Master of Public Administration for Military Service Members

Military service members who are looking to translate their valuable experience into a rewarding, service-oriented career may want to consider earning a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree.

“When I started considering what to study, public administration was an easy fit for me. Leadership. Service. Professionalism. Hard work. That is the essence of public administration.”

Michael Barclift John, MPA@UNC student

Whether you plan to advance within the military or pursue other professional avenues as a civilian, an MPA can position you for continued leadership and success in public and private sectors alike.

The Skills You Gain with an MPA Degree

Professionals who earn an MPA degree develop the capacity to manage programs at every level of government (local, state, and national) or become leaders in nonprofit organizations.

In addition to topics like organizational theory and policy data and analysis, these professionals become well versed in practical skills like human resource management, professional communication, and budget planning.

These competencies—in addition to specialized expertise—help public administrators navigate the many overlapping variables that influence program design, implementation, and operations.

Administrators’ responsibilities can vary depending on their employment setting and the scope of the communities or populations they serve. Public administrators advance the public good in a wide range of areas:

  • Transportation
  • Community and economic development
  • Public health/social services
  • Education/higher education
  • Parks and recreation
  • Housing
  • Law enforcement and public safety
  • Emergency management
  • Disaster response
  • Public works

While MPA degree-holders often pursue careers in the public sector—including nonprofit and government settings—these professionals are also qualified for many private sector roles that require the same advanced managerial, organizational, and administrative capabilities.

Want to learn more about how an MPA can take your military career to the next level? Tune in to this recorded webinar packed with insights from one of our many military students.

Public Administration for Military Members

“MPA@UNC allowed me to pursue an MPA from a top-notch university while still serving in the military, making it possible for me to make a seamless transition in a couple of years from the Army to a career in public service.”

—John Mark Wilson

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Military-friendly MPA programs can be a boon for veterans and active-duty service members who want to advance real change.

In addition to a desire to serve their communities and their country, military members often have already amassed the leadership and analytical problem-solving skills needed to excel in public administration roles. They also understand the complex ways law, policy, and government spheres intersect in day-to-day operations.

If you are continuing your service, an MPA can help you develop skills you need to advance in the military, such as a stronger understanding of your civilian counterparts, the impact of legislation on defense activities, and community relations. This can help graduates pursue rank promotions, some of which require a master’s degree or similar experience in higher education.

If you are transitioning out of the military,
 an MPA degree can help you pursue civilian opportunities that leverage and enhance your existing capabilities.

If you are a military veteran, 
an MPA degree can help you expand your existing capabilities, pursue more advanced civilian roles, or even change career paths—whether you completed your service 10 days ago or 10 years ago.

An Online MPA Program That Shares Your Dedication to Service

A top-25 school of public affairs

by U.S. News & World Report1

MPA@UNC, the online MPA program from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government, is designed to help you cultivate and expand your skills as you chart the next phase of your career.

Here are three reasons to pursue your MPA degree online with UNC:

  1. Earn your degree while you serve. You can complete the same esteemed program online and pursue a meaningful career serving others in the government, nonprofit, and private sectors.
  2. Create the academic roadmap that supports your goals. Our leadership-focused, customizable curriculum provides a strong foundation in core public administration competencies, while our electives and concentrations allow you to specialize in the areas you are passionate about.
  3. Join a trusted community of public administration experts. For more than 80 years, the UNC School of Government has been delivering a practical, nonpartisan education and resources sought after by important North Carolina officials, including city managers, judges, and other elected representatives.

Accredited by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)

Student Spotlights

The online MPA program empowers current and aspiring public service leaders to become confident decision-makers and policy implementers in their fields. Hear directly from students about why they decided to pursue an online MPA from UNC:

Michael Barclift

Financial Advisor, Waddell & Reed Inc.

As a son of a military veteran, Michael Barclift learned the importance of being part of a community and serving others from a young age. He followed suit, serving in the Navy for nearly 22 years as a surface warfare officer. No matter where he was stationed, he noticed a collective human desire: People everywhere need to feel safe, secure, and accepted by others.

When Barclift decided to leave active duty, he pursued a career as a financial advisor to help others in his community find a sense of financial safety and security. After 15 years in the role, he found himself ready to return to public service, and he believed a public administration degree was the perfect path to get him there.

One of Barclift’s primary motivations to pursue an MPA came from witnessing the decline of his hometown in Illinois over the past 20 years. Today, he is pursuing his online MPA at UNC to advocate for struggling communities similar to his—ensuring their human need for safety, security, and a sense of community are met.

Learn more about Michael Barclift’s story.

Jennifer Barnhill

Jennifer Barnhill

Chief Operating Officer, Partners in PROMISE

After 15 years as a military spouse, Jennifer Barnhill wanted to improve systems that were not serving families to the fullest. She is using her experiences with the UNC MPA to create a new pathway for military families with special education needs.

Barnhill’s work with the nonprofit Partners in PROMISE was the catalyst for her MPA research topic, in which she surveyed military-affiliated special education students about pursuing legal solutions in disputes. Her survey data would later be shared with military leadership, and many of the survey recommendations became law.

Today, Barnhill serves as the chief operating officer for Partners in PROMISE. She credits the UNC MPA with understanding the challenges of military life and showing her how learnings and practices can translate across populations and levels of government.  

Learn more about Jennifer Barnhill’s story.

