001, began as the Institute of Government in 1931, making it the oldest and most diversified organization of its kind in the nation. 

Institute founder and longtime director Albert Coates (1896–1989), a UNC law professor who has been called “the Good Government Man,” recognized the need to bridge the gap between academic training and practical, job-related training for local officials. He raised money for constructing a building and started the publication Popular Government to disseminate information about legislative matters. The Institute became part of the University in 1942, and later formed the core of the new School of Government.

Today, the UNC School of Government, with more than 50 full-time faculty and 80 staff members, is the largest university-based program of its kind in the United States, combining government training, research, and advisory services. Faculty members field thousands of requests annually for assistance on state and local governing questions. 

Faculty members produce a variety of print and online publications and conduct around 200 courses, webinars, and conferences each year, attended by more than 12,000 public officials who benefit from the faculty’s nonpartisan legal, public administration, management, and financial expertise. The North Carolina Benchmarking Project maintains a database of performance measures for local government services that officials use to compare their efforts against best practices.

The School of Government’s MPA program offers a broad range of courses to prepare them for service in local, state, federal, and nonprofit settings. The program emphasizes collaboration, practical work experience, and interaction with expert faculty and public professionals. In every course, the focus is on leadership. Graduates work in the public and private sectors, with 25 percent serving in local government, 17 percent in state agencies, 9 percent in federal agencies, 11 percent in nonprofits, and 23 percent in private companies. Around 60 students attend the on-campus program each year and more than 200 attend online. 

School of Government 2.0

As Internet technology has enabled better long-distance instruction, schools of government have introduced online graduate degree programs. Online programs allow working professionals to improve their public administration skills with the flexibility of continuing their careers and applying new knowledge in real time, all from the convenience of their own home.

The UNC School of Government launched the online format of the MPA program, MPA@UNC, in 2013. It is designed to deliver the same quality instruction that has kept the School’s MPA program consistently ranked in the top 25 programs in the nation. Students choose a focus area, such as community and economic development, local government, nonprofit management, international relations, or public health, to help personalize their degrees.

MPA@UNC offers a 45-credit degree that can be completed in as little as 18 months or as long as five years. This flexibility allows working professionals to adapt their studies to fit ongoing responsibilities.

Classes are limited to 15 students and led by top UNC faculty. Self-paced coursework combines with weekly online classes via live video-conferencing technology and interaction with fellow students through collaborative online social forums. While in the program, students apply the skills they are learning in their workday settings and discuss their experiences with classmates.

“The advent of online graduate instruction at Carolina opens a new era for professionals committed to advancing their careers and to excellence in public service,” said MPA Program Director William Rivenbark. “It also raises the quality of public administration at all levels and across all geographical areas.”

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