Julia Farinas

Julia Farinas

Chief of Client Services for the 82nd Airborne Division

Captain Julia Farinas’ passion for advocacy began when she started working as a legal representative at the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights (LCCR), a nonprofit organization that provides holistic legal representation for children in the justice system. After three years at the LCCR, Farinas went on active duty with the military, where she continued to advocate for the underserved, including victims of sexual assault. Today, she serves as chief of client services for the 82nd Airborne Division and is ready to return to her hometown of New Orleans to work in child advocacy for nonprofits—where she feels she can create the largest impact.

Farinas is pursuing her online MPA at UNC to develop leadership skills and gain financial management knowledge to advance her career in the nonprofit sector.

Learn more about Julia Farinas’ story.

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If you are thinking about getting an MPA while in the military or as a veteran, MPA@UNC is committed to providing an educational experience that supports a variety of unpredictable lifestyles, schedules, and needs.

Your course content—including dynamic videos, interactive content, and multimedia assignments—is available 24/7 via our online platform.

MPA@UNC’s personalized learning and coaching experiences provide military members with the guidance they need to choose the next job that is right for them.

Pursue your degree from anywhere in the world. Our online campus makes it possible for you to complete program requirements while maintaining your existing commitments.

Get to know the student experience.

Pause your studies when service needs to come first. If your degree program is interrupted by active-duty military service, you may pursue Leave of Absence or Interruption of Study options.

Learn more about veteran and service benefits.

MPA Funding Support and Benefits for Veterans and Military Members

At MPA@UNC, we strive to honor your service by providing comprehensive funding options, military benefits, and expert support throughout the financial aid process.

MPA@UNC accepts the following funding options for members of the military and veterans:

  • Post-9/11 GI Bill® (Chapter 33)
  • Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30) Active Duty Educational Assistance Program
  • Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 1606) Selected Reserve Educational Assistance Program
  • Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (Chapter 35)
  • Disabled Veterans Assistance (Chapter 31)
  • Veterans Education Assistance Program (Chapter 32)
  • Vietnam Era GI Bill (Chapter 34)

Applying for Military Benefits

To receive VA benefits, a student must be formally admitted as a degree-seeking graduate student to MPA@UNC and adhere to its policies and academic eligibility standards.

Students must apply for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Instructions and application forms can be found on the VA website, or they can be requested by phone at 1-888-442-4551.

MPA@UNC strongly recommends students apply online through the education benefits application process page on the site.

The VA will process the application and send a letter with their decision. Please be aware that it may take the VA several weeks to process a claim. If a student is approved to receive benefits, they will receive a Certificate of Eligibility letter from the VA.

Once a student has received their certificate of eligibility, they should submit a copy to the UNC Veterans Services Office along with copies of any high school and previous college transcripts and the UNC Veterans Educational Benefits Enrollment Data Form.

Documents may be faxed to 919-962-3349 or sent to the following address:

Office of the University Registrar 

Attn: Veteran Services 
SASB North, Suite 3100 

Campus Box 2100 
Chapel Hill, NC 27599

After all of your required documents are received, the VA certifying official will submit a 22-1999 enrollment certification to the VA to initiate payments. This is submitted electronically, and the student will receive an e-mail confirmation.

Maintaining Your Eligibility

Students must submit the UNC Veterans Educational Benefits Enrollment Data Form as soon as they register for the following term to reactivate the benefits and prevent a lapse in payment. Students must complete this form each and every term they are enrolled in classes at UNC. Without a new enrollment form, the payments will stop.

Students must notify the VA certifying official if they withdraw from, add, or drop classes. The VA will be notified of failure to maintain standards of attendance, progress, or conduct.

When a student has failed to maintain the prescribed standard of attendance, progress, or conduct, the school must promptly notify the VA so that the VA can discontinue benefit payments in accordance with the law.

If a student’s progress or conduct becomes unsatisfactory, the termination date assigned by the school will be the last day of the term or other evaluation period in which the student’s progress or conduct became unsatisfactory. In situations involving unsatisfactory attendance, benefits will be discontinued based on the student’s last date of attendance as reported by the school.

Chapter 30, 1606, and 1607 veterans will not receive payment until they have also verified their monthly attendance directly with the VA. Enrollment can be verified starting on the last calendar day of the month by using the Automated Verification of Enrollment (WAVE) or by calling the toll-free interactive voice response (IVR) telephone line at +877-823-2378.

Interruption of Study

If graduate study is interrupted by active military service, or service in the Peace Corps, VISTA, or the equivalent, as much as two years of that time will not count toward the time limit for the degree.

In such an event, an official letter from the appropriate agency should be sent to The Graduate School to document the interruption.

Leave of Absence

Within the five-year limit, a student in good academic standing may request one leave of absence from graduate study for a definite, stated period of time (up to one year) during which the student does not plan to make academic progress. To be eligible for a leave of absence, a student should not have received an extension of the degree time limit and not have temporary grades of IN or AB on courses taken.

A leave of absence between degrees is not allowed. In advance of the leave period, the student must complete and submit a Request for Leave of Absence Form to The Graduate School. This form requires approval by the academic program.

If The Graduate School approves the leave of absence, the time of that leave will not count against the total time allowed for the degree. Readmission to MPA@UNC after an approved leave of absence is generally a formality. Ordinarily, a leave of absence may not be renewed.

Students should be aware that while on leave, they cannot be considered enrolled students and therefore will not have access to campus services and benefits afforded to enrolled students, including eligibility for holding student employment positions (e.g., TA or RA) or student health insurance, among other services.

More information about the leave of absence policy can be found in the UNC-Chapel Hill handbook.

Earn Your Degree. Continue Your Service.

If you’re ready to turn your military service into a career that advances the public good in your community, request information to connect with our admissions team and learn more about MPA@UNC.

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1 Best Graduate Public Affairs ProgramsU.S. News & World Report (2022) arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference